Life is full of stages. History, experience, science and society have, through their own varied means and with very little co-operation, dictated to us how our lives should develop and when each milestone should be reached. In the case of babies, these stages are closely packed, and a by-the-book baby can be expected to learn new things and reach new levels of ability according to a tried and tested timetable. Throughout childhood, those milestones get further apart, but they’re still there, telling us how intelligent we should be, how our maturity should show itself, and so on. The preset stages don’t finish at the dawn of adulthood, of course – we have achievements to attain here too, like owning a car, buying insurance, taking out a mortgage, attending jury duty, voting in the elections, paying into a pension, even retiring. All these things are expected of us, not necessarily in a particular order, especially later in life, but we are each of us judged by what everyone else reckons we “ought to be doing by now”.
And then there are those of us who tear the rule books into pieces and feed the bits to the next door neighbour’s dog.
Now, I’m not saying I’m a revolutionary, nor even that I’m particularly independent. I just don’t feel like I fit everyone else’s mould all the time. Right now I’m 27 years old, I’m married, I have a child, I run my own business. You’d think I was pretty mature, right? So why is it that I still take delight in eating Fruit Gums? Why do I still think it hilarious to poke my friends for no reason? Why is cheese the cause of so much hilarity?
In fact, I’m not alone in this state of perpetual childhood. My wife is just as silly as me, if not more so. Our friends are not much better. My wife is actually reading a book at the moment called “Confessions of a failed grown-up”. Apparently there are huge swathes of people across the country (if not the world) who just never got round to growing up. People who still think it incredibly scary that they’re let loose in the world. People who still get a thrill out of being allowed to buy what they want at Tesco. People who can’t quite fathom how they’re already paying into a pension or life insurance scheme. People who see faces in their dinner while out at a restaurant, and have to stifle a giggle in case anyone notices.
Of course, it works the other way round, too. Our little baby boy is, by all accounts, taking after both his parents and completely ignoring what ‘the book’ says he should be doing. He has always been far more inquisitive than any baby should be – when he was born he spent the first three hours looking around at everything, rather than sleeping as most babies do. Samuel feeds well, but has chosen not to put that energy into putting on fat, as is the norm, but decided instead to focus on growing ever taller. He’s currently sitting happily on the 2nd percentile for his weight, which for the uninitiated means that only 2% of babies are likely to be skinnier than him. On the other hand, he was growing out of his clothes weeks ago, not by them being too tight but that he’s just too long for them all.
And now we’ve reached another milestone, another stage in his development. He’s started eating solid food. When I say ‘solid’, actually perhaps that’s giving him a tad too much credit. He’s sucked the life out of a chunk or two of banana, and begun to enjoy the delights of licking baby rice off a small spoon. I wouldn’t call it eating, exactly, not yet anyway, but it’s a start. It’s the beginning of a phase of life where food gets flung through the air in excitement, finding its way onto walls, into hair, up noses, into ears, down trousers, between the keys on the laptop, smeared across the TV screen, stored in pockets for later, handed back to Mummy as a peace offering. Oh what joy.
Is 4 months too early to start giving a baby real food? Well, that really depends on the baby. If Samuel has decided he’s ready for that stage of life, who are we to argue? If I feel like getting down on my hands and knees and playing with toy cars, complete with vocal sound effects, without the excuse of playing with a child, who’s to stop me?
I guess my point is this: no one follows the book to the letter. Someone once said that if the ‘average’ person actually existed, leading a completely average life, achieving the average milestones to an average degree, he would be such an improbable anomaly that he would cease to be average, and thus become a somewhat confusion paradox. He would also be one of the dullest people you could hope to meet. Instead, a truly average person would be exceptional. They would break the mould every now and then. They would grow up at their own pace. They would be… well, like you and me, actually. We are all unique, and in that we are therefore all ‘normal’, all ‘average’. And I take some comfort in that. It’s nice not to be alone.