10/14/2012 03:36 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

My Toddler Isn't Toddling

Two weeks ago, Ellis and I went to the doctor to discover why, at 18-months-old, she isn't walking. She was poked, prodded and made to stumble down the halls while she held my hands. Ellis thought it was all a fun game until they wanted her to walk just holding one hand.

"Oh no!" She said and fell to her knees. The worried look in her eyes communicated that she thought this whole exercise was dangerous. More babies get hurt by walking. Haven't you seen the statistics?

When I set her on the scale, her small hands clung to my shirt.

"Oh no!" She said looking at the carpeted floor nearly two inches below. "OH NO!"

"This one may have the anxiety like her mama," the PA said, smiling.

I laughed. "Do they make Zoloft Cheerios?"

Ellis clung to me. "Oh no, Mama. Oh no."

The diagnosis was that she is fine, but the PA wanted some hip X-rays and for her to see a pediatric neurologist, just in case, and while we are at it, let's do some PT, maybe some OT ... I want to make this very clear: I love my PA. I think she's fabulous and I know she only wants what is best and she wants to help. Her suggestions were her response to me saying, "Oh no, my baby won't walk. Oh no!"

It's easy for me to forget the little girl I used to be. Worried that mom would be mad if I didn't clean up just right. Worried that daddy would be disappointed if I didn't get into Phi Beta Kappa. Concerned for my siblings when they pushed the rules, colored outside the lines, ran too fast or yelled too loudly. I was an insomniac, unable to sleep because I was worried about robbers, monsters and sin. Every week for several years, I asked Jesus into my heart again and again. And just in case, I asked for heaven for everyone I knew and all the ones I didn't. When I did rebel, I joined the debate team and read the Communist Manifesto. It was the most I could muster at 16. Once, I heard a little boy arguing with his brother about whether superhero masks were considered "hats" and whether Jesus would be upset if they prayed with them on. "They do go on your head," said the older boy. "But it's not called a hat," the younger one argued. "Still, we better be safe..."

I spent years trying to reassure that little girl inside me that things will be okay. That she can transgress. That she can yell. That she can fall and fail and try again. I thought I had this conquered. Most days, I wake up, throw on some leggings and face the world with confidence. My writing is rejected. My work is rejected. People threaten me on the Internet. I've taught myself to be okay with this and cling to the good, not to be afraid of the falls. So, some days, I forget that somewhere inside of me a little girl is huddled under her blankets, wide awake, praying that she never messes up ever again.

The little girl is here again. She is blonde with blue eyes and is pointing to the ground, only two inches away, worried she's going to fall. The concern in her eyes makes me want to scoop her up and carry her. You never have to fall, I want to tell her. But I know that's not parenting.


So the worrier in me relented to the hip x-rays. "OH NO! BOOONK," Ellis wailed when we held her on the table. "BONK!!" It took 45 minutes and by the time we left, her whole little body was heaving.

That night, when Dave came home, I told him my plan: No more doctors, no more scans, no PT. We were going to hold her hand and introduce her to her fears one step at a time and then give her mountains of M&Ms.

We did that twice. Forcing her to walk back and forth between us, rewarding her with kisses and M&Ms for every success and every fall. We praised her, just for taking those steps. And in two weeks, she's gotten bolder. She's taken independent steps. She asks to walk. She'll walk holding only one of my hands. Last Sunday, we sat outside, ate donuts and watched a parade of runners and walkers speed by our house. I taught her to yell, "Good job!" And "Run! RUN!"

Now, every day she asks to go "runnin' wif people." And when I hold her hands and we run through the house, she yells, "eberybody runnin'!"

"Look at you go!" I tell her. "You are crazy! Just wild!"

I think we'll get there by Thanksgiving. And even if she doesn't, I'm not going to worry about it. Because if she needs time, she needs time. But I think I'm learning again not to worry and I'm learning again that it's okay to fall.