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I Lie About My Child's Age

Seven minutes. That’s how long it takes Playground Mommy to make her move.

“He’s so cute,” she says, touching my son’s curls. “Still not walking?” His chubby fingers clutch mine as he inches towards the swings, wobbly as a newborn foal.

“Oh, you know. He’s getting there,” I say, as if everyone walks around with a twenty-five-pound toddler death-gripping their thumbs. As if on cue, Owen drops to his hands and knees and speeds off, slap-slap-slapping across the filthy playground flooring.

“He’s a big boy,” Playground Mommy says. “How old?”

“Thirteen months.”

“Thirteen months?!” she says, eyes wide. “He’s huge!”

That’s true . . . except for the “thirteen months” part. My son is actually seventeen months old, but you’ll never hear it from me, at least not at the playground.

Yes, I know it’s nuts. As a reasonably intelligent, Birkenstock wearing, “Every child develops differently” type of gal, I always assumed I’d be Captain Awesome when it came to raising my own kid. I pictured myself surrounded by a crew of happy, tow-headed tots, each secure in the knowledge that they were special Just The Way They Are. But all that flew out the window when faced with a gaggle of playground parents whose ten-month-olds were running laps around my older son.

I’d round down his age down to the nearest month, shaving off a few precious developmental weeks. “Oh,” the parents would sigh, relief flooding their faces. “That makes more sense.”At first I didn’t think too much of it. The babe had always been a little slow with the physical stuff, but I figured it was genetic. His dad and I veer toward the “readerly” side of the athletic spectrum, so it made sense that he’d rather thumb through Goodnight Moon than run a 5K. But then it started. The looks. The tsks. The well-meaning advice from people whose charges were walking – running! – at twelve or nine or even seven months.

Within weeks I’d heard it all: Buy him sturdier shoes. Buy him comfortable shoes. Make him walk everywhere. (He’s only crawling because you’re not putting your foot down.) Don’t let him watch television. Tempt him with treats. One ancient grandmother-type recommended that I tie a scarf under his armpits and march him around the playground like a puppet.

I’ve found myself considering it.

Still, my gut tells me he’s fine. I’ve done the reading; I know that boys tend to be slower with language and that taller children take longer to walk. At seventeen months – and thirty-six-inches tall – he’s as big as most three-year-olds, so it makes sense that his toddler brain would have trouble coordinating his preschool-sized parts. But just to be safe we went ahead and had him evaluated to make sure we weren’t missing any red flags. The physical therapist, a small woman with a reassuring smile, said that Owen was a little behind the curve, but physically and cognitively he was fine. Better than fine, even. Smart! Social! Wonderful in all the ways that warm a neurotic parent’s heart! The best thing I could do for Owen, she said, would be to put down the parenting magazines and let him develop on his own schedule. After all, nobody goes to college not knowing how to walk. I know she’s right, yet all it takes is one raised eyebrow on the playground to send me spiraling.

It started small, as most lies do. I’d round down his age down to the nearest month, shaving off a few precious developmental weeks. “Oh,” the parents would sigh, relief flooding their faces. “That makes more sense.” Gone were the furrowed brows and awkward talk of early intervention. Suddenly we could gab about normal things like nap schedules and vegetable aversion. I was happy. They were happy. And my son didn’t understand what I was saying so, hey, happy.

Of course I still have qualms. It doesn’t take an episode of Toddlers and Tiaras to know that it’s a slippery slope between fudging a few facts and turning into a full-fledged Freakmother. But some days saving face feels like the only way to keep my sanity. I know I’ll have to stop when he’s able to understand me, and that’s fine.Until then, telling a white lie every now and then to avoid an hour-long lecture on footwear seems small in the scheme of things. The less time I have to take to defend his (okay, our) honor, the more time we have for important things like playing chase. Even if it’s on all fours.

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