Turns out, I might actually be good at my job.
You see, like any good speech-language pathologist, since I started my carreer five years ago, I've been telling parents of children with speech and language delays that they should model language and play slightly above their child's current expressive language level. For example, if their child is currently using one word at a time, I encourage them to model additional single-word vocabulary and two-word phrases. This should make it easier for their child to copy and move on to the next level of language learning.
Okay, kinda boring, right? I'm getting to the interesting part. I tell parents to think of themselves as their child, only six months ahead. I don't remember whether I picked up this little tidbit from one of my practicum supervisors, or from one of my teachers during my Master's program, or whether it was just a rule of thumb that I myself invented when I was just starting out and trying to find ways to explain the whole idea of "modeling language at the appropriate level" to parents. In any case, it turns out that this little nugget of wisdom has actually been borne out in my observations of Lilah!
Without fail, every single time we hit the playground, Lilah seeks out a child about six months older than she is and sticks to them like glue. It seems that her brain knows exactly what kind of stimulation it needs and commands her body to seek it out. She is utterly determined to keep up with these kids. Her gross motor skills aren't actually that far off, for the most part, since she's quite steady on her feet, but the differences in language and play skills are striking. It absolutely amazes me that kids as young as Lilah can know exactly where they are headed and who can teach them how to get there. It also feeds my conviction that children should be exposed to playmates of all ages, not just children in their immediate cohort.
Before I became a parent, I always felt slightly uncomfortable about teaching parents how to interact with their children. Yes, I had my fancy degree and my book-learning and the research to back it up, blah, blah, blah, but I worried about my credibility. Turns out, I was giving pretty good advice all along! In truth, I always knew that, but now I have my experiences as a parent to back it up. I knew there was a good reason I wanted kids (you know, apart from that whole "unconditional love" thing)!
I can only hope that my new-found confidence and understanding balance out the absent-mindedness, separation anxiety, sick days, and early departure times that are sure to come with the territory of heading back to work after a year maternity leave. Yeah, I may be a total mess when I return to work, but at least I'll have my street cred!