Breaking out of Baby Boot Camp


We have a bit of a vexed relationship with physical activity in Boo Land. Obviously, we realise it’s important to exercise to stay healthy, and as I’ve blogged about before, I’ve found running (to my complete surprise) to be a real mental pick me up since Mr Boo’s birth.

As a child I was never really that into sports. I liked skipping and being outside, but I was always happiest locked away with a book, or better still, a stack of books, or painting, or messing about on a musical instrument. I was a bit hermit-like as a child because, quite honestly, real life wasn’t as much fun as the one conjured in my imagination via books, films, music or art. My parents didn’t discourage me and rather liked that I was a bit of a swot.

Sissyboo is just the same. She pours over books and films and could make things from virtual any medium or object from morning until night. But so that she’s not too much like me (I really wouldn’t wish that on her or anyone), we’ve tried to encourage her to get into physical activities to build her confidence and keep her healthy. But unless it’s swimming or dancing (both of which she loves and is good at in her wild, excited kind of way) she’s not terribly interested. Try as we might, she point bank refuses to ride her bike, partly in protest that her Dad spends rather a lot on time on all of his. Oh yes, he has a few. OK, a lot. They are the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th members of our family.

It’s all about balance isn’t it, I suppose? I’m not sure, judging by Sissyboo’s ball skills (at 5, she reads like a 6-7 year old and catches like a 3-4 year old) that we have got it right. I’ve always gone along with her interests rather than force others on her. But I suppose it helps that her interests and mine chime with one another. If I’m honest, I’d much rather she grew up like Roald Dahl’s Matilda (her literary heroine) than Martina Hingis.

Hmm. I hadn’t expected to write that sentence. Maybe we haven’t really been going with the flow in bringing up Sissyboo. I can see we’ve made certain choices, set certain priorities. She’s a lovely and well-rounded person (much more than i was at her age) so it seems to have worked out OK, so far. Phew! We’ve got away with it.

But what about when choices are made for you? By circumstance. By illness. By disability. Where you have to get with a programme (or in our case several programmes of therapy and intervention) to achieve just some the building blocks of childhood development, let alone to finesse them. What happens when you don’t have the luxury of choosing how to parent or what aspects of your child’s personality you want to nurture?

Physio is a huge presence in our lives. We have been recommended to have at least 2 30 plus minute intensive physio sessions with Mr Boo every day. In between, at every nappy change, I stretch his hamstrings and have learned to ‘handle’ Boo therapeutically. (For the record, I hate that I have to ‘handle’ my baby as opposed to just hold him.) So once you take these sessions out of the day, add on milk feeds and meals, and a couple of naps, the day is kind of gone and there’s little time for anything else.

Having thought I would go with the flow with Boo–that I wouldn’t impose a routine on him, that I would cultivate his love of playing, music and words–we live instead in a baby boot camp. The second thing Sissyboo said to me when she got out of school yesterday was ‘Has Boo done his exercises today?’ Yes (cringe), I am that Mum. Call me Major Boosmum, Sir, yes Sir!

Therapy looms large in this house, not least over poor Sissyboo, hence her question yesterday. She asked me about Boo’s exercises because she wanted to know if his physio was out of the way to make space for more fun things involving her. That makes me sad. I truly fear the consequences of not doing enough physio with Boo, of not filling every minute with therapeutically-minded handling and positioning that might help him attain his physical milestones. But Sissyboo needs me too. Her development (social, emotional, intellectual and physical) is just as important. The juggling is so hard. I wish I knew how to get it right. (Answers on a virtual postcard, please.)

In the half-term holidays last week I really tried to get something nearer to equilibrium. I made sure there were times every day when I did things that were solely organised around Sissyboo. We played outdoors, went to the park, but there was also lots of drawing, making, and reading. Best of all, we made a trip to the theatre for an audience participation production of Wind in the Willows. We had so much fun.

It was also a revelation. Sissyboo loved learning the songs and joining in with the show. She laughed at Toad’s crossdressing, snarled and hissed at the weasels and cheered on Moley, Ratty and Badger as they triumphed over the baddies and reclaimed Toad Hall and the riverbank. I could barely watch the show for watching her excitement.

But the bigger revelation was when I turned to look at Boo who I’d dragged along, and who I worried should probably be vainly practising his rolling for the 9th month in a row rather than sitting scrunched up on my lap in a germ-ridden theatre. He was hysterical. Totally and utterly I-needed-to-remind-him-to-breathe hysterical. He was laughing at the antics on the stage, squealing as we sang and giggling at the faces his sister was pulling. I swear he got at least as much out of the experience as the rest of us. And why wouldn’t he? This is no revelation. He’s my son and Sissyboo’s brother, after all. This is our idea of a perfect day out. Why should he be any different?

And then it hit me. Yes, Boo needs physio. Yes, he needs to be consistently handled in a therapeutic way. But cognitively, for the moment at least, Boo seems to be engaging with the world as a child his age should. This may change, we know that, but for now, his brain is several months ahead of his body. And I have been neglecting this aspect of his development when compared to the astonishing amounts of time (although I never feel I do enough) spent on reaching those elusive bloody milestones.

Sure I sing to him (a lot) and talk to him (a lot). (Like the sound of my own voice? Moi?) I do read him books (he loves noisy ones, like the edition of Room on the Broom that has sound effects), but I snatch these moments guiltily as if they’re more for me than for him, as if we’re doing something naughty.

How ridiculous! Cognitive workouts are just as important as physical ones. In not realising that before now, I’ve been stifling aspects of his personality that I want to celebrate, the things that make him my Boo. To my shame, I realise I have been inadvertently doing what I constantly berate others for doing: of seeing him through the lens of the physical challenges he faces rather than through his developing and totally adorable (OK, I’m biased, but honestly, he is) personality.

Baby Boot Camp is going to continue for the foreseeable future, but not, I’ve decided, at the expense of nurturing Boo in other ways.

Thanks Boo. Another lesson has been learned. Right, let’s go blow the dust of your library card, mate.

6 thoughts on “Breaking out of Baby Boot Camp

  1. amy

    It is so difficult straddling the line between “carer mum” and “mum mum” sometimes (and I only have 1 child). I go through phases where I get obsessed almost researching therapies, medical papers, new research etc etc and then find what Wriggles responds best to is… hour in the local playground! As she has got older I can be quite lax with the physio, which isn’t always a good thing, but it does breaks my heart that she is clearly so uncomfortable with the exercises and just wants to play. I think I need to be more bootcamp sometimes, particularly now splints are looming!

    1. mrboosmum Post author

      I don’t know that bootcamp is the way to go, you know, but you are further down the road on all this than me. I love the pictures of Wriggles at the playground on your blog and look forward to those days with Boo. I think the bottom line is that I need to remember more often than I do that he is a little boy and needs to just be, sometimes. To be honest, so do I… Thanks for reading and commenting. It means a lot. Especially as someone who has learned so much from your blog over the last 13 months.

  2. Victoria Welton (@VicWelton)

    You sound like you are doing a sterling job with Boo. It’s hard when things aren’t quite as you’d expect and it draws your attention away from what matters. I think so long as you go with your instincts and do what is right for each child then that helps. It sounds like Sissyboo is a great big sister. I have to say I wanted Grace to be like Matilda too! Thanks for linking to PoCoLo xx

    1. mrboosmum Post author

      Matilda is a great role model for little girls! Yes, I think you’re right, special needs or not, it is really easy to be thrown a curve ball as parents and trying to keep focused on what matters can be so hard. I find it’s always my kids, rather than a book or the advice of a grown-up, that makes me realise this. Thanks for commenting. Loving all the PoCoLo posts!

  3. sarahhillwheeler

    So hard to balance medical needs/physio routine with “normal” childhood things. I only have the one and different type of physio, but constantly juggling between doing the best thing healthwise and yet trying to let J be “normal.” Always hesitant of people who say “things will get better” but we have found that (overall, there are always things that make me revert to control freak medical mode) it does get easier to balance things and to let go (in a positive way) a bit.

  4. Pingback: Work Out, Mama! | The New Adventures of an Old (First Time) Mom

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