When my son was about four months old, he rolled from his back to his belly for the first time. He had been practicing a full-body twist with Rockette-style kick for a couple of weeks, and I’m sure he conjured that first definitive flip mostly by accident. He quickly hid his wide-eyed amazement with a proud, grinning cobra pose. With my own flash of first-time-mom pride, I dubbed my little acrobat “King Rollo.”
The royal moniker is borrowed from a picture book character. David McKee’s King Rollo is a goofy, mutton-chopped man-child whose Cook and Magician keep him real, or, at least, as real as one can be when one has a personal chef and a sorcerer at one’s disposal. Among the heroes of children’s literature, who tend to save the day and live happily ever after, King Rollo stands out as one whose humble frustrations are poignantly familiar, especially for a new mother who is discovering that parenting is a learning process, and, often, a slow one.
At one pre-dawn pumping session, I was sure I could fill the bottle with tears faster than it would fill with milk.
The Rollo storylines hinge on the monarch’s bumbling ego, in particular his impatience and his fear of failure. In King Rollo and the New Shoes, the Magician refuses to cast a spell that will tie the King’s laces, and thus unleashes a two-page tantrum. Rollo hides in his chamber, fumbles with knots, and hoots and crashes so much that the Cook drops her cake. In another adventure, the Cook suggests that King Rollo should draw a birthday card for his beloved Queen Gwen. He scribbles and frets that none is as good as the one from the store. Of course, it always works out in the end. Rollo prances out of his room with beautiful bows on his toes, and the Queen loves her custom card best of all. But there’s a believable humanity to his highs and lows.
As for my own little King Rollo, the intervening time between his first “I did it!” flop and “I’m a pre-crawling ninja who can silently pencil roll across the floor” (or — yikes — the bed) spanned a month, at most. But when he couldn’t remember the moves, he wriggled and whined and lost sleep that he (and I) couldn’t afford to lose. I wish I could say that I was as sagely patient as the Cook and the Magician during my charge’s developmental transition, but if a magic wand could’ve ended Baby Boy’s frustration, I’d have been very tempted to use it.
In fact, I’d have been casting spells all over the place. I was constantly fumbling myself, and I was always sure there must be a faster, smarter way. I bent into Boppy-pillow-aided contortions while seeking the perfect nursing position. I agonized over when exactly was that “drowsy but awake” magical moment during which I was supposed to put my boy down to nap. At one pre-dawn pumping session, I was sure I could fill the bottle with tears faster than it would fill with milk.
When nap routines or milk or motor skills were not flowing, I grumbled and pouted and called upon Google, sure that my kid was already going to be too tired, too skinny, too far behind.
Well-meaning advisers encouraged me not to get hung up on the books and charts. They said I should “relax” and “trust my instincts” and, basically, let parenthood unfold as an intuitive experience. But I and they failed to acknowledge how complex the day-to-day tricks of motherhood can be. When nap routines or milk or motor skills were not flowing, I grumbled and pouted and called upon Google, sure that my kid was already going to be too tired, too skinny, too far behind. I didn’t allow myself a grace period of trial and error to carry off my new-mama moves.
Now my Rollo can do a 180 without so much as a grunt, and instead he’s huffing and puffing about staying vertical. I still have my episodes of worry — how I’ll keep a feisty toddler safe once he’s fully on foot, and how he’ll ever be fuelled by the ten percent of each puff-and-puree buffet that actually makes it into his mouth — but I’m also a little more assured of a happy resolution. Most days my boy and I are enchanted enough with each other and the charms of our daily lives that, even in our humble wriggling, we feel like royals in our own little kingdom. When troubles test us, we turn to our friend King Rollo, and remember that we love him from beginning to end in his story, and on every page in between.
About the author
Emily Avery-Miller has contributed reviews, essays and prose to publications including Art New England and WBUR’s The ARTery. She teaches writing at Northeastern University.