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Parents fret too much over kids' milestones

My wife and I are currently packing up and moving from the house we've lived in for the past 18 years. I expected that sifting through an attic filled with old photos and baby clothes might bring a tear or two to my eye. At least to this date, the only thing that has brought a lump to my throat was the rediscovery of the greatest baby toy ever invented.

No, I'm not talking about the tricycle, finger-paint or anything in the Little Tykes family. The article in question was a twisted mass of cables and clamps stored in a box in the corner of our basement. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to the Jolly Jumper.

For the uninitiated, the Jolly Jumper is an apparatus comprised of a clamp that locks to the top frame of a doorway, three thick bungee cords that connect to the clamp, and a small baby-sized sack that connects to the bungee cords. The idea behind the toy, at least in our house, was to stick the baby into the sack and let him bounce around in the doorway while his sleep-deprived parents ate breakfast.

If the manufacturers of the Jolly Jumper had conducted a worldwide contest to determine which infant was the jolliest of all jumpers, I'm pretty sure that my son would have won in a landslide. When placed in the sack, our 18-month-old boy turned into a mini-member of Cirque du Soleil. Spittle, laughter and small bits of breakfast would fly out of him as his chubby little legs leapt toward the ceiling and fell back to earth. If we had let him, Zac would have been content to jump and be jolly for several hours each day.

Lately, I've been wondering why we didn't let him bounce around in the doorway more often when it clearly made him so happy. My wife contends that Zac was a very aggressive jumper and we were worried that he might leap headfirst into the dining room ceiling.

My recollection is that we were extremely concerned about our son developing at a rate that was just as fast as other kids his age. Back then, we were surrounded by parents who were quietly racing to have their babies be the first to eat solid foods, take their first steps and break free of the bonds of diapers. How would our son be able to develop as fast as his peers if he was spending all his time happily bouncing up and down?

I am almost 20 years removed from changing my last diaper. Looking back, I'm struck by how much time I wasted worrying about developmental milestones that were largely inevitable. Our children and every single one of their friends eventually transitioned from strained peaches to pizza. To the best of my knowledge, none of the kids from the old neighborhood is still in diapers.

Looking back, the race to push our children at lightning speed through each stage of their development seems like a colossal waste of time and energy.

If you held my hand to a fire, I couldn't tell you how old my kids were when they took their first steps or ate their first sandwich. The memories that are most tangible to me are the type that came swirling back into my head when I stumbled upon the Jolly Jumper in the basement: I am eating breakfast in our dining room to the soundtrack of my son's laughter. He is leaping up with all his might and reaching for the sky.

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Tim Hirschbeck, who lives in Tonawanda, wishes he had let his son spend more time in the Jolly Jumper.

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