- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 3, 2002

The vikings discovered America earlier than anyone expected, earlier than certain Columbus enthusiasts would care to admit. This hide-wearing, mead-drinking crew set foot on the continent about 600 years before the sophisticated Italian's arrival.

In the spirit of some of his forefathers, our 4-month-old Little Viking reached a milestone of his own much earlier than we had expected.

Read any book on child development, and it will state that children teethe at different ages, but at the earliest, around 6 months (although history has recorded a child or two who was born with teeth). That's not necessarily so.

On the eve of his 3-month mark, the Little Viking was particularly ferocious. He ate for a minute, then pushed away and roared. After this happened several times, my father-in-law, a retired family and emergency-room doctor, said, "That sounds like a teething baby to me."

I assured him that I respected his input after all, he probably has delivered a thousand or so babies but my baby couldn't possibly be teething. Every book in the world said it was too early.

A few days later, a white slit appeared in his otherwise red and swollen lower gum. His first central incisor was on the scene. No. 2 was not far behind. Now we're waiting for the upper incisors to drop. Unbelievable.

Treating this condition teething can be a bit tricky. I am afraid that teething toys (frozen and raw) were not the most effective in alleviating gum soreness. What works? A parent's thumb or index finger is the best teething tool in the world, at least according to our Little Viking. His own fingers blotchy and red by now also are OK.

In really bad times, Orajel a pain-killing gel that is rubbed on the sore gums is our go-to guy. The label says it's cherry-flavored, but if a farmer grew that kind of cherry, he would be bankrupt in a minute. No matter how it tastes, however, it is effective whenever we rub the stuff on the Little Viking's gums, he makes the angriest face and then promptly settles down.

Teething is said to cause a lot of problems for infants much like the trend of blaming every ailment in the world on either smoking or stress. ("Oh, your knee hurts? Must be the cigarettes, or possibly stress.")

Teething gets the blame for drooling, chin or face rash, a little cough, irritability, pain, biting, refusal to feed, diarrhea, low-grade fever, gum hematoma, ear or cheek rubbing and wakefulness. Our little guy has had just a few of these symptoms, but then again, he has another 18 primary teeth to go.

On top of all this, a new duty has been added: toothbrushing. Yes, it's true, the pin-size incisors must be brushed, an activity our guy seems to enjoy just about as much as we do. But good examples have to be set and life-long habits formed.

The very early arrival of our Little Viking's teeth is a perfect example of the unpredictability of child development. The books say one thing, reality another. Babies will be babies.

When I was worried about the little guy's weight and height he's the same size as many 1-year-olds the Little Viking's doctor (a very patient man) told me not to worry.

"He's gonna do what he's gonna do," the doctor said. He also said what I really needed to hear: I wasn't doing anything wrong. The reason the Little Viking was (and is) growing so fast has little to do with the content or amount of milk he gets and much to do with the content of his DNA.

That same genetic fingerprint has given the Little Viking iron thighs. They are huge; they are strong leading my husband to believe (or rather dream) that our son will become an NFL linebacker. Our future football player is currently preoccupied by standing with just a tad of support, but he has shown no interest in sitting or crawling, activities that "normally" precede standing and eventually walking.

With every aspect of our little man that deviates from the norm, I tell myself, "He's gonna do what he's gonna do." It's true that the old adage "You have to crawl before you walk" has applied to billions of people, but it most likely will not hold true for our Little Viking. That's OK. Babies will be babies.

They will discover and develop at their own pace. This doesn't absolve us, the parents, from doing our best, but pushing and coercing, and especially worrying, probably won't get us very far.

The Little Viking's road to self-discovery parallels his parents'. When he discovers his teeth, we discover our patience; when he discovers the power of his grip, we discover we need haircuts; and when he smiles and laughs, we discover our endless love for this new life.

Gabriella Boston is a features writer for The Washington Times. She and her husband welcomed their "Little Viking" in May. Send e-mail to gboston@washingtontimes.com.

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