From placenta to play centre

Be alert, but not alarmed

Harland was born in Henryville, Indiana in 1890.

By all reports, his early life was rather miserable. His father died when he was six years old, and at that tender age, he took on the domestic jobs for his younger siblings while his mother worked. He dropped out of school by the seventh grade, and ran away from home after a series of stoushes with his new stepfather.

After short-lived careers as a farmer, and then a street car driver, he enlisted in the Army, serving 12 months in Cuba. He married soon after, but this too was shaded by heartache when his only son died at a young age. Harland moved from job to job - a steamboat driver to an insurance salesman to a railroad fireman - without finding any lasting satisfaction. The one career to which he did aspire - the law – ended abruptly after he physically fought with one of his own clients in the courtroom.

Somewhat deterred, Harland retreated to Kentucky and opened up a service station. He enjoyed the interaction with customers and would often serve them food in his own living quarters. Before long, he began creating meals that people could take with them; full Sunday lunches that could be packaged and eaten on the road.

This idea gained momentum, and before long travellers would go out of their way to taste deep fried chicken seasoned with Harland’s ‘secret recipe’. His fame grew and, in 1935, Governor Ruby Laffoon bestowed upon him the highest civilian honour that could be awarded a Kentuckian: the Colonel of Kentucky.

But, alas, misfortune was to strike again, when the diversion of the Interstate 75 led to a significant drop in customers, and eventually the failure of his business.

Ever one to get back on the horse, Harland took his first social security check of $105 and approached local restaurateurs in the hope of convincing them to pay him for the use of his secret recipe. The ‘franchise’ approach worked, with an ever-growing number of restaurants handing over a small fee for every piece of chicken coated in the 11 secret herbs and spices.

The year was 1955, and Colonel Harland Sanders had just created Kentucky Fried Chicken. He was 65 years old.

Late bloomers

Late bloomers have received a lot of press lately. Malcolm Gladwell, in particular, has written extensively on this subject, noting the fallacy of linking precocity with talent. My brother and I have also edited a book, which explored the very different ways people find their niche in life.

For every Picasso - a child prodigy who held his first solo exhibition in Paris at the age of 19 - there are equal numbers of Paul Cézannes (failed the entrance exam into the Ecole des Beux-Arts), Robert Frosts (spent seven years running a one-man chicken farm before having a poem published), and Bram Stokers (didn’t start scribbling about a certain blood sucking Count until his late 40s).

Late-blooming among adults has a certain romance to it. Who wouldn’t like to think that they have a hidden artistic genius that would gobsmack the Parisian bourgeois, if only they didn’t have to go to work, cook dinner, and take the bins out on Monday night?

Late-blooming children

But the late blooming among children evokes very different emotions - fear, being the main one.

It’s not uncommon for parents to have intimate knowledge of developmental milestones, and watch their beautiful new child like a hawk for any sign that they may be delayed. Even the most easy-going of parents can develop a finely-honed peripheral vision for these milestones.

And who can blame them? Parents are bombarded with ‘shoulds’. “Your child should be smiling at 8 – 10 weeks. Your child should be crawling by 8 - 10 months.” To an already anxious, sleep-deprived brain, this must be pure torture!

Developmental milestones vary between childrenn. Flicker/Clover_1

I’m certainly not advising that parents ignore developmental milestones - far from it. These are extremely important. Parents are the biggest weapon in identifying delayed development, not least because they know their child’s coos, waddles and bowel movements better than they know their own.

But, here’s the rub: developmental guidelines are just that – guidelines. The child who hits each and every milestone on the knocker is the exception, not the rule.

Again, I write this not to downplay the importance of a parent playing an active role in monitoring their child’s development. If there are any concerns about a child, then it is very wise to consult a health professional. Speech Pathologists are experts in language and social development, Psychologists are experts in cognitive and behavioural development, and Occupational Therapists and Physiotherapists are experts in motor development.

But, I do believe that parents can take some of the pressure off themselves. Child development is variable. Not every healthy and happy child hits milestones at the same time.

By far the best thing that parents can do is create a rich learning environment for their child. This means getting down on the floor and playing with the child, talking with them, reading to them, interacting with them at their level. As a general rule, I find that the more you make a fool of yourself, the better!

Harland Sanders took a circuitous route to creating an empire (and a particularly delicious form of saturated fat!). While child development follows a less convoluted path, there are still considerable differences between children.

To borrow a phrase from the Australian Government (circa 2001), my advice is to be alert, but not alarmed.

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