My son is one year old. His "adjusted age" for prematurity is 9 months. He weighs about as much as your average 6-month-old, and is probably as tall as a 9-month-old. He's starting to say a few words, wave to people when he's not feeling too shy, and instigate games with me and his dad—all skills closer to his actual age. He struggles with crawling, and that's a skill most babies learn around 6 or 6-9 months. He continues to be a lean baby (like the Baby Spanx baby!), and people say he looks like the Gerber Baby all the time.
And I love all of those things about my son. I cry a little every time he gains a new skill. I am not worried about his development; we work on his physical skills every day, talk and read, feed him plenty, and give him what he needs to learn and grow. I'm not worried about his size. He isn't stunted, just behind—is your kid ten times his birth weight at one year? I didn't think so. He's doing excellently, especially for someone born among the very earliest and tiniest preemies. But I don't think I need to say that all the time.
Strangers in public places like to comment about babies. It's not always their business, and it's often uncalled for, but they do it anyway. So many of these people say things about Finley's head scar, where he had two brain surgeries but, against the odds, needed no permanent drainage shunt and has healed rather beautifully. They comment on his size, asking if he's just a few months old. They ask me his age all the time, as if they needed to know. People without infants of their own really don't know what "12 months old" even means. They certainly don't ask my age (judging by the under-eye circles, 112 years).
And every time they ask the age, I say, "But he was three months premature. That's why he is so tiny!" I'm afraid people will think I'm starving him or something, and certainly people have assumed he came across his head scar violently rather than surgically (curse you, Harry Potter). I'm scared to death of all of these people judging me and my baby.
Then, a few weeks ago, I ran into a mother around my age pushing her son in a stroller through Costco. We stopped to talk, and I found out her son is about Finley's adjusted age. He was also much, much bigger and had eight little teeth, where Finley had not quite cut his first. And I made my excuses. Prematurity! I yelled, before anyone could blame my terrible parenting skills.
And then this mom said the nicest thing to me. "You don't need to tell people he is premature. He is perfect!" Another stay-at-home mom, attentive to her child's needs and what is normal development, called me out of my dumb excuses. Because my son is just perfect. He is a fine size, and he is strong, smart, and active. He is learning and growing. He is not average, and he is not the same as other kids his age. But all of these excuses I make for him are not for him at all. They're because I'm so insecure as a mom I have to explain away everything people might see as wrong.
What do I do now? I still make excuses probably half of the time. But the other half of the time, I finally do what I should do all the time, and should have done all along: I tell people my son's age when they ask, try to get him to say, "Hi!" like he does when he's in a good mood, and I let them think what they will. I don't need to make excuses. My son is perfect.