I was recently reminded that there was a time that my child could not speak. He could not answer a question, he could not share something that excited him, he could not tell me where it hurt.
That hurt. A lot.
To know your child is in distress and to not know why, or how to fix it, is the pinnacle of parental frustration and anxiety.
I recall looking at him, two years old, standing in his crib to greet me in the morning, wondering when he’d say “hi, mama!” Thinking that one day maybe he’d just start speaking in full sentences, having had no need for baby talk. Not ever, not once, realizing something bigger than a speech delay might be at play in our home.
There is a photo I have of Jack that absolutely breaks my heart every time I see it now. Now that I “know”. He was eighteen months old, and not feeling well. I was taking photos of his pout, because I do things like that. I have photos of all of my children in various states of anger, sadness, happiness and joy, because I don’t ever want to forget even a second of their lives.
I also want a nice, big arsenal for the teenage years.
The photo is gorgeous. He was a beautiful child (still is), with rosy cheeks and big, curly blonde hair.
What I didn’t know, is that not only did he not feel well, he actually had strep. At one o’clock that same evening/morning, David had to rush him to the hospital because his 104-degree fever would not come down, no matter what we tried.
What I didn’t know, is that his throat hurt. He was in pain, and had been, apparently, for days. He had been sleeping a lot, but not complaining in any way.
He couldn’t, actually. He didn’t know how.
That event marked a turning point in our lives, where we went from “Jack is just independent and will speak when he’s ready” to “maybe we should be looking into this a little bit more”.
We spoke with his pediatrician about it at our follow-up visit, and were shushed and placated, and pushed out the door with the advice to not to fret about it. Lots of kids don’t have language until later. Start worrying when he’s two and a half. Almost a year away.
A family member had been through Early Intervention with their child, and suggested we give them a call. What could it hurt? It’s free, and maybe they could help. We went back and forth about whether or not to do it, and finally decided to make the call. Jack was twenty months.
He was assessed by the full team of not only a speech therapist, but a social worker and occupational therapist within two months, and we were assigned benefits for him within four. We were overwhelmed with what they had offered: five days a week in a collaborative preschool, home-based speech therapy two hours a week, clinic-based occupational therapy two hours a week, and various other interventions we decided not to pursue.
As I’ve mentioned before, speech therapy “unlocked” him. Jack was speaking within a month of his therapy, and within a year, he was well on his way to being the chatterbox he is today.
But why the other offerings? Why so much for a little boy who simply had trouble speaking?
As the months went by and the reports started coming in, it all started to make sense.
Actually, that’s not true. They confused us. Why would a speech delay cause upper body weakness? Why were both his fine and gross motor functions being called into question? Why did there suddenly seem to be so much more to be concerned about, just as he was finding his voice?
Well, we know now. That story has been told.
Sometimes, though, I need to be reminded of those days. Sometimes when I’m dying for quiet and my house is just so loud. Sometimes when Jack is asking endless questions about nebulae and how stars are born and just how big is Jupiter in relation to Betelgeuse anyway, when all I want is to shut off his light so I can go watch TV.
Sometimes, I need to remember that when Jack speaks too much, it’s not a lot different than when he didn’t speak at all.
He is now able to tell me when his throat hurts, or he’s bleeding or he needs some alone time. He can tell me when he’s happy and had a wonderful day and can’t wait for our weekend plans. He can tell me he loves me, which I longed to hear for so, so long.
He cannot, though, tell me that he’s stressed. He cannot tell me when he’s had enough. He cannot tell me when the lights and sounds and noises and cacophony of the world have pushed him to his very limits. For those times, it’s still up to me to read his body language. To try and snap him out of the vacant looks and nonstop pacing. To bring him back.
To heal the little boy with blonde curls and rosy cheeks.
Jack never stops teaching me, even though I sometimes get caught up in the noise myself. He speaks now, but it’s so important to remember when he could not. He is still the same child, and he still needs me to guide him.
And, for now, to explain the finer points of the universe.
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