Pulling on Words
By Tricia Mirchandani
A mother’s life becomes all-consumed by her son’s speech delay
“Uh… Uh… Uh… Up! Boo! 1…. 2…. 3… G-G-G-Gooooo! Weeee!”
This is our slide mantra. I say these words every time he goes uh-uh-up and d-d-down. I chant them on the first round and the twenty-first round. I repeat them when we’re alone in the park and when others stand by, witness to how ridiculous I sound. Every journey up these steps and down that slide happens to the tune of my narration. We have a swing mantra too and another for the bigger slide. One for opening doors and one for taking off shoes.
We have these mantras because that is what the speech delay books and websites and speech therapists have told us to do. Repeat words five times. Narrate. Enunciate. Give him a turn to speak but give him the words he needs. Don’t talk too much but say what he might say if he could. Use the same words always. Routine is important. Repetition is key.
Just like those early days of parenthood when I read every book, subscribed to every newsletter, bookmarked every website with an ounce of information about the sleeping and eating patterns of newborns and infants, I submerged myself in data, research, and the words of the experts. I highlighted, tabbed, and made notes in the margins of articles. And, just like in those early days, I’d come away so dizzy and overwhelmed that I could barely form a word myself. I’d close the book and take tentative steps, scared to make a wrong move or say the wrong thing. I’d question every activity, lest my actions today prevent us from ever unlocking that box where he keeps his voice.
Still, for three months, I read and researched and gathered. I sat us in daily focused work time, like school for my not-quite two-year-old. We’d blow bubbles or play with his train, things he enjoyed because the books advised that speech happens through play, but we both knew the truth. This was work, barely disguised as fun. By the time an hour had passed, we’d be exhausted. My muscles ached as if I’d been physically pulling on the words that are rooted so deep within him. He couldn’t sit a minute longer, wanted a view of the world that did not include my face. So we’d go to the park and I’d intend to let him play, just let him be, give us both some time to rest. But then he’d run to the slide and the book said routine is important; repetition is key. So I’d stand by. “Uh… uh… uh…. Up!”
My life became solely about coaxing words. All else fell away as I lived for his first sound, his first string of babbles, his first thought.
But the world kept spinning, as it does. Summer cooled into Fall. School began. As I kept my gazed focused on his lips, watching expectantly each time they parted, his legs learned to climb up and down steps and propel a tricycle. As I stared into a tunnel, waiting for his voice to echo against the walls, his sister became a Kindergartener and entered new phases of reading and writing and friendships. But I didn’t see any of it. I didn’t see life; I saw only him and his reluctant little mouth whose sweet smiles melted my heart as his silence broke it.
Such is the way of motherhood. The way we worry is all consuming. We see the things that may hurt our children, that make life harder for them, and we can’t rest until they have been fixed. We believe that if we devote every ounce of our being to them and this thing that is wrong, that we can fix it. A mother’s love can conquer all.
We don’t like to admit that our motherhood has limits.
At the end of a long day, I collapsed on the couch and stared at the ceiling. We’d spent the day celebrating our daughter’s five years on this earth. We’d made the day about her. There’d been no focused speech time. No pulling on words, begging whatever it is inside my son to release. We’d just lived our life, the life where birthdays happen and must be celebrated. The life where you only turn five once and where kids run around our backyard, searching for treasure and chasing each other and rolling in the grass. The life where a little boy can hang with his sister’s friends, keeping up just fine with the big kids and their games, the number of words he cannot say completely irrelevant. At the end of that day, I stared at the ceiling, dreaming that if I could just stay perfectly still, I could delay my return to the all-consuming worry. Stay just a bit longer in the celebration, in life.
I was staring at the ceiling so I didn’t see when he opened his mouth to let free a stream of babbles, perfectly inflected. He wandered around emitting a series of ba-ba-bas, hand motions to match, as if it was his turn in an animated conversation about the day and the party and the kids. I wasn’t pulling but he was giving willingly and freely, sounds and tones and the answers to months of prayer.
And I know this does not mean things are fixed. These babbles alone won’t smooth his path. I know; I’ve done the research. But instinct stopped back in for a visit that night and suggested that maybe, just maybe, we might try living more and pulling less. Maybe if we just live our life, this life is where we’ll find his voice.
Tricia Mirchandani is a mother of two, a freelance writer and the blogger behind Raising Humans. Her words have appeared on the Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Mamalode, and in Pregnancy and Newborn magazine. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.