Who understands this kid

My toddler has a motor speech delay. He’s been working with an amazing speech therapist for about four months now. My guess is that we’ll continue to make that weekly appointment for at least another year. Unless we need to step it up to twice a week which we might need to do. We don’t know yet.

These kind of speech delays are difficult to diagnose in little kids, and they can manifest differently for each individual child. Don’t Google motor speech delay (I did, and it was a mistake). A motor speech delay for my toddler means that he has a very hard time forming syllables that other kids seem to naturally voice. He has to look at my mouth when he’s trying to imitate me, and then he has to concentrate really hard to make his mouth do what his brain is telling him. It’s hard work. His vocal substitutions aren’t the usual ones that kids make and don’t make a lot of logical sense. He uses one ‘word’ to signify almost all other words regardless of what they sound like (‘da-da’ means ketchup, waffles, firetruck, and turkey). We are working to give him new and consistent motor maps for his mouth. His therapist gives him physical cues to make sounds, like touching his nose for the nasal n sound. He doesn’t seem to have any other challenges that delayed speech often signifies. He’s making improvements, but it’s slow going and no matter how fun we try to make it, it’s not super fun for any of us. One day this will be behind us.

Please note: This is not the time to tell me that your cousin’s neighbor’s roommate had a kid who didn’t say a word until he was three and he turned out ok, and don’t tell me about Einstein, and don’t tell me about how boys develop more slowly than girls and how he’ll talk when he’s ready. I appreciate so much that your words are coming from a place of love and reassurance, but 47 other people have already told me that. And it sounds sweet but…dismissive and like I shouldn’t be worried about something that I am worried about and like I don’t know my own kid.

I know he will learn to talk. I am certain of it. It’s just going to be more work than we thought. In the scheme of things this is a itty-bitty, teeny-tiny deal — I know parents and children who have lives full of appointments on top of appointments and daily therapies, and THEY ARE MY HEROES because just this one appointment each week in addition to the accompanying stress and all the other commitments that we have is about all I can manage. Maybe that says a lot about what I can manage. And what my priorities are. Sigh.

Here’s something embarrassing: when we’re out at the playground and other parents ask me how old my toddler is, I think about lying. He’s 25 months, but I want to say that he’s much younger. His gross motor skills are tops, so he seems older until he opens his mouth and a stream of incomprehensible sounds come out. Other kids his age are putting together sentences and saying “dinosaur”. At his age, my daughter was singing songs with lyrics. “He just turned two,” I say, “He doesn’t have a lot of words.”

I’m an introvert. I like quiet. But my work-life has been almost exclusively about talking. I’m an actor and a director; I have a podcast; in my long-ago life, I spoke with college-students about career counseling, and individuals about journaling, and I’ve led workshops for hundreds of people. Even the writing that I’ve done has been with oral speech in mind — as a playwright writing for performance or a poet writing to be read aloud. How can I have a kid who can’t speak and be understood?

After blaming my old eggs and ancient uterus (see: Advanced Maternal Age) and wondering if I’ve been too lax with this second-and-final child (maybe I should have pushed him more, talked to him more, given him more attention and vegetables), I’ve settled on “SCREW IT!” (well, a more profane version). Screw it, who cares why. Screw it, this is small potatoes. Screw it, we can handle this. Screw it, this is what we’ve got. This is who we got — a really wonderful wouldn’t-trade-him-for-anything  sweet little stinker — and this is what we’re dealing with. And aren’t we lucky? We really are. Honest to God, he’s about as cute as can be.

Communicating with my toddler is a full body experience. He acts out what he’s trying to say with his body, so most conversations are like playing charades with a two-year old. He uses sign language, facial expression, pitch and tone to convey what he means. Often, he’ll take my hand (or anyone’s hand!) and physically move us to see what he wants to ‘talk’ about. And when he finally loses his patience after I can’t understand him over and over and over, he screams at the top of his lungs in frustration….and gets over it. He moves onto something else.

Obviously, this blog post is me screaming….and getting over it and moving on to something else.

Of all the people in my toddler’s world, I am the one who understands him the best. That is special. I’m grateful for it. I spend the most time with him, but I also listen to him the hardest… the most carefully. So  yesterday when he finally said ‘boo’ for blue, instead of ‘bow’ and instead of ‘da-da’ and instead of ‘uhhhh’ — I HEAR it. I hear him, and we both rejoice. ‘Boo’ is on the right track to blue.

It’s the little victories, right? Boo never sounded so good.

 

Conversations like coffee

“Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after.”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

My brain got stretched this week, and it was uncomfortable. My head ached. I felt exhausted every night from the extra hard thinking I was doing — from trying to keep up with the conversations, the connections, the leaps of thinking and the much-too-muchness of all people have to offer. Sheesh, people! People and their words! On Thursday night, I cried. Then I mopped my face with a tissue and went straight to bed so I could be well-rested for the more that the next day would bring. More uncomfortable brain-stretching, more conversation, more connections, more much-too-muchness of all people have to offer.

It was a week of deep conversations every single day. Even the conversations that were brief, were taxing for my imagination and my equilibrium:

In conversation with my daughter, I pointed out the rain drops on the car’s windshield, and she explained that “rain drops are made of souls.”

In conversation with a group, a participant suggested that ‘the sky would teach me everything if I really looked at it several times a day.’

In a conversation with friends, we talked about the nets we build and do not build to catch each other when we fall. We talked about the far-reaching life-altering decisions that we make as a result of our connectedness to others.

I had lengthy, far-ranging conversations about illness, legacies, writing, poetry, death, theatre, politics, race, religion, parenting, poverty, libraries, pornography, and life. I made small talk that wasn’t small talk about parodies, calendars, brunches, rock bands, cat food, human food, dreams, real estate, bodies, television, laundry, coloring books, and more, and more, and more. These were conversations face-to-face, over the phone, and via the interwebs — a communications assault on all fronts.

I found myself dropped in conversations that were so unexpected they took my breath away. How did I get here? People surprised me with the size of their hearts, their intellects, their compassion, their blind spots. It was a week full of conversations laced with yearning and unsettledness. It was a week of seeking peace and seeking solutions where there were none. It was a week of reaching out for human connection with laughter and joy, with anger and frustration, with wonder, with confusion, with words, words, and more words…and some tears.

Human beings being human beings.

And I was so grateful. I am so grateful for all of those conversations. I am so eager for more because this was a week that left me vibrating and overwhelmed by the people I encountered. I felt literally impressed — pressed into — by the energy of humanity in a way that made me feel alive and exhausted by the possibilities and the mysteries and the answers on the horizon.

It was a highly caffeinated week.

Even though I love it, it is really scary for me to talk with people. Even though I want to, it’s really scariest for me to have high-wire conversations about the deep stuff of life with all those emotions along for the ride. God forbid I say something stupid or rude and have someone dislike me. God forbid I offend someone. What if someone gets angry? God forbid I have nothing interesting or comforting to say. What if I don’t have an answer when someone is looking to me for an answer? What if this conversation ‘gets out of control’?!

People are messy and the words that we use to communicate with each other can be confusing and frustrating and distracting. Conversations are incredibly inefficient — they take a lot of time. And who has time for anything these days? Sheesh, just send me an email. Sheesh, just get to the point. Just tell me what you want me to do. Many words = many opportunities for misunderstanding. And so much of what we are trying to convey is heart-stuff, laden with emotions and history and hopes that we can barely articulate to ourselves let alone another person.

Talking with people….it’s so much work.

For me, right now I think the work is worth it.

Yes, I think the work is worth it. I’m hanging in there (until I just need a break! until I just need to rest!) thru the hard messy stuff to keep talking. I want to. What do you think?

Real conversations — sincere attempts at connection and a commitment to vulnerability and understanding — we gotta have them to grow as individuals and as a community. Conversations build the (metaphorical) nets and bridges that we need to hold our society together. Conversations lead to commitments and actions that make change. Conversations light a fire under our butts, and help us re-examine our assumptions about responsibility and preconceived ideas of what other people think. Conversations tear down walls, and expose shoddy arguments and lies. Conversations reinforce connection and the idea that we live together on this planet. Of course, conversations lead to great art too.

I am grateful for the talking-talking-talking that makes my head hurt and keeps me awake at night like strong coffee. I am grateful for the seekers and bridge-builders who move thru my life with the curiosity and openness and respect that make these conversations possible. They drop keys/clues/crumbs into my lap that open ideas and connections I wouldn’t have access to otherwise. This is one way I learn about the world.

I am grateful that people allow me to speak and that they allow me to listen. (Yeah, cuz the listening is as important as the talking.)

Let’s keep talking. Let’s keep listening.

Let’s keep hanging in there, even we when need to pass the tissues all around, even when we question whether we should have had that fourth cup of coffee-like conversation.