My son, who is now 4, is lagging behind his peers in school because of a speech impediment. To say that parenting a kid with a speech delay can be lonely is an understatement. Yet, after discussing the matter with my son’s physician, I’ve concluded there’s no point in forcing him to catch up.
My son and I are heading down the sidewalk connecting his preschool to the outside world. One of the little girls in his class is talking to her mom behind us. Well, that’s right: “We painted.” Just messing around in the water was a lot of fun. When asked about lunch, I said, “The soup I had wasn’t very good.”
I stoop low to greet Baz. “Honey, how was your day?”
He immediately becomes alert. The anticipation in his hazel eyes is palpable. When I try to breathe, I find that I can’t. I wait. Maybe now is the time. The siren of a fire truck may be heard echoing down Hopkins Street. The rumbling and chomping of a recycling truck have drawn near the curb. My normally mute and completely enamored kid is completely silent.
Baz can hold a conversation with his peers at age 4, but he is significantly behind the speech development of his friends. His preschool director made the initial diagnosis and summoned my husband Adam and me in on a warm Friday to discuss the problem. The weather was not the cause of the sweat I was feeling under my arms.
It was time for someone to step in. Some suggestions were written down and presented to us from across the table. When we finally had to leave, I wished I had tears to blink away. As a result, my eyes were irritated by the dryness.
As I secure my baby in his car seat and adjust the straps, I kiss him on the forehead. He gives out a grin but says nothing. When I have inquiries on the way home, I try to keep them brief and straightforward. The only time he responds is when I inquire how he is doing in Spanish. He laughs and replies, “Sad,” in Spanish.
My grip on the wheel gets tighter. My bottom lip gets caught between my teeth. The radio is playing an old David Bowie album, a throwback to my boyhood in the ’80s. Come on, let’s get our groove on. Dance the blues in your red-soled shoes. I join in, thinking Baz will start singing with me. He likes to stare out the window at nothing in particular.
It’s hard to put into words how hard it is to raise a child with a speech delay. Notwithstanding his tragic proclamation, I am extremely appreciative of his current health and positive outlook. Baz is a tender-hearted young man who enjoys giving bear hugs. He is the daily source of my laughter. He always provokes my reflection. He is one of the few persons who has ever managed to get me to stop thinking about myself.
We were both taken aback by the intensity of his delivery, which he experienced inside of me and then emerged from gasping. Still, I have a limited understanding of his character. I’m curious as to what goes through his mind as he constructs elaborate railway settings and homes out of waffle blocks. What does he think when I pick him up from a long day of school?
To accept that my own child may make me lonely is a strange thing to do. Yet the truth is that. I’m a wordsmith by trade, and there’s nothing I enjoy more than a good philosophical discussion. I’m also aware that I might be giving my son too little credit. He can be understood. He chirps off lines from his favorite show, Green Eggs & Ham. His talent is as a singer. His rambunctious, devoted canine pack listens to him. He tells his mother as he rubs his hand over their soft fur, “They’re the nicest pets ever.”
My hubby says he was just like Bazzy when he was little. According to him, “Hell,” he continues, “I barely finished a sentence at the dinner table until I was 14 and my sister went off to college.”
This is not reassuring in any way.
I start associating my sense of worth with Baz’s communication progress. I must be talking over him, like Adam’s sister does, and deterring him from speaking up. I stifle my want to chat in the hopes that he’ll fill the void left by my silence. That isn’t how it works. I find the increased number of silent car journeys uncomfortable, but I wonder how he feels about it. Does he just naturally lean this way?
Feeling guilty, we took Baz to the pediatrician to find out if the reason for his speech delay was my fault. She gave me a friendly nod and reassured me that the situation was manageable and that we could tackle it together. She reassured me that it was not due to anything I had done and that, while it is frequent (1 in 12 children are affected), it is something to focus on but not something to take to heart as some admission of wrongdoing. A few drops of sweat had been wiped off my palms, and I felt a weight lift off my shoulders as I left the building.
Recently, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I cannot shape my child into the person I want. Trying to force him to share my insecurities would be unfair to both of us. I can only offer him room to grow at his own speed and the means to do so.
Adam and I reached out to the resources suggested and submitted the voluminous paperwork required to get an evaluation. We did some research on language impairments. The most common thing we share is our commitment to raising our son to be himself, regardless of how introverted or outspoken he may be.
Usually, I go get Baz on Fridays around 3 or 4 in the afternoon. When he sees me, his eyes light up, and he races to me, fumbling and flailing like a kid, trying not to tumble. I love you, Mama, he tells her.
The remaining stuff can be put off for now.
Meaningful articles you might like: The Positive Effects of Learning a Second Language as a Kid, The Causes of Speech Delay in Children, What Is Apraxia Of Speech?