My third child speaks his own language. It’s a cross between Mandarin and Spanglish.
This was somewhat amusing when he was eighteen months old. Now that he’s entering his fifth year, the humor is gone as we’re still having a hard time understanding his words, his spoken thoughts.
This, as a parent, breaks my heart. It breaks my heart when he desperately tries to tell me something. It breaks my heart when he stomps off with frustration. It breaks my heart when he rolls his eyes instead of opening his mouth.
Alex has been in Early Intervention Speech Therapy for two years and we’ve seen some amazing results. We sat by, worked his phonics and his patience, and have watched him grow. He still cannot say most consonants. But he can say, “Daddy, can you pick me up?” And how can I say no to that?
Alex has a long way to go as there are complete sentences, paragraphs and entire stories that come out of his mouth that I cannot comprehend. Any parent who has ever experienced slow speech development with a child understands the feelings that coincide. There are frustrations, fears, pain, and uncertainty.
Our Alex is the sweetest, little four-year-old boy you could find on the map. He has the looks of Paul McCartney and the heart of George Harrison. He’s gentle, intelligent and sweet. He has all the smarts in the world, just not the words to prove it. And most times he doesn’t need these words, because he has the kind of face that says it all.
My wife knew early on that Alex was behind his peers in verbal communication. I accused her of being reactionary and told her not to worry. Sadly, I played it off thinking that eventually his tongue would find its way and we’d be talking baseball by his fourth birthday. I have a loose parenting theory that babies become children, and children become grown people without much intervention from parents. In this case, I was dead wrong.
It’s hard not to blame yourself as a parent anytime any kind of success evades your children. And I am ready to take on the blame.
We did not raise our third child in the same capacity as we raised our first two babies. I read to our first child in utero. And did flashcards with our second child before his first birthday. Our television was rarely on in those early days, but when it was on it was Baby Einstein and Elmo DVDs. I used to sing to our children, and play the guitar, and do all the things that new parents do.
And then I changed with child number three. Perhaps, I spent too much time writing My Pathetic Blog. Perhaps, I should’ve read more when he was a baby. Perhaps it has nothing to do with me at all.
Right now the teachers are treating his condition as Apraxia, which in a child has no known cause. Children with Apraxia struggle with the muscle movement needed to perform proper speech. Children with Apraxia leave out sounds and have trouble with longer sounds. Their speech is rushed. Their tongue just doesn’t cooperate with their brain.
Let me say that through all this we are lucky. We are fortunate to be part of an Early Invention program with some patient, amazing teachers who care for Alex and his growth as much as we do. We have neighborhood friends whose children have been through this program and who have succeeded.
There are things that Alex says perfectly. Then there are things no one can understand. I don’t know if Alex’s speech has gotten better, or if I have gotten better at understanding him. I posed this same question to his speech teacher after she told me what a great first year he had.
“Are you sure it’s not just you?” I asked.
She paused for reason, hesitated and said that it was him. And this made me feel good.
What saddens me is that I know we are missing some of the most precious spoken words. The things children say from the ages of three to five years are unmistakably brilliant. I know this because I have written down every lovable, funny, fantastic thing any of my children have ever wondered aloud….However, I have yet to write down a single thing Alex has said.
Kids say the darndest things, but I can’t understand what darndest things my third kid is saying. I can tell he’s making a joke. He flashes a devilish look on his face, sheepishly looking away, grinning as if he just stole a shot of gin from the family liquor cabinet.
Last month, I was helping Alex go potty when he decided to chime in about my penis. “Daddy, you have a ‘hbhusau’ penis.”
I caught the first and the last words, but I missed the adjective. When Alex starts a word with the ‘h’ he might mean to say ‘c’, ‘k’, ‘p’ or even ‘h’. Now, all I can do is to begin the guessing game.
I have a happy penis? I have a handsome penis? I have a hungry penis? I have a caring penis? I have sharing penis. I have the bravest penis…?
This went on for another five minutes, which I’m sure exceeded the appropriate time for a grown man to talk about his penis to a toddler. Sometimes, it’s best just to move forward.
Standing on the border of the playground other parents will ask us about Alex’s speech. The conversation turns to brain scans, ear tubes, spinal taps, autism, etc. Shared stories of friends of friends all come with well intentions. But frankly, I don’t care to hear them.
My biggest concern through it all is that Alex’s failure to speak properly will consume him. My fear is that this failure will become his personality. My fear is that he will eventually shut down. That he will lose friends, and his social standing. My fear is that people will think that there is something ‘wrong’ with him. And I assure you, there is nothing ‘wrong’ with him.
So far, this is not the case. Children are far more resilient than adults. Alex’s development hasn’t hurt him socially or academically. He is developing in school. He can count. He can write. He can play. And Alex always gets the invitation to the birthday party.
And he continues to amaze me with his smarts…Perhaps, at times he’s too smart. Last week Alex was having a hard time stating something to my wife.
“Mommy, I am hjuahty,” Alex said with little success. My wife asked him to repeat this over and over again without success. Eventually Alex figured out a different way of saying the same thing. In fact, he posed it like a riddle.
“Mommy, do you know when you’re hot? Mommy, do you know when you come home from running? I’m that, Mommy.”
“Sweaty? You’re sweaty, Alex?”
“Yes, Mommy. I am sweaty.”
When my wife told me this story over dinner I teared up. I got lost in emotion and was amazed at his creativity, at his persistence, at his will. I am amazed at his voice. And was something I was sure to write down.
For more of my with my Alex I suggest you visit… http://mypatheticblog.tumblr.com/tagged/alex
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I am Kevin Harris, a father of four and husband to one very understanding woman. And yes, I know exactly what caused all those pregnancies! My home life makes me smile and I like to share that laughter with others. Hopefully, you can find a bit of your home life reflecting in my pathetic blog…..