Way back when Sam was still a diaper wearing person who toddled more than walked, he was a quiet kid. Then he stopped toddling and picked up a big boy gait, and we realized he was still quiet. Too quiet. One intense evaluation by a speech therapist later and we had our confirmation. Sam had serious speech delays.
I should have seen it coming. We were very familiar with speech therapists already. His older brother has a metabolic disorder that left in its wake a pretty nasty case of low muscle tone. Having weak muscles in your jaw, lips and tongue make it difficult to form words correctly. We spent years hanging out in the speech therapist's office, working on strengthening the muscles around his mouth.
By the time Sam was born his big brother was speaking well and on the fast track to normal speech.
I assumed I knew what to look for in Sam's speech development, since his brother's speech therapist had become one of my best friends in Missouri. (We did spend a lot of time together, more than I spent with any 'regular' friends and we were both passionate about my sweet boy. There's nothing more bonding than someone loving your kid almost as much as you do)
So when we made the big move to D.C. and Sam continued to be an easy going toddler, I was not concerned. I was watching for 'mushy speech' and I was not hearing it. I was watching for mispronounced words and I was not hearing any.
That was the problem. I wasn't hearing anything. My baby was mute. Not exactly mute. He made sounds. But nothing close to language.
It was when he had passed his second birthday and I realized he had never said the word 'NO!" that I became alarmed. What two year old (or eighteen month old, for that matter?) has not pounded his fist on the highchair tray and yelled NO! in the middle of dinner?
I should have noticed it earlier. But I was watching for zebras, and antelopes showed up. Plus we had just packed up our four young children, all born in Missouri, and moved them from the only city they had ever lived in, plunking them down in the middle of the metropolis of Washington D.C. (just months after 9/11, mind you.)
There was a lot of unpacking and signing up for schools, and figuring out the metro lines stuff going on. The fact that Sam was quiet was not noticed because he was...well...quiet. The squeaky wheel thing and all that.
So suddenly I noticed and found the box with the address book in it so I could call best friend speech therapist back in Missouri. She confirmed my concerns and advised I get on the case immediately.
Thus began Sam's journey with speech therapists. But this time we were not working on blowing bubbles and cotton balls to get stronger lips. We were working on finding sounds to make into words.
We had been doing baby signs with him and they became his life saver. He could express, through basic signs, what he wanted. I was introduced to the amazing Signing Time videos. They helped our whole family, including grandparents, understand how to communicate with our youngest child.
But part of the problem with having no speech as a one, then two, then three year old, is not being able to express how you feel. He didn't bombard me with constant questions through the grocery store, like his siblings had done. There was no discussing his favorite desires for Christmas that year. He didn't have the opportunity to question how the sky was made or why fruit loops don’t grow on trees. The basic needs were communicated but I missed knowing what my boy was thinking.
Then one day, after months and months of speech therapy, the language started to come. Slowly, slowly we built up words into sentences and Sam started to realize he could talk. He could ask questions and state his feelings. And it was fun to see what he had been carrying around inside that head all those quiet months.
One of my favorite moments came when he had become a tall, confident three-year-old. He sidled up to the counter and asked for a bowl of breakfast cereal. "Me want cee-yal, mama".
And as I poured out the frosted flakes and slopped on the milk my sweet boy looked up to me and said, oh so seriously, "Where we get dees bowls, mama?"
All those months of silence and my boy had been wondering where I'd gotten the bowls.
It makes me wonder what else he had been wondering, that he never got to ask.
I met with his school speech therapist today and he is right on track. He will still receive services through the summer and then into second grade, but most people who meet him would never know he ever struggled with finding language. We feel blessed to have been able to shower him with the best specialists in every city we've lived in.
Sometimes I think back to Sam's preschool days and wonder what treasures we missed. Sam is a very creative kid and I wonder what questions he had about the world around him that he could never ask because language was foreign to him. What magical profound thoughts circled through his preschooler brain and had no way of getting out? I will never know the answers to these questions but I am thankful anyway. So thankful that he finally did master our language and is able to fit right in to his second-grade class today. Thankful that he had great teachers along the way who brought out the best in him.
And also thankful that he made peace finally, with where we got the bowls.