Let It Go (and Hit the Pause Button): My Journey with a Late-Talker

 

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“Life,” and all it’s ups and downs, has this teensy habit of getting in the way with our routines.

You know the ones I’m talking about. The routines that move like clockwork. The very routines that we rely on to get through our day. Need to head out with two small kids (or more) in tow? Well, a routine must be followed. Yours might be a bit different, but I’ll bet it looks something like: teeth brushing, slapping on small-sized shoes onto wiggly feet, pre-outing diapers changes, and the very important question: Do you need to to use the potty? (Which also includes asking yourself.)

All of these little, but very important steps happen without any blips or bumps, and everyone in your household seems to follow, just perfectly, this routine in a nice, orderly fashion.

Yeah. Right.

Kids, by their very nature, tend to disrupt any sort of routine or order us parents attempt to create. Like the ‘getting shoes on’ part I mentioned, where just as you’re about to put said shoes on, you discover your eldest has taken off all her clothes.

The clothes, you know, you’d just put on five minutes ago.

But within all these ups and downs with kids, there is still some sort of order and routine. Sure, it’s a fluid-like kind-of routine, but it’s there. And it’s important. Really important. We rely on these routines, these little checklists in our head to make sure we don’t forget those vital steps in parenthood. (Forgot the snacks for your all-day outing? Oh, dear lord, the earth would shake at this travesty.) But sometimes, it can’t be helped. We forget. We make mistakes. We’re human. Our heads get so filled with other things and our checklist starts to slip.

This happens especially with life rolls.

I like to think of life rolls as real moments where everything gets thrown out of whack, where even the simple act of brushing your teeth becomes an iffy prospect because all of your energy is going towards this other thing. Life rolls can be fun, like the birth of another kid, or not so fun, like illness or even the death of a loved one. Or, like me recently, a house move.

A house move with a 3 1/2 year-old and 18 month-old.

Life rolls are harder to get through when you have children, especially young ones because, regardless of this life event, you still need to care for these tiny humans. They still need to get fed regularly (or, in many cases, all the freakin’ time) and bathed (somewhat regularly) and put to bed on time (if not, then everyone starts suffering and all-feelings of patience go right out the window).

After nearly two months of a life roll, I’ve finally come out the other side. My routines are starting up again and my head no longer feels like it’s bursting with mental notes and items that must be done immediately. Oh, I still have the occasional (or often) mental reminder that happens only when I’m driving and I can’t do anything about it… but it’s getting better. And with it getting better, the checklists aren’t slipping as much and I feel the urge to get back to what life was like before The Move.

Now, I’m familiar with life rolls. I had two kids in the past four years and I know the first thing that needs to stop is my writing (hence the looooong stretch between blog posts and stories written). I simply cannot be creative when my mind is focused on this other Big Thing. As soon as we knew about the move, I said, “sorry,” to my writing and put it aside. It was hard in the sense that I had to break a nearly 3-month fiction writing streak, but also easy because I’ve been down this road before (the life roll, I mean). I know I can’t focus on writing when my mind is busy on Other Big Thing. So, I set it aside.

(Picking it back up is another matter. One I’m still working on as I clear the mental decks to get back to it.)

But it wasn’t just the writing I set aside. It was all the speech play that Kate and I did. All of our Special Play Time sessions (about 20 minutes of focused play) got shelved while I dealt with washing walls and carpets, loading and unloading boxes. I was expecting all language progress from Kate to stop, the same way I had to stop our special play time sessions, the same way my writing had to stop. I mean, with writing it’s pretty simple. You don’t put down new words on paper… then you just don’t get any new words at all.

Except… that wasn’t true in Kate’s case.

Her words didn’t stop.

I was surprised, and absolutely thrilled.

Her words kept coming.

In fact, they never stopped. They never paused during the move even though I personally had to hit the pause button on the “work” I did with her. Because, in truth, the true “work” happened every day, every moment, every interaction we had together. It’s recasting when she said, “baby” or “oh-no.” It’s honoring the natural way she replied, “No,” when I asked if she needed to go potty.

And, it’s also moments like this where I’m amazed just how right this path is for us, for me to be her primary speech partner and not a therapist, who may or may not follow her lead and her oh-so-different temperament. (Kate is the type of person where if you push her, if you try and take the ‘control’ from her, especially with language, she will just not talk. And guess what? There ain’t nothing I can do to make her talk. So, we don’t push. We follow her lead.)

In fact, when we had six months of private speech lessons, we saw almost zero progress. Kate wouldn’t even turn on her voice in front of her therapist. Sure she enjoyed playing with the therapist, would even run out to the car when she saw her. Kate would Just Not Talk.

And yet, here we were, with a big ol’ move, leaving the only house she knew growing up, and there were the words.

Right there.

Amazing, beautiful, wonderful words.

Disclaimer: This is not to say that all speech therapists are bad, or are not right for your child. Every child is different. Every stage in their life is different, as well. All I want to do is throw this out there that you, as a parent, are actually the most qualified person to partner with your child (if that’s what you choose). It’s okay to trust in yourself. No one is more invested in your child, and no one knows them better, than you. Sure, you’ll probably need coaching and advice along the way, but you can find that. I did, and for Kate, for me (and possibly for Eric too), this is what’s working for us. It’s our right path, and every day, I see how true this is. As I told our newest pediatrician when he asked what my “expertise” was: I am her mother. (And he quickly, quickly, backpedaled about his statement.)

Yeah. I know. I just said that the work that I’m doing, as mom (or dad, in my husband’s case), is more beneficial than our therapist, who had tons of schooling and a decade or so of work.

Except… it’s all true.

And I got to see the proof, firsthand, right in the middle of our crazy house move.

One night, I’m getting Kate into bed, totally exhausted and completely drained, and all I wanted was for my last awake child to no longer be awake (so I could get to the glass of wine waiting patiently downstairs). Which is about when I noticed that Kate was singing. It was the way she was moving her arms around, so purposeful, and there was an almost rhythm-like sound to her words. And I swear, I thought I heard the word “go.”

I was still tired, still wanted that glass of wine, but I figured: what the hell, why not?

So, I started singing, “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen.

Kate’s eyes got huge.

Huge.

When you have a child who doesn’t talk, all you have is their physical expressions to know what they’re feeling and thinking. And the way her eyes lit up, I knew what it meant. It was excitement. It was her acknowledging that I had understood her.

So, I kept on singing, smiling, and enjoying this connection, this understanding.

And you know what happened?

Kate started singing, “Let it go.”

That’s right. The words were there, clear as day: Let it go.

That tiny moment, which happened right before bedtime, had also happened after I’d hit the “pause” button on our speech “work.” Does that make sense? I’d put a halt to all of my homework from the wonderful speech pathologist, Mary Camarata, but that didn’t mean my speech work had actually stopped. It just… kept looking so structured.

From this little interaction with my singing, “Let It Go,” Kate now uses the word “go” several times a day. She’s met Anna and Elsa and Olaf at Disneyland, and for the first time ever, wasn’t shy or nervous, and in fact jumped up for joy and even showed Olaf the My Little Pony on her shoes. She even says the word “door” now (because it’s in the song).

And it’s not just words from Frozen either that have become natural and normal and comfortable for her. “Daddy” and “baby” are words she uses many, many times a day. In fact, yesterday she informed me that baby brother had climbed up the medium slide and was now in the play structure by himself and that I should go get him (she did all this by saying “baby” and pointing at the structure).

She’s even put two words together like “No, baby” and “no, don’t.”

And the newest one, and one I’m so proud of: “I did it!”

(Of course, as soon as I put on the video camera or tried to show Sean she clammed up so fast and tight.)

All of this, and so so so much more. And it happened while I had hit the “pause” button. And it happened because of this small but huge interaction, right before bedtime. One that could have only come from me or Sean, not a qualified speech pathologist during the designated speech time. It happened with us, and it happened because Kate was ready.

All I have to do is look back over my journal, and all the proof I need is right there. It’s my being aware of Kate understanding a new word, like “where” (a word that is a very abstract and non-visual) as well as the name of her newest friend. It’s seeing the comfort she has when saying words in front of strangers (a really, really big deal for her). It’s realizing that she’s growing tentative and quiet with her words again… because she’s trying out new ones and she’s worried about getting them wrong, like “wa-dy” (for “water”) or “ma” (she says this as an almost whisper as she tries, and thinks, about saying “mommy”).

Our routines from the move are finally coming together.

We’re going to our weekly park days and have even started a weekly nature play day with our local homeschool group. My writing is finally on the horizon (whipee!), and I’ve finally, finally lifted my finger off the pause button. But the speech play I did with Kate? That was never on pause, even though I thought it was.

She’s showing me this, every day, because she trusts me to follow her. To go at her pace and at her comfort. And the more I do that, the more I listen, and the more those words come.

Life and routines might stop or pause or hit road bumps, but this language journey just keeps on going on. It keeps on moving forward and every time, every glimmer gives me even more confidence. It helps me trust, even more, in Kate, and even just as important, in myself.

She knows what she’s doing.

And you know something?

So do I.

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