Long Stretches

Yesterday, I had a conversation with a friend that left me feeling… hurt inside. This wasn’t a bad friend or even a bad conversation, and yet those feelings I had were very real.

And valid.

But, so was the conversation.

My friend spent most of the time telling me all about the exceptional things her kids had done, mostly about her son (who’s a year younger than Kate), and how he knows one of the songs in The Sound of Music. Which, really, is pretty awesome.

But then I got to hear all about the single-word conversations they had. The understanding. About how clear he was at communicating his wants through language.

And, after awhile, it started to hurt.

I mean, yes, Kate clearly communicates her wants in very complex, nonverbal ways, which is pretty amazing when I stop and let myself actually think what she’s doing (instead of just reacting and following her lead). How she uses sound variations, that mimics a conversations inflections. How she points and pulls. How, when staying at a friend’s home, she tricked my husband into picking her up and opening the alcohol cabinet – all the while he thought it was just alcohol.

But Kate knew better.

She knew I’d stashed the cereal there, in a place she couldn’t possibly climb to. (Yet.)

And while all of these little quirks, all her little antics that make me smile, make me love and treasure my unique little girl all the more….

She’s still not talking.

It’s this strange mix of confusion. Of wanting to hear about my friend and her children (who are, after all, important to me), and at the same time, the more I hear, the more it hurts.

Those feelings aren’t her fault. They’re not even my fault.

But they are real and I don’t want to deny having them.

Just like it’s equally hurting to watch Kate interact with another girl at the park, who’s using words to display her feelings (like, “Don’t do that!), while I watch the look on Kate’s face… and see the confusion. Her not understanding.

It’s hard to stand back and watch. Hard to know when to intervene and when to trust in my daughter. Trust in the process of learning from other children. Trust and just allow life to unfold and simply see what happens and what she does next.

And yet, it’s her not understanding, that confusion on her face, that hurts me. It hurts me to watch and know that I can’t wave my magic wand and make it better.

Make it all go away.

It’s extra hard right now because I’m right smack-dab in the middle of all this. In the middle of exploring what’s going on with Kate (if anything), in the middle of finally building the trust with her therapist, and damn if I have a hard time seeing the forest when I’ve got my nose pressed right up against that bark.

All I see is that bark and nothing else.

Sometimes, though, I’ll also get glimpses of leaves, but those are few and far between. In fact, I’ll go huge stretches between seeing those leaves, those moments of insight into just how much Kate knows and understands of the world. When a child doesn’t talk, it’s hard to know what they’re thinking, what they know and comprehend… or when they’re just ignoring you because, really, that’s what kids do.

And when I do have those moments? When I do see those leaves?

They’re usually not exceptional.

At least, not to most people.

They are tiny moments. Little ripples on the pond. That’s all. They’re not the kind of thing where you snatch up the phone, call your best friend, and say, “Guess what she did?!”

Tiny. Little. Ripples.

Kate mimicking her mouth and lips like her therapist.

Heck, her showing an interest in mimicking the mouth’s movement.

Kate showing me the Pixar movie, Up, then the dog on the cover and saying, “Doa, doa, doa…” and then pointing to her Lady pillow (from Lady and the Tramp – who is also a dog).

Long stretches with these super brief glimpses of progress.

Which, ironically, is also the state of my writing right now and this short story I started back in May. It’s still not done and yet I’m click, click, clicking away at it. There’s long stretches in between me starting a story and finishing it, and yet, little bits of progress are being made every week.

Sometimes, even every day.

It’s hard to remember that.

Hard to keep my chin up and my motivation high when I see other writers banging out stories, sending them off to editors, selling them. But it’s even harder to hear about all these exceptional achievements of my friend’s son, how quickly he’s learning and picking up language, while the stories I can share of Kate and her understanding of language, well… it’s not exceptional. Not in comparison.

(And yes, I know. One of the rules of parenting is to never compare children.)

(And, yes I also know another rule of parenting that is equally frustrating: No matter how much you try not to, you compare them anyway.)

I think, also, one of the fundamental differences between my friend and I is that I don’t see the things that Kate does as ‘exceptional.’ Part of this, I’m sure, is my own upbringing and the whole, ‘don’t toot your own horn’ way of thinking. But, it’s also more than that. What I see are the quirks and actions that make her, Kate, and not some other kid.

Like yesterday, when I was putting Eric down for his nap, I left Kate watching, My Little Pony. When I came down, she was watching a Disney movie. Actually, it was Up with that dog she liked so much. She’d climbed into the movie closet, got the movie, climbed back down, put the disc into the player (also, got it working, something the grandparents have a hard time doing), then climbed into the closet and put the case back where she’d found it.

This isn’t exceptional to me. Not even something I think of bragging about.

What this is, is my little Kate.

My Kate.

Right down to that smile. The pleased-as-pie-yet-sneaky expression when I looked right at her and asked, “What did you do?”

(Actually, what she really did was show me my entertainment closet was no longer toddler safe.)

But that smile, those actions, those could only come from my little girl. Maybe most people wouldn’t consider this as exceptional. Maybe most wouldn’t consider that as something to brag about.

It doesn’t matter, not really.

Just like I know the bark I’m currently staring down won’t matter either. I know we’ll go through these long stretches between insight, between those glimpses into just how much she knows and understands, but I know she will talk.

It might take some time to get there.

And I might have days where I feel the hurt and sorrow with every bit of my being… and that’s okay. Okay to feel this way. Okay to feel scared.

Okay because I know we will get there. We’re making all the right decisions. The ones we wouldn’t change if we had to this all over again. We’re loving her, supporting her, giving her the help and the time she needs.

Just like this short story I’m still writing (which sometimes feel like my never-ending story).

And there’s things I can do in the meantime. I can keep learning about late talkers. Keep reading and talking with other parents who are down this same road or similar ones. Learn about the schooling alternatives that would better suit Kate and her personality. Talk to my friend too, and explain how I’m feeling and how hard it can be to simply talk about seeing Kate playing side-by-side with other kids… and that crazy emotional swing where I’m okay one moment, and hurt the next. (Which, by the way, I did talk with my friend – and there’s a reason I call her friend, a reason I love her like family.)

And through this all, I know we’ll get there.

And see? That right there?

I just got a glimpse of the whole, overall forest that’s my little girl, Kate. And you know, it’s really not that bad. Not that scary.

Especially when I see that pleased-as-pie-mischievous grin.

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2 thoughts on “Long Stretches

    1. I’m smiling for you, Jena, because as hard as those early days are when you really only catch glimpses of progress — you’ll get there. Where ever “there” is and what it’ll look like for your child. I can tell you, the Kate I wrote about in this blog is still the same Kate, still the same mischievous grin, but oh my the words! We have such a long way to go but her willingness to talk, and not just with us but friends and other moms, or someone who comments on liking her Elsa dress… the overall shyness, especially about language, is gone. Now it’s just this incredibly happy, confident child and wow am I pleased with myself for being so courageous and trusting in her, even if that path looked different than everyone else’s.

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