In just a few short weeks, Kate will be turning four.
I’m in a state of… shock and surprise. I can’t believe her birthday is finally here, just like I can’t believe that this year is over, but not in the usual way you hear when it comes to kids. It’s not like Eric, who went from my just barely-walking-baby to my opinionated, foot-stomping 19-month-old who has zero problem telling you when he’s not happy. With him, it was like the time just zipped by. With Kate, it’s like I can’t believe her birthday is finally here….
And just how far we’ve come.
I’ve kept a journal all this time, recording Kate’s progress, making notes about senses and feelings I might have, but really, it was to help me to not get discouraged. So that, even though she wasn’t talking, I would have some measure of success right in front of me (because, you know how we all like to think about only the bad things, and then only remember the bad things).
And because Kate’s birthday is here and I’m in a mood to think back, I went through my journal and got to see just how much progress Kate has had. How, a year ago, the big steps were the slight increase (and my awareness) of her receptive language, of her understanding of language. I watched and recorded how it grew, and how as it did, her eye contact and connection with people grew. Little steps. Steps that if you had a typically, normally-developing child, would be invisible.
For us, they were tiny and huge moments of success.
But the real success, the real pivotal moments of change, didn’t come from Kate.
They came from me.
They came when I said no to early intervention, going instead with my gut and knowing, knowing that if I sent Kate into the program they wanted for her I would break her. I said no when her pediatrician, instead of listening to me and what I’d learned about natural late-talkers, insisted that we go back to a neurologist even though I’d told her, repeatedly, the next step was testing and we would not subject Kate to those tests.
I found myself a new pediatrician.
And when the new pediatrician dared ask how I was qualified to work with Kate on her speech at home I told him straight out: I am her mother.
And he backed up.
The success with Kate and her words came when I found a professional who understood children like her, who wasn’t seeking to change her but to recognize the child she was – and how that child would learn best.
But the real success came when I decided to do the work, the speech play, on my own. To get rid of our speech therapist and just take control for ourselves. So many people are surprised and shocked when I tell them this. That we don’t do speech therapy, that speech therapy did nothing but a burn a huge-ass hole through our pockets. They are absolutely shocked because, how can I be qualified to do this? How can I know what I need to teach Kate? The proper form for the mouth for words?
I mean, really.
How qualified do you really have to be notice that your kid might be singing, “Let it Go,” from the movie Frozen, so you start singing it too? How many years of schooling and on-the-job training do you need for that??
I’ll tell you.
It was three-and-a-half-years of on-the-job training.
As a parent.
As a mother.
Three-and-a-half-years of me figuring it out, of me finding my own voice, as a parent, and how to stand up for Kate. To stand up for who she is and how she learns and saying ‘screw you’ to everyone else.
We’ve purposefully made decisions, from finding new medical professionals to sticking with our guns about homeschooling and skipping over the school system, just to avoid those fights. To avoid filling our heads and hearts with their negativity, to prevent anyone else from adding the doubts about our daughter, and our connection with her.
We know who she is, and most importantly, she knows who she is.
And she tells us, every single day.
Just so long as we’re willing, and aware enough, to listen.
I’ve even had to disconnect from a once-close friend because of the judgments. Because this friend, while she still loves us, can’t help but feel like she knows more than me. Because she can’t trust in what I know as Kate’s mother. Instead of fighting against my belief and hers, it’s just been easier to pull away. We are still friends, though barely, but I can’t let someone else’s thoughts and opinions get in the way of Kate’s success.
And it is success because I did claw my way out of this deep, scary-ass black hole of fear. And trust me, you don’t know fear until you’re confronted, by someone else’s opinion, that something is seriously wrong with your child. With your baby. And it doesn’t matter that in your heart you don’t believe it’s true, that you know differently, you’re still only a parent, after all, so what do you know?
Now none of this, none of this is at all to say that speech therapy or early intervention are bad things. They’re not. But they are not the Be All and End All that everyone believes. (Not to mention how all those everyone’s believe they have the right to tell you their opinion whenever they nilly-willy feel like it… even if you just happened to run into a mom who’s jogging around at farmers market. Oh, and if you don’t agree with those opinions, you should just see that look of disgust and judgment you get.)
You see, we found our own way. One that fits for our family, and most importantly, for Kate.
A year ago, Kate didn’t have a single word. Not a one, at least that she used daily. She’s got a few of those now, and others that she’s working on. And those words, not a one of them, came about because of the work the speech therapist did with her.
They came because of me. They came because she trusted me, felt comfortable with me, and decided to give it a try. To let go of the control and the safety to try and speak. And they came because I was strong enough to trust in myself, as a parent, as her parent.
To not let anyone else, anyone at all, say differently.
That’s my success.
It’s playing games in the pool with Kate, and through those games I’m now hearing: “One, two, three!” as we push off the walls with our legs. Or, “Up,” as I throw her up into the air.
It’s the friends that Kate now has; the many, many friends who will be at her birthday party. And this is also the first year that she has some understanding of what a birthday party is. It’s her recognizing the names of these friends and even showing me their picture to tell me, “I want to see this person.”
But it’s also my friends. The friends who come to me and say thank you for all the trust I’ve put in Kate. For them, to watch both of us grow and grow, in our confidence, in our willingness to just stand and be different.
And most of all, especially over this past year, my true success is in Kate’s smile.
It’s because of us, of our love, our connection, our willingness to listen to her and her guidance. That’s all the proof I need to know we’re on the right path, that we’re doing the right thing, for Kate.
The year is finally over and I can look back and see just how far we’ve come.
The words are finally coming, if very slowly, but they’re there and they’re beautiful. That, and, finally for the first time ever, Kate is whispering the one word I’ve been so patiently, patiently waiting for and that fills me with more joy and love than you can possibly imagine:
This is my journey with a late-talker, and I wouldn’t change it, not for the world.