I’d always known this day was coming, the day when Kate would set out to play with some kids and they would see her as different. Not quite like them, but… different. And the words they would say would not be kind or understanding. They would be:
“What’s wrong with you?”
“Go away. We don’t want you here.”
“You’re a baby.”
I’ve known for awhile this would happen, but just because I knew, didn’t mean I was prepared, or that these words, sometimes innocent, sometimes down-right mean, wouldn’t cut right through me to the point where it felt like I was the one bleeding.
Bound to happen, yes, but certainly not ready for it.
We are social creatures, us humans, and language is so, so, so much more. I never really understood just how much because language (to my knowledge) came easily and naturally for me. Something, that I honestly, took for granted until Kate.
So much is tied up in language.
It’s not just about producing sounds that translate to words. It’s not just about grammar rules and understanding that I am an “I” and not “Chrissy” when I speak. It’s also about being able to explain (and have your child understand) the *why* reasoning of why we don’t climb on glass coffee tables. It’s about explaining abstract thoughts and ideas, like Santa Claus and birthday parties (especially when they’re not yours). It’s about giving your name when someone kind asks for it.
These things, these little lack of understandings, are acceptable in very young children (you know, those toddlers who do NOT come with off-switches and your whole-being, while they’re awake, is tasked with keeping them alive). These very little ones haven’t haven’t learned language yet, so everyone has to be understanding that they don’t know (along with a mix of ‘know but straight-up don’t give-a-shit’). However, when you’re a child who’s pushing into the preschool years, moving from age 3 to 4… there’s this shift that occurs.
I’ll bet you couldn’t even see it if you were looking real hard… but you might feel that difference. It would be gradual, from one week to the next, from looking at your daughter and be surprised to see how long her legs are, like she suddenly sprouted up two inches overnight. I felt this difference, though, which was also why I knew the day was coming, the day when other kids Kate’s age would grow closer, form bonds, form friendships.
And she would be left by herself, not understanding.
It’s not those children’s fault. It’s not Kate’s either.
Nor is it mine.
But the truth is still there, and I still need to find the right way for Kate – and for me – through it.
Do know how hard it is to have a friendship, an actual true kinship with someone, when the other person can’t talk? Or even understand what you’re saying? Because friendship is more than just the words. It’s about the ebb and flow of giving and receiving. The kindness and desires to welcome this person into your life and your play. To form rules around this play and bounce off each other going into new and exciting directions where a game of gathering sticks is actually about building a fort against the monster.
And it’s all tied into language.
The one area that Kate doesn’t have.
Kate can point and give me directions to my mother’s house 45 minutes away, driving past downtown Los Angeles. She can play a game of Mario or Yoshi and given a short while longer, be better than me (and I’m no slouch at those plat-former games either). She can easily put together puzzles for six year-olds. She can play with children in physical play, like running and chasing and gathering sticks, but language? The actual subtle cues going on within and often, under, the words?
Not so much.
In some cases, not at all.
It’s what we’re working on. Both of us. And the trials have only begun because she doesn’t look like a toddler anymore, she looks like a little girl and when someone talks with her, they expect her to act like a little girl.
And to talk like a little girl.
But because of her language, her social skills that are tied directly to language, are severely behind.
For the past two months I’ve been wrestling with this, trying to figure my way around what the heck do I do when the different situations arise, from not taking turns at a park playground to her wanting to stand on a pile of leaves when the other children don’t want her there. When do I intervene? When do I stand back and let the children, “figure it out for themselves?”
How can I let them “figure it out” when my child can’t talk? When she can’t voice her opinions? Or her frustrations when someone cuts in line with her at the slide? When she simply can’t say:
Or, the reverse, when a child continually asks Kate to move off the slide so they can have a turn. But, Kate just stands there (or keeps on climbing). Because… she doesn’t understand the language. Oh, she eventually gets it but that takes time as she does these amazing, complicated mental gymnastics where she picks out the words she does know, adds in the gestures, the emotions… oh, she’ll figure it out, all right. But that’s usually after the child has gotten frustrated with her for not listening.
I still don’t know what to do. Not fully.
But I’m getting closer, mostly because my understanding has grown… as well as my acceptance. This is a process, for her, for me, and I think it will be something that will take many blog posts for me to fully figure out (if, at all, which I suspect is the case).
I want to talk about socialization and what it looks like for a late-talker looks like. If it’s even important (think of large groups of kids) or is it best to focus on one-on-one family time or play time with an older, kind child. I want to talk about the struggle between this “socialization” myth and the hurtful things we parents must weather through every time our late-talking child has an encounter with other children (because let’s face it… it’s never all-perfect and all-fun, there’s always something, even innocent, that can hurt us).
But, I also want to talk about the work we must do as parents. What I mean by ‘work’ is we are the voice for our children because they don’t have one themselves. This can be easy for some parents (and boy do I envy you), and difficult for others (ahem… me). It requires practice (lots and lots of it) and we need to navigate the way for our children. How do we respond in Situation A or Situation B? Or there’s Situation C/D where we let them be… until it becomes a moment we then must intervene.
And it goes back to my earlier struggle: what do I do?
When do I step in?
When do I stand by the side and watch?
A lot of it goes by feeling and what your gut is telling you, something you feel in that moment (and something you also need to start trusting in). However, sometimes we need guidance or just a good-ol’ jumping off point – and dear Lord did I need some guidance! I asked the group I belong to, for parents of late-talking children, what they did. So many people responded and it was wonderful because I swear, every different parenting style was addressed. What that meant was that I had choices. I could pick and choose what to do in one situation, and not in another. There were some that just straight up weren’t for me, and that was okay too. I’m sure another parent read that same one and thought it was perfect for them.
It’s this sharing of information, this flow from parent-to-parent, that I’ve chosen to write about Kate and her being a late-talker. Why I open myself up and let loose my fears and insecurities that anyone can read… and my joy too.
She brings me such joy and there’s no greater feeling than hearing a new word or phrase. Of putting the pieces together and that sudden, beautiful moment of, “Oh! You just said: I like!”
But I need to do this more, this opening up and talking, and not just in my blog, but my daily life. Being able to open myself and speak to a stranger, a child, or even, Tinker Bell at Disneyland. It means telling them that Kate has a language disorder and is still learning to talk, all so they understand why this little girl who looks like a little girl doesn’t completely act like a little girl. And again, massive introvert here… this talking to a stranger is often painful for me.
But, I am figuring out this new road with Kate, and even with the introversion part, I realized something very important:
Being her voice, in my mind, means conflict.
Conflict… like going to other parents, some I might not know well or if at all, and telling them their child was being mean to mine. Conflict… like standing up to a four-year-old when she declares that Kate, “Was stealing her stuff.” (Which, she wasn’t. It was a party and all the kids were playing toys.)
But… what do I do? What do I say?
I was never, as a child, taught how to do this. Opening up my voice and telling someone how I feel, telling them my concerns. Having a dialogue and finding a compromise. Even as an adult, this has been a struggle. I mean, seriously, I didn’t even know what to do with a four-year-old!
Yet, now I’m faced with this almost every time I go out with Kate.
This is my area of growth, this opening up my voice and dealing with conflict. Whether big or small. Whether turning to a group of friends who I feel safe with and… actually telling them… how I feel (and no, that wasn’t easy, but I did it). It’s an area that I must continue to work on because… I can’t run from it anymore or deal with it only when I feel like it.
Kate needs me, every day, being her voice.
I’ve been stressing about this a lot lately. Feeling pressure. Feeling this sinking, fearful feeling every time we go to group situations, knowing that at some point, it will come up and I will have a decision: do I let this one go or do I stand up and say something?
I’m afraid of that conflict.
Your area of struggle will most likely look different from mine, but there was something a friend said to me recently, and it has made all the difference in the world. Her words of insight meant that, when I heard a dad mention to his son to say hi to Kate and ask her name, that I was okay and smiling and excited to be her voice, to tell this boy:
“This is Kate, but she’s still learning to talk.”
I wasn’t scared then, and it was because I told myself that it was okay if this looks messy.
It’s okay if this looks messy.
What matters is that I’m trying and I’m feeling compassionate towards myself. I don’t need to be perfect; I can’t be because I’m still learning. What Kate needs is my voice, and she needs to learn these skills, these conflict-resolution skills, and the only way she’ll get that is by me showing her.
And I’ll make mistakes. Lots of them.
And… it’ll be okay.
It’s also okay too if there are days when I decide to not go out, to stay inside where both of us feel safe and comfortable. Because you know what? I get to see Kate and that oh-so-important “socialization” every time we do go out, whether it’s at the park and she attaches herself to a small group ranging from age 7 to 14. Or when we’re at Disneyland and Tinker Bell asks her name… and Kate jumps up and down in excitement and points at her chest.
Kate couldn’t say her name.
So I said it for her.
I don’t need to be perfect. This is going to look messy as I figure my way through this. Your struggle and your fears, whether you have a late-talker or a normal developing child, it will look messy at first too. It’s takes a lot of figuring out what’s best for our own unique children and also navigating the ups and downs and expectations society has placed on us.
We do need to try, however. Try, and do it with love and a smile.
Our late-talkers might not be able to talk, might not even understand our words, but they always understand love. And that is a language all its own, and one that both our children and us, understand very, very well.