Originally posted here
How many times have I looked at Bobby and thought "Just speak. Just tell me what you're feeling. Just tell me anything." When he was two and the only things he really wanted to say were the alphabet or numbers (or the answers to various questions about states), and we couldn't get things like "hello" or "goodbye" or even "mommy" and "daddy" consistently, all I wanted- all I prayed for- was that he would speak. When he was evaluated and his scores for language came in at 10 and 17 months rather than at the 27 months he was, it made sense why we weren't hearing the words typical for a 3 year old, but at the same time it was heartbreaking to wonder if I'd ever really hear him say a sentence or even call for me.
Words have such power. We often talk about "putting it into words" as we work towards making our dreams come true. We ladies sit for hours with our friends and just talk, sometimes about nothing at all, but it is our words that share what we feel and who we are with these folks closest to us. We philosophize with our partners for hours on end about the great questions of the universe and the mysteries of faith, not because we have nothing better to do but because it is our words that share our innermost truths and our underlying fears. We sing lullabies to our children to comfort them and shoo away their demons. We incant our rituals to bring us closer to the Divine. Writers live in words. We make the abstract into something concrete by our language. It defines us, creates us, brings us to life.
Words have the power to heal and to help, to hurt and to destroy. There is little more that could be more powerful than when we speak.
Yesterday, as a spring rain pelted our small town and I knew going to the playground would be futile, I asked the kids if they wanted to go to an indoor playground. Clearly, this was a resounding yes with both scrambling to put on their new favorite shoes (a gift from a local mom who with such thoughtfulness saw a pair of red pull ons and, knowing Bobby would love them, grabbed him a pair and Maya some pink maryjane style pull ons). Because it was closing in on when Peter would get home from work, I didn't want to drive all the way to Mr. B's and then have to cut the trip short to get home in time for his arrival, so instead, we went to a local fast food restaurant that has a remarkable clean and very nice inside playland. When we got there, a grandmother and her two grandsons, maybe 6 or 7 and 8 or 9, were finishing up.
One thing that both my kids love are playmates. Maya is Miss Social Butterfly and has yet to meet someone she didn't want to talk to; for Bobby, it is harder, but especially when he sees older boys doing the things he likes to do, he will make such an attempt. Sometimes it is painful to see him trying so hard, without the words to speak... Or, worse, my mother's heart things, the words to speak but currently without the faculties to fully express them. He wants to introduce himself, wants to tell them his name, wants to be their friend- but just doesn't quite know how. This isn't as difficult with kids his own age; the neighborhood toddlers know him and he's accepted, his classmates know him and they include him. They don't need the words yet; for now, and hopefully for whatever comes and whenever it does, he is just Bobby and that is enough.
Not so much with strangers, especially older boys. Older girls... He's cute enough that they seem to overlook it. Boys? Yeah... No.
I'm sure these boys are perfectly fine young kids. I don't know them, so I don't know how they behave in general. But yesterday? Their words... I can only hope that Bobby and Maya don't fully understand cruelty in childhood language; they have rarely been exposed to it and, in my naïve state, I want to believe that they have no concept, especially when it is thrown their way. As Maya tried to engage them, they rebuffed her. "We don't know you." "We don't want to be your friend." "Leave us alone." As Bobby tried to run after them, to slide down the slides with them, and to climb along side of them, they yelled for him to leave them alone... that they didn't want to play with him. The younger of the boys stood against him as Bobby smiled that smile that says Will you play with me? Can we swing from the steps and slide down the slides and laugh and run and jump together?, that smile that melts away whatever hurt or anger or sadness I may have whenever I see it, and said "We don't like you. We don't want you here."
Bobby's smile remained, but did his heart break like mine was? Like mine did, as I gently went to him and smiled up into those big brown eyes, and told him that sometimes we don't play with everyone, that sometimes people want to play alone and that it is okay to just play with Maya, even when there are other kids around? Did he hear the hurt in my voice as I tried to convey that it wasn't his fault that they didn't want to play with him? That he was- is- fine, and that it is okay if not everyone likes or wants to hang around with you, even if it is just the fickleness of childhood? Maya asked me why the boys didn't want to play and I tried to explain that they were older and, like she and Bobby, they were siblings and sometimes brothers (or brothers and sisters) just want to play together, and that it was okay. She seemed to take this in stride and grabbed Bobby. "Bobby's my brother." She smiled proudly and looking over at the boys who were getting ready to leave. "And I like playing with my brother."
Then, they laughed and played and jumped and ran and slid down slides, and they were happy. And I was happy.
But my heart still hurt.
Words. Such power.
As we finished up our day and the kids brushed their teeth, something happened that had Bobby crying. "Mommy's here," he repeated. It's his phrase to either say you are with him, as in he will look at you and smile and say "X's here." or it's his questioning phrase that begs you to come to him as in "X come here". It was the latter, as I was getting water glasses together. By the time I got to the bathroom, where full blown sobs of "Mommy's here" could be heard and took the naked, crying boy in my arms, where he promptly snuggled against my neck, he said, "I want you." My breath caught and he repeated the phrase: "I want you."
I saw Peter look at me, that same look of wonder in his eyes. Our son said a sentence, he told us how he felt and what he wanted, and there was no decipher or sign language or anything else. It was just him. It was just what he needed to say. And what he needed was his mother. I couldn't stop the tears that welled up in my eyes from falling. Better than anything that day was his single expression.
His language has been improving with therapy; he will answer questions and respond to his name. He will repeat and mimic in a way that Maya was a year ago. He will say good-bye and hello, although he has to be prompted at times. His memorization skills are amazing and he can repeat the majority of the Mass, complete with mimicking the Priest's gestures. His language is tons from where it was, but getting him to express himself- really express himself- has been such a challenge. It started a bit back when he would say "He will cry", referencing himself in the third person future to explain when he was sad or upset. But first person, direct hasn't been something we've seen.
"I want you."
Speak. Just speak. Tell me anything. Tell me what's on your mind. How I want to know... so much.
This morning, I cantored one of the Ascension Masses at our old parish. The kids were okay with me not sitting with them and being at the cantor podium and ambo until it was time for Communion. The tradition there is that the cantor goes up with the Extraordinary Ministers to the altar to receive directly from the Priest, so that the cantor can then go back and lead the hymn, versus the hymn being delayed so that the cantor could receive from a minister. All was well until I stepped next to the altar server and was hidden from Bobby's view. The entire parish was then well aware of what Bobby was feeling. "Mommy's here," he repeated before adding, "I'm crying, Mommy. I'm crying." It broke my heart, but at the same time, I was overjoyed.
Speak. For the love of God, speak. Please. I don't care what you say, just tell me... Tell me everything. I want to know it all.
"I'm crying, Mommy. I want you, Mommy. Mommy's here."
As soon as I was back in view, the words stopped and he whined a bit until Peter picked him up to go through the Communion line. When he walked by the cantor podium and smiled up at me, I knew he'd be fine for the rest of Mass. Afterwards, as I finished the closing hymn, he ran to me, getting swept up in my arms and wrapping those strong little arms around my neck. As he breathed in deeply, all I could think of was how very blessed I was with this little boy who wanted me to know, even if it was just for that instant, that I was a big part of his world... How blessed I was to finally have heard it from his lips and not just in his hugs.
Whatever it is you are feeling or want to know or want to tell me... No matter what it is or when or how or why... I want to know- no, I need to know.
Such a wonderful post! It brought tears to my eyes. Even though I don't have an autistic child, I could feel what you were feeling through the way you put it to paper. He is just SO sweet.
Its very difficult to deal with a speech delayed child. As I have posted on your post before, my youngest was diagnosed with a speech delay but didn't qualify for therapy. So thru countless books and having a friend who is a special ed teacher, we finally got him a few signs that he used and a couple of words. Now he has a full vocabulary (he's 2 1/2) but there are times when he wants to tell me or his daddy something and he can't find the words, and you can tell in his eyes that its something super important but he just can't put it together.
It's a heartbreaking situation. One that I am happy you are seeing improvements in! Every little one is so awesome is it not?
Oh my goodness. And you leave me speechless. Beautifully put.
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