I sit here crying as I type these words, not because my son is ill or because we lost a family member or because of some tragedy we saw on the news. I sit here crying because I love my son so fiercely, and because I’m angry at myself for self-doubt and weakness.
I spent a good portion of my adolescence under the supervision of, for lack of better words, controlling adults who manipulated my mind and heart under the guise of religion. Though I have always had the care and support of loving, determined parents, I wasted many days listening to the poor advice and misguidance of “leaders” at the church I used to attend. Don’t mistake what I say. There were (and still are) very kindhearted, honest, godly people at the church I attended and I was privileged enough to have some great experiences there. However, many of my negative experiences… Well, I refuse to repeat them on a blog. They stay in my heart and now haunt me only my dreams. Unfortunately, despite years of teaching myself to forgive others (and myself), and despite years of retraining my brain, I still fall back into the same self-doubt.
Since I became a mother, my son became my teacher. I knew next to nothing. I didn’t finish any of the pregnancy/motherhood books. And even if I had, it wouldn’t have taught me what he’s been able to teach me in just over two years. He is the one who has made every transition go smoothly, he is the one who has made every rough night of teething sweeter by his hugs and kisses. He is the one who truly taught me what parenthood, what sacrifice, and what unconditional love means.
In our time together, my son has amazed and surprised me. He rolled over at 3 months, crawled before 8 months, walked at 10 months, and melted my heart by saying “Mommy, I da doo” long before I ever thought a child should be able to speak.
I faced some difficulty early on in the mommy world and more importantly, in the mommy blogging realm, where often times, judgment abounds. Breastfeeding versus formula feeding, daycare versus staying home, extended rear-facing versus forward-facing. You all know it. Mothers, unfortunately, became other mothers’ worst enemies.
For the most part, I stood up for myself and my choices. Anytime someone questioned a decision I made, I would listen, then look at my healthy, happy child and brush it off. Try to forget it. To date, my kid barely ever cries. He loves me and he loves his father and other family members. He loves his toys and his dogs and he is CONSTANTLY smiling and filling the room with laughter. He runs and climbs and plays and hides and loves, loves, LOVES the water.
But in the past two months, after play dates with other children and after hearing talk of what should be happening developmentally with his speech at this age, I’ve begun to waver. Question. Doubt.
Instead of pushing comments aside and remembering that my family is my family, my intuition is real and valid, I have let those little seeds of doubt planted in my brain grow to fruition like a cancer and consume my thoughts the way I did when I was an impressionable teenager being controlled with negativity.
And I hate it. Every minute of it.
I don’t hate people who express opinions. I don’t hate people who write articles. I don’t hate people who voice their concerns or offer unsolicited advice. I don’t hate people who judge. I don’t hate friends who have asked me questions out of genuine care for me and mine.
I can’t control anyone but myself. And right now, I’ve begun to hate myself.
I’m sitting at home at night googling like a madwoman trying to figure out exactly how many words my son should be saying. He’s so physically capable, but what if he’s mentally delayed? Should he point? He should really know 7 body parts? Well, he only knows belly button and nose… He should listen to commands? Well, yeah, he picks up his toys on command…
I’m reading comments from people who want to instill fear in others about Asperger’s and Autism. “Don’t do what I did and assume it’s just a boy thing…”
My gut instinct this whole time has been that he is an only child, often spoiled, he has his needs met before he has to ask for them, he likes being a baby, and he’s quiet. It’s his personality. He reminds me a lot of my brother and my husband. My husband is quiet and can be shy. He is not a social butterfly nor does he feel the need to say many words when he can use few. My brother was practically a mute until 3 years old because I talked for him. Why should I assume there is something with my son because he’s like his father and uncle? Why should I hear people talk of developmental disorders and ESE labels because he doesn’t string three-word sentences together on a regular basis by his second birthday?
My cousin’s son was told he had Asperger’s. Eventually, they determined he was actually ADHD. I know the frustrations that come with having a child diagnosed young and dealing with therapists and making sure that your child is well-adjusted and has the tools he needs to succeed. I don’t take any of that lightly. I am thankful that science and medicine have come such a long way that we do see warning signs earlier than families did when I was a child. Sometimes, though, I fear it’s out of control. At least right now, for me, it’s out of control. And the anxiety attacks that I’ve been having this week and the tears I’ve cried this week have been out of control. The disconnect I’ve let happen between my son and me because I’m constantly wondering, “Shouldn’t he be able to answer that question” is out of control.
Mind you, the tears and anxiety surround ONLY what to do and what not to do. Who to listen to and who not to listen to. I am NOT crying thinking something is wrong with my son. Even if there is, I would never cry about it. He is perfect in my eyes, and whatever he needs physically, mentally, emotionally, we will make sure he gets it so he can be as healthy and functional throughout his entire life.
Today I realized, I can control myself and I can control my relationship with my son.
I called a friend who works in early childhood education, who suggested that I teach Will to sign words like “yes” and “thank you” if he’s not saying them. I called another friend who is a speech pathologist and sent her videos of him, and she suggested to get him around kids more but mentioned that his phonemes sound appropriate.
And finally, because of what has been said and because of observations I’ve made around other 2-year-olds, I took my son to the pediatrician. My last attempt at some serious advice so I could put my fears to rest.
“He does not speak in full sentences. He does not speak a lot. He says about 50 words. He likes to count. Sometimes, he tells me he has to pee. Sometimes, he doesn’t. He doesn’t say yes. If he wants something, he just gets excited at the mention of it but he never really points to things. He says ‘eat’ when he’s hungry and ‘water’ or ‘milky’ when he’s thirsty. He says ‘come here’ and ‘come on’ and ‘I go walk’ when he wants to go outside. And he’ll walk over to get his shoes on. If we’re walking and I say to slow down, he slows down, and he’ll pick up his toys on command. But in comparison to the other kids we’re around…”
This is what I find myself saying.
“He will get on my mother-in-law’s table and pick up an orange and say ‘o-winge’ but if I ask him, ‘What is this?’ he looks at me and says ‘Noooo.’”
And you know what my son’s doctor said?
“That’s personality. That’s not speech delay. There is a wide spectrum of normal speech at this age. I wouldn’t worry.”
Personality. My instinct the whole time. Quiet and stubborn. My husband in miniature form.
The doctor gave us a referral to an organization that will evaluate my son’s development and speech for free, if we want it for peace of mind, and I’ve been wrestling with the idea and discussing it with my husband all day.
And here’s what I decided:
If I had not done the compare-my-son-to-his-friend thing, if I had not let small comments seep into my spirit, if I had not started looking up experiences of others on chat threads, I would think nothing is wrong with my son. He communicates with me. I communicate with him. He understands me. I understand him. We’re not frustrated. If he doesn’t know his ABCs this month, I’m okay with it. If he wants to respond to Mr. Grouper on Bubble Guppies, but not tell me his colors, I’m okay with it.
I talked to a good friend whose son is a lot like a mine, I watched my son walk off our back porch into the rain and say, “It raiiiiin! Happyyyy!” And I decided.
My son is my life. And my son is happy. It’s my job to look out for him, to protect him, to teach him, to make decisions while he is too young to do so for himself. So, I’m making a small decision today. We’re not having a stranger come into our home with a clipboard to scrutinize our son. Not yet. Prayerfully, not ever. And I won’t even let my propensity to regret step in the way of my decision right now. If in a few months, we discover Will does have problems speaking or learning, I will not say “I wish I had…” because right now, this feels right. In the words of Atticus Finch, “It’s not time to worry yet.”
My husband and I are in full agreement that if in October, when he is 2 ½, we notice little to no improvement, we’ll call that number. As it is, he’s said three new words this week: “ready,” “el-funt,” and “door coze.” As it is, he learned to say “pig” and started to count backwards from 10 last week. As it is, he’s growing, changing, learning. As it is, he’s fine. We’re fine. And even if he has a problem in October or next year, or the year after, we’ll always still be fine.