“That girl can’t talk.”
I am at the grocery store with my 3-year-old and 1-year-old, loading up on bread and telling my daughter that we need a lot for her favorite “yummy”—a peanut butter and jam sandwich. Her enthusiastic response is a mish-mash of sounds and words. “Yeah, yay, Mommy. Yummy! With pink!” (This is how she says she wants strawberry jam.)
She is 3 and has an expressive speech delay. My daughter has never said, “I love you, Mommy.” Instead, she will put her soft little hands on both of my cheeks and pull me close to make eye contact. “Hi, my Mommy. Hi.” Then she will wrap her arms around my neck and sigh contentedly.
My response at the grocery store is irrational. I want to run after that little boy—a perfect stranger (and one who is not even old enough to understand, who is still learning about the differences in the world)—and defend my daughter. She is right there, and I hope, oblivious, to what he said.
I want to tell him that she says lots of words. We have had her in speech therapy since she was 2 and she has improved so freaking much. I want to talk about the many times we’ve had her hearing tested. We worry the delay was caused by the cord being wrapped around her neck at birth (but we don’t know that for sure and are probably just grasping at straws). How every time I pick her up from preschool and hear her classmates having real conversations with their moms or dads (“I painted, and I climbed the tree! Can we have macaroni and cheese for lunch?”) I wonder what I did wrong. Was it caused because I stayed at home with her? Should I have put her in day care? Did I not read to her enough? Speak to her enough? Was she too attached to me? Should I have forced her to go to people she was scared of when she was a baby? Was it that I let her have her binky until she was 3 (even if it was only at bedtime and nap time)?
If you have a kid with a speech delay, with any kind of developmental delay, you understand exactly what I’m talking about. You question everything. All you want to do is understand why. Why is this happening? How could I have changed things? What did I do? And, as my mother-in-law always says, people blame the mother, no matter what it is. We’ve all experienced that—the mommy wars. Your kid is acting up? Your fault. Your kid is a picky eater? Your fault. Your kid isn’t developing normally? Clearly your fault.
It is not your fault.
And it is not my fault. I understand my daughter. Sometimes, I feel like I am the only one who does. She communicates as well as she can and tries so hard to be understood. I want to tell that little boy and his mother that in the year since she has started a preschool with a speech pathologist on staff and teachers who also follow her IEP goals she is leaps and bounds better in making sounds, saying words, trying to put together sentences, and communicate with everyone (not just those she is close to). I want to tell that little boy that she narrates her playing. “Here Mommy,” she will say, patting the space next to her. “Mommy, Daddy, baby, me.” Those are her dolls. “Docta,” they are going to the doctor or to “cool” (school). That she has finally started identifying colors and every time she says “lello” for yellow, I hope she never ever stops because it is so adorable.
This year she was able to go trick or treating and say “tick-teat” and “tank you.” This is something my 1-year-old mastered as well, that most kids master much earlier than she did. Right now, she is excited about Santa Claus (“Ho. Ho. Ho! Uppy, Mommy”). There are so many more words, so many things she wants to tell me but cannot—not yet.
The little boy is long gone—down the aisle and around the corner, out of sight but not out of mind. Those worries and thoughts are now in my head, and my sweet, funny, expressive little girl is looking at me. She is quiet now—no more talking about “pink yummies.”
“What a silly boy,” I say and smile at her. “Of course, you can talk. We were just talking about yummies with green jam.”
She giggles and so does her little brother.
“No, Mommy! Pink!”
It isn’t your fault, Mommy. Someday, hopefully, you will have the pleasure of wishing she would just be quiet for a minute because she never stops talking. Hopefully, you will remember what it was like to tease out the meaning of each word and just let her talk, and know that you understood her when no one else could and cherish those yummies with pink.