You know that mom. Maybe you’ve been that mom — that mom at the playground, the museum, the grocery store, the library story time, or at the restaurant. You see another toddler roughly the same size as your own. You watch them. You listen to them. You wonder if they’re talking yet. You see how many words you can understand. You then casually start talking to the parent.
Carefully, you steer the conversation to the ages of the kids. You hope that if they are talking, they are much older than your child — your child, the one who isn’t saying any words yet.
Inevitably, most toddlers at this age and younger are already saying words. And once again, you’re confronted with the fact that your toddler doesn’t talk yet.
At least, that’s me.
I have a 23-month-old daughter, Charlotte, who is full of life, energy, curiosity, and love. We live in a town of 1,000. Our interactions with other kids come from church, the park, and the library. On a recent trip to visit Grandma, we found ourselves surrounded by toddlers wherever we went.
So I began to look and listen carefully.
Everywhere we went, I was confronted by other toddlers’ words. At the playground, they yelled, “Watch me! Slide! Swing!” At story time, they answered the librarian’s questions about the animals they saw on the page. At the walking trail, they yelled, “Look, water!” At the kids’ museum, they held a toy and yelled “Mine!”
And with each word, I could hear my child’s silence.
From the beginning, my mom has reminded me that babies and toddlers don’t read the books on parenting and development. They do what they need to do when they’re ready. Charlotte didn’t crawl until she was a year old, which seemed like a lifetime — especially when you see Facebook movies and pictures of your friends’ babies crawling up and down the hallways.
Now, talking, or the lack of her talking, feels more personal. It feels like there’s more blame to be placed, especially for this mother who loves words and stories. It feels like I should have read one more book to her at night, like I should have taught her sign language, like I should have brought her to more toddler activities, like I should have sat on the floor and talked with her more. And on and on and on — until I forget to look at my daughter, to look at her now and really see her, to watch her and be present with her at each precious moment.
You see, I found that with all my attention to her lack of words, I failed to notice what my daughter actually is doing.
Concentrating on what she’s not doing, I forget to see this beautiful, unique, and special gift right in front of me.
It’s not easy, I admit it. I want her to talk. I want to hear her call me “Mama.” I want to know her voice and tone and how she’ll name this world.
But while I don’t hear her words, I see so much. I see her hugging and loving her dog. I see her reaching for her books every morning when she wakes. I see her reading her books, turning the pages and laughing. I see her run forward during story time, hands raised to reach the book. I see her walk with open arms to another toddler, offering a hug. I see her hands fold to pray when we say, “Let’s pray.” I see her run to the watering can when I announce it’s time to go to the garden. I see her take me to the cherry tomato plants every time we’re outside to pick one to eat. I see her cheer for her daddy on Sunday mornings while he leads worship. I see her wave to every car and person who passes by. I see her pick up a leaf or stick to study it. I see her body wrapped around me in a full embrace.
I see. I see. I see — so much.
When I turn my attention away from what she’s not doing, I open my eyes to so much more — to all the things that she is doing, to all the ways she is living. I open my eyes to this precious gift, full of wonder and curiosity.
I still wonder the ages of other toddlers. I still listen longingly to their voices and words. I’m still waiting with anticipation for Charlotte to speak.
But until then, I’ll keep looking at her and seeing her.