Most mornings, I begin my day by looking through my Facebook memories from past years. This morning, a memory from eight years ago popped up. On my lap was an almost-two-year-old Isabelle. The caption read:
Today I’m thankful Isabelle’s ear tube surgery went well. She’s just tired & a bit groggy now. (Though she’s happy watching Maccabeats videos in the recovery room.) It is my hope her speech will develop over the next few weeks.
Every year, on this date, I look at this photo and remember how Marc and I clung to each other (and bawled) when Isabelle was wheeled into surgery. By the time we composed ourselves, the surgeon met us in the waiting room with news that everything went well. (Ah, first-time parents!)
There’s something else I remember. I’ll be honest, thinking about it makes my blood boil — just a bit. And while I probably shouldn’t write about it, I am going to write about with the hope that it will help someone else — either someone whose child is struggling with speech or someone who knows someone whose child is struggling with speech — who is going through something similar.
I remember how nearly every other parent I knew — whose kid had gone through ear tube surgery — had told us that their child was speaking within days, sometimes hours, of waking up from the surgery. As you can see from the caption I wrote in November 2013, I wrote that I hoped Isabelle’s speech would develop over the next few weeks. The only reason my expectation was tempered was because Isabelle’s wise speech therapist, at the time, had already suspected Childhood Apraxia of Speech. She warned me, ahead of time, not to view a double myringotomy as a silver bullet. Thank G-d she did because I would’ve been crushed if she hadn’t given me some warning about how quickly the surgery might help after months of Isabelle’s tubes being filled with fluid.
I know the parents of kids whose children’s speech was helped by ear tubes were trying to provide me with reassurance. Really, it was false hope. And while I don’t begrudge anyone, I share this because promising someone that their kid will be speaking quickly after ear tube surgery feels only slightly less frustrating to me now as the folks who insisted, “Einstein didn’t talk until he was three,” when Isabelle wasn’t speaking after turning two.
People say and do things they feel are helpful. However, as the mother of a child who was luckily diagnosed with Childhood Apraxia of Speech at 27 months old (before most kids can reliably be diagnosed due to their lack of cooperation with the tester), I know how heartbreaking it was to watch Isabelle get frustrated at a young age when she didn’t have expressive language skills. Unless your child was diagnosed with a speech-related disorder, reassurances do little for a parent who is the thick of things with their child who is having trouble communicating. Rather than offering platitudes or advice, if you know someone whose child is a late talker, just listen. The other enduring present you can give to a parent whose child is struggling to communicate is wait time. I grew closer with moms who took the time to understand Isabelle long before she was easily understandable. They’re the moms who knelt down, leaned in, and did their best to understand my child. Those are the women whose friendships I will always treasure since they showed me that my daughter, and what she had to say, mattered.