Speak easy

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Well, after our second visit to the speech pathologist, we left with the task of speaking to our dear boy in two-word phrases. And to build every one-word utterance he makes into a two-word, correctly articulated gem. When he says “car,” I say, “drive car” or “blue car” or “car goes.” You get the picture.

In addition to an articulation issue (most likely due to the long-term fluid in his ears), Cliff shows some signs of an expressive language disorder. It’s not a confirmed diagnosis, since we’re only two weeks into the process. But the Baby Whisperer gave me a heads up that there are some indicators.When someone sits back and starts a sentence with “I don’t want to scare you …” Be prepared.

I can honestly say, I’m not scared. I have faith we’ll do our part. Cliff will do his. The Baby Whisperer hers. And that God’s got us covered – all in his way and his time. I have a healthy and capable little guy. So the way I see it, all is right with the world.

Googling expressive language disorders is kind of a bust. I can’t find much of anything on the web but some generic, somewhat broad information. And nothing really led me to any support resources for parents or anything, either. They were mostly for sweet little one’s with more severe learning issues or disabilities. I came across a bunch of text books. But I’m not in the market for those. I like to read about challenges, protocols, processes and successes. So I guess I’ll share ours.

Hey there. What's up?

Cliff has a mountain-high (although occasionally difficult-to-understand) vocabulary but not so much the ability to put words together. This has nothing to do with his intellect – if you know how cunning our little dude is, that’s an easy confirmation. But it could have an impact on his ability to say what he’s thinking. Or when he’s older, write his thoughts, etc.

After some retrospective analysis, it is pretty evident to us that although he says many two-word phrases, none of them have been very unique. Standing by a light switch and saying “light on” is indeed expressive. He is turning the light on. But that’s pretty much been the scope of it. Light on, light off, coat on, coat off. All done.

You get the picture. Sure he says other phrases: I love you. Stop that. Thank you. You’re welcome. (He’s very polite.) Oh, and Poopy Head. But those might as well be single words to him.

This isn’t really atypical of being a little one in a large family. There are six people who respond to his single-word commands. We know what he wants. And frankly, he’s always been a kid who wants very little. He wants to be fed, climb on the furniture and play. He’s a pretty simple guy.

So, picture this: I sit down with the bigger kids and tell them the deal. I say this is what we’re going to do. And they oblige and are doing it. Everyone is doing it. Even his fabulous Montessori school teacher. Five-year-old Lillian has at times expressed some opposition to the process. (“Why isn’t he talking yet since you’re taking him to that lady?”) I’m not sure she’s a big fan of all the attention he’s getting. (Gee, wait until she finds out I’m spending the money I’ve been saving for her sibling-rivalry recovery therapy on his speech therapy.)

And now picture this: If you actually know us, you know there isn’t an unenthusiastic one in the bunch. If you dropped by our house these past few days, you might think we were a bunch of over-caffeinated cheerleaders on steroids or something. We’re – collectively – one huge, living and breathing exclamation point. (!)

Okay. Now take a moment to picture this: Yesterday morning, my little guy is standing in the bathroom, and he turns to me and asks, “Where’s Henry’s puppy?” I didn’t get it at first, so I stooped. He grabbed my face and slowly said it again. (His version of Henry is a tough word to understand between two others.) He was obviously thinking of the stuffed toy they were playing with the night before. You can be darn straight we found that puppy!

Ready to get down to business.

And after school yesterday, he said, “Where’s my work?”

He couldn’t see his  prized sewing work in front of him on the floor of the van. AND! As we were preparing to go outside he asked, “Where’s my other shoe?”

I know. Say it. He’s a genius. (A motherly winky goes right …. here.)

It’s not much. But only two and a half days into this – it’s a lot. Today he said he “Want to see the toys” that Henry was packing for game day at school.

At another occasion, when I just couldn’t understand him, he tried to very slowly repeat his words for my comprehension. Then he looked into my eyes and quietly sighed and muttered, “I don’t know.” That’s the part that makes my heart ache for him in this process. As a person who very rarely is at a loss for words, I can’t imagine having my thoughts against my will held captive in my head. (Even though, I’m quite sure there are many times my thoughts should’ve stayed quietly tucked in their cage.)

The joy in his reaction when we know what he was saying is really a motivator for all of us. I truly marvel at how a little brain works.

Time will tell what the fruits of this will be and how he will be able to express and process his own thoughts better. And he still has some pretty significant articulation issues to tackle. I know it’s not going to be easy, but at least we’re off to a really good start.

We’ve found some nifty apps on the iPad that are really fun and useful for Cliff (only with parental interaction, of course.) I’ll have to share those, too. I want to share them with the Baby Whisperer first.

Speak now and forever hold a piece

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This has been an exciting few weeks.

Cliffy went on his first official speech therapy visit. And it was great. I’ll post more as we get into the process. But I know it’ll be fruitful. Just the little tidbit I learned at that one session has been helpful in my ability to interpret what he’s saying, so I can at least lessen some of his frustration and repeat things back to him correctly. Cool for sure. Brilliant woman — I’m calling her the Baby Whisperer.

Cliffy leaning on big brother.

And … we took Lillian to open house for first grade.I know. Yes. Already.

To my not-so-complete surprise, it was an experience fraught with anxiety for my sweet dumpling. Just a year ago I was wondering how she was going to function in this world because she’s always been such an über-imaginative child floating though her days. But since then, she has (rather precariously) tested the waters of reality. And I’m not so sure how well she likes it. This darn real world doesn’t seem to hold the same promise of her visions of pretend playmates, ponies, pink and princesses. That world brings her peace. This world? Not so much.

After a visit to the two first-grade classrooms in the school, we headed to the gym to check out the activities there. During our look around, Miss Blue Eyes looked up and me and informed me that we needed to go back up to the classrooms. She needed to meet the teachers again. And she needed to look around more. I could see her distress. It’s the same distress she has when she has trouble dressing her dolls, or Cliff destroys her carefully arranged menagerie. But — the big difference was — it was real. And I felt for her.

She led me back up the stairs. She walked in one classroom. Looked around. Then proceeded to the next. When we were there, she motioned to the books on the table in the front of the room. Without a word, her thumb went in her mouth, and she approached them. I stooped to her level, and we looked at the workbooks together. As a Montessori child, I think the workbooks looked daunting to her. I believe she was analyzing what was going to be expected of her. And — more importantly — whether she could even do it. I showed her some of the pages. We talked about them. She relaxed a little and announced she was ready to go. And we did.

At home while dressing for bed, she looked up at me — troubled — and asked (exact quote), “How did you determine I’m prepared for this?” I assured her she will be prepared. And school is about learning. And she’ll be fine. I’m not quite sure she bought any of it. But that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Hanging on.

I can say that I feel her inner conflict in a way I’ve not experienced with the three before her. I wish I could just blow confidence at her like bubbles through a wand. Some landing on her, while she joyfully chases the rest. More so, I wish I could help her hold on for dear life to the amazing parts of her that have made her childhood to this point so completely mesmerizing.  When I look into her thoughtful eyes, I know it will be a different kind of difficult to watch as her sweet pieces of childhood slowly melt away.

She’s brought us all an undeniable gift — her ability to express her thoughts has granted remarkable insight into the fabulous workings of a little one’s mind. A very early talker, she did so much more than just tell us what she was doing — she shared with all of us what she was thinking and feeling. And boy, it’s been grand.

With Lil, when things don’t pan out exactly as she’s so carefully imagined, the turmoil begins. And the more that darn reality so rudely butts into her life, the more that darn turmoil triumphs. The hard part is, I know there’s not a lot about this world that pans out as we imagine. So sadly, lots of folks just stop imagining.

I hope I can help my dear daughter slowly become rooted to the ground while she continues to joyfully and colorfully bloom in the worlds she creates. I will also diligently pray that as she grows she will never actually be of this world but instead live uniquely, vibrantly and faithfully in it.

So that’s what’s ahead of me. Teaching my baby how to talk like a child and teaching my big girl how to hold on to every piece of childhood she can.

And nothing is impossible, with God.

My husband wants this caviar

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Or caveat. Whatever.

After reading my bag lady post, he told me I sound like I’m down-and-out or something.

I tried to explain to him that the underlying meaning of post was priorities.

And right now, mine are not pulling an ensamble together to look good every day. Which actually is rather ironic, because when I graduated from high school, my mock election awards were “Miss Seventeen Magazine” and “Most likely to marry a politician.” Miss Seventeen not because I was a fashion victim per se, but I sure did like the trappings of fashion that fit in with my style. The other award I sort of took offense to. I remember pondering why wouldn’t it be “most likely to BE a politician”? I thought it was sexist. Maybe I still do. Funny from an all-girls school. Funnier still because when my daughter graduated from an all-girls school and not one student or teacher at the graduation spoke about the possibility of motherhood as a goal, I completely took offense to that. I’m just a mental (oxi)moron. But I digress.

Okay, so sure, I can pull it together. And I often do. I have to stand and sing in front of church full of folks on Sunday, and on those days, it is my priority to fix myself up. If I’m going out on the rare date night with my always pressed spouse, I pull it together for that, too. I like to look nice. I like clothes. And I love shoes. I really do. (I hear all the women reading this singing … “Hello! Who doesn’t?”)

BUT …. it’s just that I’d rather take what little time I do have and sit down and write about what a bag lady I am, instead of put on mascara or something. And if I put on the mascara instead, perhaps I’d have nothing to write about. AND I’d just wash the mascara down the drain at the end of the day anyway and not have a lot to show for it. But at least if I’m a bag lady, I get a story. And for me, that’s icing on the fish eggs.

So here's a picture of me. With my husband back in the 80s. When we won the Publishers Clearing house Sweepstakes.

Here’s your bag, lady.

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(Insert photo of me. If I had the nerve to actually take a photo of myself today.)

Today I ran into an old friend from high school. I noticed her at the other end of the counter at Starbucks just as the cashier was handing me a bag containing a delicious salted caramel square.

I was all smiles, happy to see her. We chit chatted about the stuff of life. The kind of stuff you can cover while waiting for a grande-non-fat-two-pump-with-whip mocha.

I spoke to her sunglass-covered eyes as she spoke to my progressive lens +2.5 magnified-wrinkled eyes. I’m not gonna lie. The thought that I should suck it up and buy some decent prescription sunglasses did cross my mind. But since I have to change my prescription yearly, that’s not likely to happen. She’s always a welcoming joy. She’s so down to earth. She too now has a son in college. Attending Harvard. She was a smart kid. He’s obviously a chip off the old block.

As I was leaving, I got a glimpse of my reflection in the door.

And I thought: I am not a chip off the old block.

I am a bag lady.

Seriously.

Coat missing a button (I’d like to say it just fell off), hot pink gloves, red plaid hat. Not a stitch of makeup. Nice. Walking to my dirty 11-year-old van that I’m going to drive until it falls apart (because I want to).

My parents would never be so disheveled. Ever. My mother would never consider leaving the house without makeup and her hair done. And she would never not match. If her coat was missing a button, she’d either sew it right on, or wear a different coat. And my dad. He’s pretty close to perfect. He’s no hairspray-using Jim Bob Duggar, but his hair is always in place. (He’s carried the same comb in his pocket since 1957.) And his car would never be dirty. Or old. (Unless of course it was a 1957 Chevy that’s covered and spotless in his garage.)

I had to chuckle. Although my parents have had great influence on my personality and my creativity, perhaps media has had an even deeper subconscious influence on me than I ever thought … at least on my sense of style. I was a one-person walking sociology project. Life imitating art. (Even though I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be the other way around.) At least it’s art I love.

When you’re down and troubled

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This morning I was reading Simcha Fisher at NCRegister. And I responded with this comment:

I hug my kids when they are hurt. But I also wait to see if they are actually hurt. They know my m.o. since often their response even through tears is “I’m okay.” They know I’m there for them, but want to be strong for me. I’ve parented with the hope that they can assess the situation themselves first. If they can. That said, I’m pretty keen on recognizing within a few seconds what kind of response from me is needed. And sometimes, coddling little boo-boos is the cure even if the bruise is one of embarrassment, hurt pride or being frightened instead of physically injured. But true loving occurs not as I rush to their aid or to their (at times over-) reaction to injury, but the solid loving that I give them all the rest of the time. Caring for the needs they don’t even know they have. Offering love and affection when they ask for it, when then don’t, and even when they tell you they don’t really want it at all. That’s the kind of undeserved, unearned love we get from God.

It got me thinking, I hope and pray that’s the kind of loving we can do our best to give everyone. In very simple terms, I’m pretty sure that’s the crux of the “love one another, as I have loved you” bit. And I know how I feel when I am called to love people who very specifically don’t want my love. But that’s when your loving is about Christ and them. And not about you. At all. I’m pretty sure that’s an element of the “emptying ourselves” bit.

Once again. God knows what’s going on. Happy All Saints Day. Prayers of thanksgiving for those saints known and unknown. Truly inspiring.

A nice story

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I wanted to share this story. No matter the number of children, we all have our shortcomings and our failings. I know I certainly do.

I choose joy. And sometimes joy is my mind’s second choice, because there are moments I’d rather choose misery (which is occasionally a comfortable place to wallow).  Also, since this website is actually named for the five eternal souls that I don’t have the privilege to raise here on earth, I never cease to count my blessings for those five who walk this planet and call me mom.

Down for the count

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Find me a parent who hasn’t counted as a motivator.

“You will come here now, 1, 2, 3.”

You know the method. And you know how your kids respond. When you’re at one, you get the are-you-serious look. At two, they know you’re serious. And by three, usually in high gear. Up until now, it’s been a staple in my parenting arsenal.

I need a new technique. Especially while driving.

“Lillian, you must share some of those Skittles with Clifford,”

“No. I won’t.”

“I told you when I bought them, they were for sharing.”

“I’m not sharing.”

“You will share. 1 ,2 …”

And she interrupted, “I will share. When YOU stop counting.” Shocked. I stopped. And she shared. But I was at a loss.

Out-of-box parenting needed.

If she pulled that at home, she’d be sent to her room. But driving in the car, I was stuck. And punishing her for it later would go right past her.

She tried something similar last week, demanding to wear plastic, three-sizes-too-small  princess shoes to the zoo. “I’m wearing these, or I’m not going.”I knew she wanted to go to the zoo, so it wasn’t a terribly hard negotiation. I called her bluff with an:. “Okay, you can stay home.” She responded with a “hmph,” marched into her room and returned with appropriate shoes.

But what happens when she pulls that on me when we’re going somewhere I want her to go, but she doesn’t?

Help. Suggestions welcomed and appreciated.

Fly me to the moon

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Cliffy may not talk much. But if our exchanges are any indication of what’s to come, I can humbly concede: Me thinks I see trouble.

No. It's the moon.

“Look at the sun,” says I.

“No. It’s the moon.,” says he.

“No, honey, it’s the sun,” corrects I.

“No. It’s the moon,” insists he.

This goes on and on. And the sun is always the moon. Thankfully the moon is also the moon. So, the glass is half full.

And, as I have often expressed here, this non-speaking two-year-old boy has some wicked hand-eye skills. His most recent exhibition is in his ability to catch flies. Yes. In flight. Don’t rush and call Mr. Miyagi. He’s not doing it with chopsticks. Yet.

He presents me with the dead Diptera, and I say, “Oh, you caught a fly.”

“No, it’s a bee.”

“It’s a fly.”

“No. It’s a bee.”

“A fly.”

“No. A bee.”

Yesterday, when he came upon a hornets’ nest, he eagerly approached to catch that bee, but the “bee” caught him. Twice. In the face.

And boy was he was howling. At the noon day … moon.

(And yes, I refrained from saying, “Now THAT’s a bee!”)

Life and limb

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Okay, it’s true. When my daughter went off to college in the fall, it was challenging. As a mother, I felt as if I were losing a limb. Having it ripped right off my body.

Oh and did I rejoice when she came back this spring? You bet. It was almost as if–through the miracle of modern medicine–I had that beautiful limb sewn right back on. But as time has gone by, I’ve realized it doesn’t work as well as it used to. I can’t as easily get it to do what I want, and it seems to fall asleep a lot.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still just pleased as punch just to have it back.

She's not the only one who needs a little more sleep.