toddler

By Tricia Mirchandani for Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers

"Uh… Uh… Uh… Up! Boo! 1…. 2…. 3… G-G-G-Gooooo! Weeee!"

This is our slide mantra. I say these words every time he goes uh-uh-up and d-d-down. I chant them on the first round and the twenty-first round. I repeat them when we're alone in the park and when others stand by, witness to how ridiculous I sound. Every journey up these steps and down that slide happens to the tune of my narration. We have a swing mantra too and another for the bigger slide. One for opening doors and one for taking off shoes.

We have these mantras because that is what the speech delay books and websites and speech therapists have told us to do. Repeat words five times. Narrate. Enunciate. Give him a turn to speak but give him the words he needs. Don't talk too much but say what he might say if he could. Use the same words always. Routine is important. Repetition is key.

Just like those early days of parenthood when I read every book, subscribed to every newsletter, bookmarked every website with an ounce of information about the sleeping and eating patterns of newborns and infants, I submerged myself in data, research, and the words of the experts. I highlighted, tabbed, and made notes in the margins of articles. And, just like in those early days, I'd come away so dizzy and overwhelmed that I could barely form a word myself. I'd close the book and take tentative steps, scared to make a wrong move or say the wrong thing. I'd question every activity, lest my actions today prevent us from ever unlocking that box where he keeps his voice.

Still, for three months, I read and researched and gathered. I sat us in daily focused work time, like school for my not-quite two-year-old. We'd blow bubbles or play with his train, things he enjoyed because the books advised that speech happens through play, but we both knew the truth. This was work, barely disguised as fun. By the time an hour had passed, we'd be exhausted. My muscles ached as if I'd been physically pulling on the words that are rooted so deep within him. He couldn't sit a minute longer, wanted a view of the world that did not include my face. So we'd go to the park and I'd intend to let him play, just let him be, give us both some time to rest. But then he'd run to the slide and the book said routine is important; repetition is key. So I'd stand by. "Uh… uh… uh…. Up!"

My life became solely about coaxing words. All else fell away as I lived for his first sound, his first string of babbles, his first thought.

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