It is always difficult to hear hard things. It is even more difficult to hear hard things when you are not emotionally prepared. Some of you may have been expecting the A-word part 2 as my next entry. But, I feel like there is something important to say before I go any further into our diagnosis. Our journey with Grayson started for a number of reasons. It started because of our parental instincts. It started because of our awareness of Grayson’s same-aged peers in our lives. It started because we understood the milestones; and we understood that he was not hitting them. But, if I really pinpointed the “start” of our journey; it all comes back to one phone call. One very difficult phone call with my lifelong friend.
As parents we are innately protective of our children. It is part of the job. It is our job to love them, nurture them, guide them and push them forward. It is our job to pick them up when they fall. It is our job to make sure that they learn manners. That they learn to be kind and patient and compassionate. It is our job to teach them the difference between right or wrong. To show them the way when they are lost. It is also our job to be observant. To look for areas of opportunity to teach and coach and mentor our children. It is our job because we are their parents. And, it is a job that we take very seriously. But, we do not see it as our job; it becomes our purpose, our way of existing. We do our best every single day to raise our children to be people we are proud of. And we love them at every turn; no matter what.
I have already told you that I believe whole heartedly that it takes a village to raise a child. And, believe me when I tell you that I could not imagine the parenting gig without the love and support and guidance of the amazing people in our lives. As parents, we count on the love and support of other people to navigate new and unfamiliar territory. But, there is a mutual understanding that we are the parents; and they are the support system. It is important that we understand that. That we respect the role of the parents. That means sometimes we keep our opinions to ourselves. Sometimes we do not say the “obvious” thing because it may not be the “right” thing. Sometimes we bite our tongue. Sometimes we turn a blind eye. Sometimes we put our instincts aside; because we know that we are not the parents. And, because we know the parents, love the parents; we know that they are doing their best and will figure it out with time. And then there are times, even though we know the risks, even though we know it may not be the right thing…we say something.
Let me just say here…this is an incredibly risky thing to do. Telling another parent something difficult about their child is no easy task. All parents want to save face in public; no matter how much they may be struggling at home. And when we realize that someone sees beyond the act, beyond the front, that is really difficult to swallow. But sometimes, in the right circumstance and with the right friendship, sometimes you have to hear something hard about your child. Something you did not see. Or, something you saw and just did not know how to explain. Sometimes you need a friend, willing to go out on a limb to help you along. A friendship so true and so precious in your life that they are willing to risk it all to help. To help you down a path you did not even know you were on. To help you move forward. To help you fall apart. To help you as you put the pieces back together; one by one.
I’ve told you already that we noticed Grayson had a speech delay. At 18 months he was not developing speech skills like his same-aged peers. And, as he inched closer and closer to 2 years old, we knew something was off. But, we had a 2 month baby at home. I was on maternity leave. James was starting a new job. And, we were doing the best we could. We were working hard with Grayson to grow his vocabulary. We were making special time for Grayson during the day; time that was just about him. And, we were noticing that some days things were improving. And some days, things were worse.
One day I was having an exceptional “momma of 2” moment…dinner was in the oven, Grayson was playing with his blocks and Rowan was asleep in his swing. I decided to do what any mother would do in such a moment of peace; clean the house. So I pulled out my dusting rag and got to cleaning. After a few minutes, with 2 kids both still cooperating, I decided to take the opportunity to catch up with a good friend on the phone. We spent several moments on the phone talking about life. Sharing the gory details of parenting 2 children under 2. Sharing the details of the schedules, the feedings, the sleeping (or lack thereof). It was a real grown-up conversation; and it was happening while I was home alone with both kids. I was feeling like and extra-special form of momma rock star in that moment. And then all of the sudden Grayson was standing at my heels struggling to communicate with me. He was pointing and talking in his gibberish way; intermixing screams to reiterate the point I was not grasping. I apologized to my girlfriend and set the phone down to communicate with Grayson and try to better understand his need. After a few short moments I determined that Grayson was asking for a toy that was out of his reach. Armed with his toy he went on to play happily and I picked the phone back up. In the next few moments we had a conversation that I reflect back on all of the time. I remember it so clearly. This particular friend is someone I had known for nearly 2 decades. We saw each other through grade school, high school, college (even a stint as roommates), weddings and early motherhood. She is also a brilliant Speech and Language Pathologist. She has spent years working with children. She sat beside me in college during a rehabilitation psychology class focusing on behavior change in children. She is someone that I respect so much as a friend, as a professional and as a mother. And so we entered into uncharted and very delicate territory.
She very gently asked me if she could ask me a few questions about Grayson’s speech. She said “I am so sorry if I am over-stepping and if I am you can just tell me to shut up.” I told her “of course” she could ask me. She asked me about the screaming. She asked me about gestures and non-verbal communication tendencies. She asked me about word counts. She asked me about his behaviors and if he grew frustrated when we could not understand him. She told me things about her own child’s speech. About how not everything always happens exactly on cue. She told me that every child is different and that Grayson was lucky to have such patient parents. And then she told me that she thought it couldn’t hurt to talk about the speech delay at Grayson’s 2 year well baby check in a few weeks. She suggested that we track the words he was using. She also asked me to pay more attention to his non-verbal communication and make notes of things that stood out. She said that it sounded like Grayson was struggling to communicate with us and we might be able to see a big improvement if we were able to utilize speech therapy. She made a point to tell me SO many times that James and I were great parents. She was gentle and kind and she understood that what she was saying was hard to hear.
You see, I already knew that Grayson’s speech was delayed. But somehow hearing her say it out loud kicked my momma butt into gear. Somehow knowing that other people recognized his delay made it different. Speech would have come up at his 2 year checkup regardless of this conversation. Our pediatrician would have recognized the delay and she still would have referred us to birth to 3. The real difference after my friend was brave enough to “go there”, was that all of the sudden I had an ally! There was someone outside of the walls of our everyday life that knew our struggle. Someone who could relate and understand what we were going through. James and I were no longer going through it blindly alone. We had support. Someone knew our struggle and I actually felt better for having it out there.
I interject this story in between the 2 A-word blogs because this person continues to be my ally throughout our journey. In fact, she sat next to me as we received Grayson’s official diagnosis. So, telling our story without acknowledging her substantial role, from beginning to end, just does not seem right. And just to be clear, the point of this story is not to have all of your run out into the world to start diagnosing your friend’s children. Actually, please, DO NOT DO THAT! The point of this story is simple; sometimes people need things from you that they do not know how to ask for. Sometimes people need things from you that they do not even know they need. And when you see a friend in need; help in any way that you can. And, if you need to help them through something difficult; do it with grace and kindness. Do it with only good intentions. Do it delicately. Do it in a way that is free of judgment. Free of comparison. Free of hopelessness. Be what your friend needs of you. Do not take lightly the act of stepping into someone’s personal space. Understand that they may not want you there. Understand that they may ask you to leave. And if they do, respect their request.
I learned that sometimes your friends are the mirrors you need to see. They allow you to look into them to see something that has been inside of you the whole time. The help you take down the walls you’ve built. They love you without condition and without judgement. They only want the best for you. And sometimes, even if you do not like what they have to say, you need to hear it. You need to see it.
I am thankful to my friend every day. I thank God for her. I wonder how I will ever be able to repay her for her help on this journey, for setting me free, for holding me up. For giving speech to my speechlessness. For giving hope to my hopelessness. For all of these things and so many more. I am thankful to my friend every day. I think back to that day, that phone call, often. I wonder how different our journey may have been without her by our side. And I realize just how thankful I am that she was brave enough to help us. It is so much easier going through life with friends who are willing to be there for you; no matter what. And so with my husband and my friend by my side; we pushed forward. We went on to face a day that would change our lives forever.