Shut Up and Listen
BY Frank Lowe
May 27 2014 7:21 AM ET
When it comes to our son, one of the most memorable experiences is his speech delay when he was a baby. I was very active with him in playgroups with other babies, which are nothing more than an excuse for the parents to get together and drink and judge everyone else’s babies. Or, more specifically, judge their progress. My son was never the leader of the pack. He was already the youngest, but additionally he seemed to develop about a month or so behind when he should. This never really concerned his doctor or me, because around the time I would get worried, he would start to perform the task. Whether it was sitting up, crawling, or babbling — he would always come through. Then came the talking, or lack thereof.
Don’t ask me his age when all of this happened. The fact that we, as parents, have to measure our baby’s age in months is ludicrous, and I couldn’t tell you the difference between 14 months and 24 months. For the purpose of the article let’s just say he was about 2. He would become extremely frustrated because he had the mental capacity to know when there was a problem or something he needed, but no way to express it. He would scream or cry when he would get like this, and it would make everyone upset. His pediatrician suggested he work with a speech therapist, and I was totally on board with this idea. The last thing I wanted was for him to fall behind at the earliest of ages, and for him not to be ready for preschool at the proper time. I was concerned about some sort of developmental domino effect occurring.
Fortunately, we live in a state with excellent resources for speech problems, and within no time I had an agency assess him and begin speech therapy. The therapists didn’t seem too concerned and told me things like “we’ve seen way worse” or “he’ll be talking in no time.” That did little to alleviate my anxiety, but I hung in there with him and continued to deal with his frustration. This was my little guy, who I love more than anything in the world, and he was struggling — already. That thought alone would make me cry at night. The therapy itself seemed almost like a joke. To be honest, I didn’t quite understand what they did, and how a few hours of this per week was enough. I was ready for him to be in some kind of intensive daily program with other babies all sitting around not talking and learning how to do so at the same time. Man, was I dead wrong. We did this for a few months, and soon he did start to talk.
The sessions would always take place in our living room, as it was where he was the most comfortable. We have a large ottoman in the center of the room, and I would always joke with his therapist that when he can say “ottoman,” he would graduate. His talking started improving, and before we knew it, he said “ottoman,” and we all almost passed out. From that point forward, he was “caught up” to the other kids, and his talking only got stronger and stronger. Quite frankly, I don’t think the speech therapy did much; rather, I believe he just finally started talking on his own. Now he’s almost 5 and I’m teaching him an entirely different lesson: how to shut up and listen.
Did I do this to myself? Did the speech therapy trigger some kind of need to talk endlessly? According to all of the parenting blogs I peruse, no. He’s just a normal almost 5-year-old who loves to be a jabber-jaws. I wake him up the morning and that mouth starts moving instantly. And then it doesn’t stop until I put him back down at bedtime. I think energy crises could be solved if they somehow harnessed the energy he creates from talking. My child could power a small city all by himself. I never wanted to be the parent to say “shut up” to my child, but I have caught myself doing exactly just that, out of desperation. I try to say it nicely, but in the back of my mind I imagine those tiger moms who teach their kids to not talk until spoken to, and I fantasize about that scenario.
Let this be a lesson to anyone with a child diagnosed with a “speech delay.” Unless it is serious (which the pediatrician will know), relax about it. Your child will eventually talk. And talk. And talk. I actually worry about him talking too much now, like I’m concerned that he doesn’t take anything in because he’s too busy exclaiming things out. I just want him to stop and observe and listen sometimes, but he simply won’t. These are trivial concerns though, his teachers say he has some of the best speech they have ever seen and that he converses better than any of the other students. Some days, however, I would kill to go back to when he couldn’t say a word. Silence has become the hottest commodity in my house.