That is one big fucking molehill

Anyone who’s been a parent for any time at all will tell you that it’s not like you expected it to be. I’m sure this is exactly the kind of statement that drives non-breeders crazy, but I can’t help it: some things in life require experiential knowledge, and parenting is one of them. As the oldest of six kids and a regular babysitter, I figured I had a pretty good general idea of what I was getting into with the parenting thing. I wasn’t naive enough to think I didn’t have anything to learn, but I thought I had the basics down. This, of course, is kind of like assuming you’ve nailed the basics of oil painting because you majored in art history. It’s not a totally irrational assumption, but it does happen to be a wrong one. Which is just my super smooth way of saying that if I had to condense my experience of parenting into a single sentence it would be something like, “I didn’t know it would be like this!”

The constant unexpectedness of parenting comes in all kinds of forms: positive, negative and everything in between. Some things you embrace, some you brush off, and some you run smack into like a two-foot-thick brick wall. We’re currently having a brick wall moment around these parts, because the Hatchling – my reason for starting this here blog – has recently been diagnosed with a language disorder. “What the hell is a language disorder?” you are no doubt asking. I know I sure was. There’s no pithy answer, but basically what it means for the Hatchling is that in a lot of situations, she finds it difficult or impossible to use language to communicate. Lemme just take a moment to recover from the nausea that writing that sentence produced. Okay.

So, like most impairments of this type, the diagnosis has been a long time coming. Language has never been the Hatchling’s strong suit; she babbled charmingly as a toddler, but it took a while for her to convert the babble into actual words and sentences. I worried about it in a vague way, but her pediatrician seemed to think she was fine and there was nothing I could put my finger on. We assumed it was just her way of developing and it would work itself out. When she was three (in 2009) she started preschool, and about 1/2 way through the year her teacher pulled me aside to ask if the Hatchling had done her pre-K screening yet, because she was acting kind of weird sometimes in the classroom. Again, it was nothing she could really put a finger on, but it seemed like sometimes the Hatchling didn’t understand what you were saying when you gave her instructions, or she would sort of go vacant in the middle of an activity. So we took her in for the early childhood screening session, and she passed with flying colors. I even told them ahead of time that I had some concerns about her language development, but they didn’t see anything, so whew, right? No worries. All good … except I would still occasionally have interactions with the Hatchling that would leave me vaguely anxious, feelings that I dismissed because, let’s face it, it’s not exactly unusual for me to feel vaguely anxious and mostly it’s a mountains out of molehills situation.

Then, this last winter, her completely different preschool teacher at her completely different preschool ALSO pulled me aside to express some concerns about the Hatchling. And just like everyone else, she couldn’t quite put a finger on it, there just seemed to be something a little “off” about her and had I noticed anything like that at home? And of course I had, here and there, so we agreed to get the Special Ed. teacher who serves the school to do some observations and then we’d go from there. And thus began the months-long process of observations and reports and needing further testing and doing the testing and waiting for the results and meeting about the results and the results are: Language Disorder. Significant Language Disorder. In other words, to quote the 12 page single-spaced report we got this morning, “Her language samples provided evidence of significant difficulties producing meaningful, accurate and organized language.”

I recognize that things could be a lot worse. The Hatchling could have a terminal disease, or a more severe impairment, or we could not be catching this so early, leaving her to struggle through school without knowing why. We’re fortunate to live in a state that will provide some support for the Hatchling once she starts Kindergarten, to live in a metro area where there are resources available to us we might not have elsewhere. All of this is true. But let me tell you: it still sucks a metric fuck-ton of suckage to sit in a meeting at 8:00 in the goddamn morning and be told that your kid has a level of disability which – at the very least – will make it really hard to be successful in school, not to mention any social or emotional effects it will have or might already be having. The thought that this language disorder could make the Hatchling lose her sunny outgoing friendliness … well, I’ll start crying again if I think too long about it.

If I’m honest, though, I think what I’m most worried about in this whole scenario is that I won’t come up to snuff in the parenting department. This is not my subtle way of asking for compliments on my fortitude or excellent mothering capabilities – I’m really fucking scared about it. I mean, this is the kind of situation where I’m supposed to draw on all my reserves of strength and be a pillar of support for my kid and my family, right? Only I’m not at all sure that I have any reserves, and god knows I’m plumb out of patience and temper has never really been my strong suit. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but I’m EXTREMELY verbal. Me and language are, like, super BFFs. So not only do I know bupkiss about dealing with language disorders, but I also can’t imagine a task I’m less temperamentally suited to handle. I can’t imagine anything more frustrating than having thoughts and feelings and ideas and not being able to speak them. It kills me to think this might be a life sentence for the Hatchling. I don’t want to fuck this up.

I’m trying to take a Buddhist approach. I’m trying to stay in the moment, to “expect nothing.” Buddha taught that the practice of mindfulness not only allows us to fully experience our lives, but it also enables us to respond effectively to the curveballs that life seems to enjoy throwing at our heads. This is one of the Buddhist paradoxes that really hits me where I live. All evidence to the contrary, I tend to convince myself that dwelling on past issues or trying to project into the future will somehow help me be better prepared for whatever shit comes down the pike. What it really does, of course, is just cloud my judgment and perceptions so that I’m too freaked out and preoccupied to respond to anything. Focusing on the here and now allows me to see clearly what a sweet and loving child the Hatchling is, how willing she is to embrace new experiences, how easily and quickly she makes friends, and how far she’s come with her language in the past year. It reminds me that I don’t have to climb the whole fucking mountain right this very minute – I just have to take this particular step. I find some hope in the present moment. Yeah, I didn’t know it would be like this. But then none of us ever really does.

14 responses to “That is one big fucking molehill

  1. Tim Robinson

    Some bad situations you can handle by telling yourself, “We’ll get through this.” But what do you do when you don’t know if there’s any getting through to be done? You don’t know how severe the disability will finally be. You don’t know how far it can be ameliorated. Have they even told you what steps you can take? You tell yourself that surely you can protect your children against the worst tragedies–if you can’t do that, you don’t deserve to be a parent. And then life blindsides you. You want to tell it, “If you wanted to teach me how little I can control, you could have done it with much less. You didn’t have to fuck up one of my kids to show me that. The lesson isn’t worth it.” But then you remember that life isn’t trying to teach you any lessons. It doesn’t give a damn. That I can’t find the words to buoy you up makes me feel that I’m failing in my duty as a parent. That I can’t fix it, make it all better, seems proof of my inadequacy. Think what you would say to me about that, and say it to yourself. If we got what we deserved, there’d be some consolation in that. At least it would be fair. But that, too, is denied us. Life is suffering, but it isn’t meted out equally, and there’s no rhyme or reason to how it’s distributed. Goodbye, karma. There remains a certain nobility in perseverance. Sometimes that’s the best we can manage.

  2. Wow. Just wow.
    You’ll handle it because you are a strong woman who loves her children fiercely. Also because you don’t have a choice. I’ve faced some serious challenges in the last 10 years, and it’s funny how people remark about my bravery. But we’re not any braver than anyone else. We walk through the storm because we just don’t have a choice. Curling into the fetal position is not an option.

    But you’ll be surprised when you find the gift in the darkness, because it’s ALWAYS there. Maybe not right away, but somehow these life events that just knock us to our knees also somehow make us better people, or force us down paths that we wouldn’t normally take, only to find new joy along the way.

    Sending lots of vibes for peace, strength, and hope.

  3. Hey Elise. I have vaguely been where you are on this one. I have to laugh and possibly buy you a cup of coffee so that we can connect on this one, we have a lot in common on both the language challenges as well as the Buddhist approach to dealing with it– Frankly, I still get chest tightening waves of panic when it comes to thinking of James’ future and language acquisition. We all want the best for our kids and it breaks my heart to know that he will have to work harder to get him to a place where he can have the same interactions that so many take for granted. I have come to realize that it’s his life though, and his path. My greater goal now is to help him build as much language as possible so that his consideration set is wide.

    We do speech therapy with our son once a week. Our school district has been unbelievably supportive and available for this. . . and (aside) it has made me very thankful to live in a state with such great social services. Our school district is willing to give as much support as we are willing (able) to take. We set our own times, co-create goals with his therapists and track progress as a team. I think we have seen quite a few improvements in his development since starting but more importantly it has brought me peace of mind to know that we are doing everything in our power to help him on his way.

  4. as I think there is something poetic in how the Hatchling uses language, I was inclined to think that drawing on my deep acquaintance with the Cannon would provide an appropriate reply. Alas, all that came to mind was “Your friends are with you, Aragorn.” Not elegant, but heartfelt.

  5. But we still don’t know what it means for her to have this disorder, do we? It’s very good to be aware of it so we can help her communicate and understand, but maybe it wouldn’t be so good if the disorder became a label for her. Anyway, she’s our own sweet darling Ellie and you’re our own sweet darling Mama, and you’ll do what needs to be done.

    • The labeling thing is tricky, because while I certainly wouldn’t want this disorder to become the dominant descriptor of who she is (and I don’t think we’re in any danger of that, actually), it’s also really important for her to have that label in some ways, because that’s what will enable her to get the interventions she needs, and it will alert her future teachers to the need for alternative approaches.

  6. My best local friend’s youngest, who is Genevieve’s age, was dx with serious speech/language probs. last fall in preschool also. She has gotten free speech therapy with the district’s speech guy twice a week since and has made significant progress. I know it’s not the same thing as E. has, but my friend was given explicit instructions as to what to do w/ her daughter at home to work on things, and the speech guy worked hard w/ her daughter and did his thing. So just know there will be tons of professionals who will do their jobs with E. to improve her skills.

  7. You are a woman that I can rely on to have the answer to every question I ever ask (except maybe which direction we are going) and could have PhDs in several topics as far as I am concerned. This news may seem extra scary because it isn’t a topic in which you have educated yourself. However, you are the perfect woman for the job. You have the compassion, insight and ability to utilize the tools you will be given to make this work. You will seek out all the assistance and information you can use and then some. You will eventually have what is comparable to a PhD in this because you are Elise. More importantly, you will be up for giving E. kindness, patience and total support even if you feel spent yourself. I know it’s true. I’ve seen you do it time and time again.

    Call me and we’ll set up a time this weekend for me to watch the girls so you can have some time off.

  8. Aw hon, how brave it was of you to write this post. I applaud you. And all I can think of to say is, I don’t know many absolutes in parenting, but I do know this: we can’t protect our kids from challenges in their lives. And: we’re going to make mistakes as parents, some of which will be really bad mistakes. And: everything is going to be ok. And although my area is really second languages, not first language acquisition, I know enough to say that early intervention is so, so good. You are doing the right thing. Oh, and I think that having an awesomely verbal mom is the **best** thing for a kid working on language! Everything is going to be ok.

  9. As the parent of kid who has areas of “nontypical development” I also recognize that he has truly amazing traits that would no doubt be absent, were he more “typical.” That does not, however, make parenting and finding the patience to handle it less challenging, but I try to keep reminding myself of it. It seems like Buddhism and acting have a lot in common, no? “Be in the moment, and expect nothing.”

    • Yeah, there are a lot of overlaps between Buddhism and actor training! I’m sure that’s one of the reasons it feels like such a good fit.

  10. Aw, you guys. I need a “like” button so I can use it on every one of these comments. Thank you for being so supportive and awesome. I know having this blog is going to be an immense help as we go through this process.

  11. Unca David B

    Wish I were as insightful as you and all the friends and rellies who’ve commented so far. Glad you have this circle in your corner. (What? Geometry fail!) And glad Ellie has you and Chad in her corner. I’d like to keep an eye out on your FB posts and blogs, see how this develops. Will take a while. (Would you like to flag hatchling-related content when you link in FB?) And if, contra my limited imagination, I end up being in a position to help out in any way…

  12. Unca David B

    Aww, my own avatar.