Last week, Marshall turned two. It was a pretty momentous occasion in our household. There were lots of tears as I put together a slideshow for the family members that gathered to give him hugs and kisses and to celebrate the incredible journey he has been through so far. Looking back at some of his baby photos, so many memories came rushing back that I had either forgotten or never remembered. The trauma of being born means many babies come out looking a little different than they do a few years later, but throw in the tubes and bandages and oxygen hoods that were in, on, and around him for much of the first few months, and he looks like an entirely different child today.
We’ve been lucky enough to get into a class with a speech pathologist once a week where Bridget and I are learning how to teach language to children like Marshall who have communication delays. Once a week (other than the weeks we have no class yet still show up, only to make our way back home!), we sit in a room downtown with about a dozen other parents and go through strategies, watch videos of our interactions with our children, and make plans on what we’re going to work on this week.
Bridget deserves the praise for getting the ball rolling. Were I a single parent, I would never have the energy nor would I be aware enough of what’s out there to properly advocate for my child to receive these services. Whether your child has Apert syndrome or any other condition that affects their speech, motor functions, or anything else, these programs are out there. Luckily, in Toronto, we have a glut of services to access.
These Wednesday night sessions – 2.5 hours each time – have the feeling of a support group or therapy. You can see it in the faces of the parents when we’re watching videos of their play with their kids. There’s tension, anxiety, fear, and hope. After each video, we discuss the progress we see and point out the great things the parents have done to encourage communication and play. The relief and joy is palpable. When you’re living a life of medical appointment after medical appointment, positive feedback feels incredible. There is a shared sense of accomplishment in that room.
Marshall clearly understands most of what we say. He can’t make me dinner (yet), but “Pick up your boots and put them by the door” is definitely understood. “Yeah!”, “Okay”, and “Thbbbttttttttt” are heard all day, every day. Now it’s up to us to give him the language he’ll need, especially if he’s going to tell me he loves me four hundred and thirty-seven times a week.
It’s one thing to teach children how to read – it’s very cool and rewarding when students in my classes suddenly realize they can figure out what those words on a page mean – but to teach a child their first words? I can’t recall how Quinn learned words. He just did. With Marshall, we have to put in a concerted effort to implement our strategies. Put in a lot of pauses. Repeat words frequently. Use gestures. Use a variety of word types (not just nouns but verbs, adjectives, etc. as well).
Our words this week? Up, help, and no. Simple words that all of us take for granted, but imagine the power he’ll feel when he can say those words to us and tell us what he needs. No more grunting or pointing and me guessing at what he wants. Oh, to hear him say, “Help, Daddy!” will be wonderful. “No, Daddy, I don’t want to play a board game”? Maybe not that sentence.
For those of you who have been following along with Marshall’s life the past two years, you already know that sleep has been, well, keeping us up at night. Some days, we didn’t even know what day of the week it was or if we’d ever sleep again. His breathing was so bad, he would wake up every 30 minutes some nights. The breathing issue is a bit better, but when he gets a cold, it’s still like sleeping near a congested rhinoceros in an echo chamber.
I don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch (mmm…eggs…), but something incredible just happened: I got my second full night of sleep in a row. I’ve been sleeping in a bed with him lately, as he has moved from a crib to a full-sized bed. Falling asleep can still be an adventure, but the staying asleep part has been fantastic this week. TWO NIGHTS IN A ROW. I feel like I could run a marathon this morning, if only I could run more than a kilometre without daydreaming about sandwiches and beef patties. I watched him sleep last night for half an hour, his sweet little face snoring gently, his chubby cheeks rising and falling with each breath. I risked a few nibbles of his face here and there before falling asleep myself. TWO NIGHTS IN A ROW. I wouldn’t trade that in for anything short of a lottery jackpot or a lasagna right now.
Hopefully, I haven’t put a pox on tonight’s sleep by writing about this. If he does it again tonight, I’m celebrating tomorrow with a nice, cold drink of orange juice and soda water. And cookies.