The what-ifs - FamilyEducation

The what-ifs

March 05,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Monday was sunny and warm and T. and I used our hour of alone-time to lounge in the hammock on the back porch. She chattered to me about this and that and I decided, given our free time, that we would work on how she pronounces (or doesn't pronounce, as it happens) certain sounds. She swallows her -ph and -f sounds, and most of her paired consonants, and her -r's usually end up sounding like -w's. I love the way T. speaks; her words come tumbling out of her mouth in a charming, chirpy way, and we're not really concerned about her pronunciation--or at least I didn't think we were. But at her four-year old well-visit recently, her pediatrician encouraged us to work with T. and those pesky swallowed-up paired consonants because, at four, T. should apparently be moving beyond that type of baby talk and on into more decipherable language patterns. T.'s pediatrician isn't overly concerned and told us that if T. is still having these issues next fall, then it will be time to look into speech therapy. I'm never really certain what to make of early interventions. Or, I should say, I'm never certain what to make of them when they involve my own children. I never really worried about T.'s pronunciation until that well-child visit, and even then we didn't walk out of there too concerned. But two weeks later, I was talking with a preschool mom and she told me that her daughter started speech therapy when she was two, for some of the same characteristic consonant-swallowing T. exhibits now at four. It's made the world of difference! She told me. Now everyone can understand K. when she talks! I thought back to when T. was two and I just can't imagine having sought out speech therapy for her back then, even though she was very hard to understand. But she was two, and two-year olds ARE hard to understand--it's part of the package. We shrugged it all off at three, and even now, at four, but little by little the nagging doubts are creeping in. Maybe she should be speaking more clearly at four? Maybe we were remiss in not taking action earlier? We come to all of this carrying a certain amount of baggage. Early interventions could have helped our son tremendously, yet we were slow to recognize many of his needs when he was T.'s age. With your first-born you are navigating so much in the dark, and you have little to compare them against, only your own instincts and these can sometimes be overshadowed by parental pride and this business of getting used to being a parent in the first place. Ironically, we found out at L.'s first IEP meeting last summer that our son--who started speaking in beautifully complex and perfectly pronounced sentences at a tender age--qualified for speech therapy last year because he has trouble articulating his -r sounds. It's because I have an accent, was L.'s explanation back then, when we talked about it. What kind of accent? We wanted to know--reasonably, I think. Well, I was born in New York, right? I have an accent from being born in New York! L. carries this explanation with him everywhere he goes now, pulling it out, I'm sure, during speech therapy at school, and probably driving the speech lady nuts in the process. It's not clear to us that his -r's have improved in any way but, then again, we didn't notice anything wrong with them in the first place. But with T. we're finding out that we're less sure of ourselves, this time around. The what-ifs follow us around: what if she really does need speech therapy now? What if she needed it when she was two? What if there is more going on that we don't see? What if...? Sometimes this parenting business seems so unbearably hard; you want to treasure every second of it every day, yet long to fast-forward into the future, to that day when you can sit back and breathe a sigh of relief, knowing at long last that everything will be okay--that the worries were just that: worries and nothing else.