She stutters. Not in the intermittent, chirpy little way some kids do when they're just discovering their voices, every now and then their speech peppered with an endearing little syllabic struggle or two. No, it's not that. She stutters with a severity, almost a violence, that causes her face to turn red, her breath to run out every time—all trying to ask me for another glass of milk, another bedtime story, another chance.
I pat her head or hold her hand as she struggles. I grin and look at her with encouraging eyes, never showing the helplessness and exasperation behind them. I slow my own speech in case she tries to mimic me. I never make her feel inadequate. I know what she's trying to say because I'm with her every moment of the day. I know her cues, her weak spots and her go-tos. I never interrupt her, though. That's what the doctor said.
What I'm trying to say is that I follow all the rules, at least all I know of them.
She is only three and a half. Her vocabulary is large and her intelligence high. As her mother, I've encouraged her to use her words always, even before I knew she could comprehend the request.
“Don't cry, honey. Use your words.”
“Can you tell me what happened?”
“Can you say that in a sentence?”
“Look at you! You put seven words together!”
“Now, now. I don't want to hear that noise. Use words not whines.”
“Can you look me in the eye and tell me how you feel?”
“Those good-manner words were great, dear!”
Words, words, words. Oh, how I've incorporated them into their lives. I suppose it's a result of being a writer, but I've always wanted my children to know that—although they may not always have a lot—they'll always have their voices. My oldest daughter, so bright in mind and spirit, has taken it all in. She's always given her best, I'm positive of that.
Sometimes, because I'm so used to the way she stammers, I don't even remember that it happens. Then, this: we're in the store buying milk and she tries to speak to the cashier. I know what she's trying to say, but nobody else does. All that comes out are breathless bursts, like gunshots, the syllables popping louder and louder from her lips as she tries to catch up. She's bright red, yelling, standing up in the cart. Finally she gets the words out, but the woman behind the counter looks confused. I don't blame her. My daughter is sitting down now. The cashier's eyes meet mine and she silently asks me for a translation, which I provide. The other people who have stopped to look now dart away, pushing their carts with a newfound fever.
She was trying to tell the lady that she chose three apples. I had promised her that, if she was good, she could pick three of her favorite fruits. My daughter, preschool-aged in both her appreciation of volume and her need for conversations wherever she goes, was trying to share that fact with the cashier.
“Those apples, I picked those out because I was good.” That's what she wanted to say. It sounded a little like that, to me anyway.
“She's excited about the apples,” I tell the lady.
“Oh, good!” she tells my daughter. Then, to me, “she's adorable!'
She's right. My daughter is adorable. She is smart. She is perfect to me. I want to cry, and it's not because I'm embarrassed of her. In fact, it's the opposite. I KNOW what she's capable of, what she can do. I know her purity of heart and her desire to make friends and play with others. And most of all, I know the world. I know she doesn't deserve to be placated. She deserves to talk about apples.
It is important to say that I appreciate the health of my children and know that there are far worse problems had by families. A stutter is, I would imagine, pretty best-case-scenario if you were forced to pick something that would affect your child. I'm hopeful she will grow out of it. I'm hopeful her upcoming appointment with the specialist will help. I'm grateful this is my biggest problem. I'm aware that it's not really a problem with her at all—the problem is with me.
What I want to say to the specialist about my daughter is this: She stutters so badly, and she starts preschool next month. Can you fix it? Can you make them be patient, help them understand her? Can you promise they will be kind? What if she tries to say something that the teacher doesn't understand? What if kids are mean? Can you make the world love her like I do, make them see what they've got?
What I want to say to the specialist about me is this: Are you a mom? My first child is going to school soon. I know that she needs me but I really need her more. It's killing me that I can't protect her forever. Can you help me let go?
In the end, there may not be an answer. In the end, I will drive her to school. In the end, she will communicate as best as she can. Always, I will miss her.