I’ve heard that when the European ships appeared on the eastern shores of America, the Native Americans had no context to describe what they saw. They used words like “white clouds” to communicate the experience.
I feel like this when I’m talking to my daughter. Besides her speech impediment, she has a long list of special needs, many of which have yet to be properly labeled or categorized. The first five years of her life (with her birth family) were highly traumatic, and sometimes the information that comes out of her mouth is completely nonsensical.
I’m a writer. I pride myself on my ability to put ideas into words clearly and, when necessary, delicately. I like to think I’m observant. But sometimes I find myself struggling to remember…
Wait… what did she just say?
Even when I can understand the individual words, sometimes the way she strings them together makes no sense. As her mother, I’ve figured out a lot of her habits, and since I know what’s going on in her life I can usually figure out what she means.
But sometimes I have no clue. Later, I find myself talking to a therapist or social worker or teacher, and I can’t recreate what my daughter was trying to say. It’s as if the words are “I was in the sink and when it’s over it is the there yet?” Now, if I had been prepared to listen carefully to a puzzle that was about to be presented to me, I might have been able to repeat back the exact words, then pick them apart and make some sense out of them. But this is life, a hundred interactions a day. Most of the time, I can figure out what she means. She’s become much better at expressing herself over the past six years. But out of the blue, when I’m least expecting it, she’ll come out with one of these odd threads of words. Asking her to clarify does not always help. Sometimes she can find new words, but more often she just gets frustrated, and gives up. She pretends she really meant to say something else, and even though I know she’s lying, there’s no convincing her to go back and try to express whatever it was she wanted to express.
In one month, she will be a teenager. We can add a large dose of hormones to the mix. I can only hope that, as all her peers are waxing into their own adolescent worlds and talking to their parents even less, she will somehow find a way to express herself in a way that those of us who love her can understand.
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