“Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.” – Henry David Thoreau
“The dream was always running ahead of me. To catch up, to live for a moment in unison with it, that was the miracle.” – Anaïs Nin
Today, a dream of mine became real. You know, those wonderful dreams you have deep in the night when you see your child doing something extraordinary – something that normally, in the light of the day-to-day challenges, you aren’t sure you could dare to dream possible.
But first, let me take you on a little journey.
Every new word has so far been a four-year-long struggle for our J-Man. Much of that time has involved us interpreting the pitch, cadence, and general patterns of his audible communication from moans to sing-songy vocalizations. We’d always talk to him, though, as if we were all having a ‘normal’ conversation together. I admit, I grew very accustomed to having whole conversations where I supplied both our speaking parts, like a one-person play.
Then came single syllables, which much later become first syllables of more complex words. Then in a few more months, like people reading wedding vows but repeating them one syllable at a time, we began to construct complete words, then very short sentences. We’ve now gotten through entire children’s books that way, slowly but surely, one syllable at a time.
Until pretty recently, most of his talking – in whatever form – has been in some way prompted by us, whether ‘asking’ him something or just getting him to repeat something back to us. Getting to “I want” was a huge triumph. For a long time, we had to say “I want” for him, and then he would tell us what he wanted. Then he started doing it himself, and one syllable at a time, we began to better understand his wants and needs.
It often goes:
Person he’s talking to: “I”
J: [says what he wants, like his word approximation for 'apple' (for applesauce), 'sss-ts' (socks, when he wants to go somewhere), etc.]
Recently, the meaning of “I want” has expanded into including something like “I want to show you this”, and he tells us what that is after “I want”. It even has taken on connotations lately of “I need help with”, though we’re working hard on adding “I need help” to his vocabulary, with some success I might add!
But one thing you may have already noticed in all this is that most all of the things he’s (verbally) wanted for most of his four years are things, objects. What has completely lit our hearts up in recent days is that he’s now beginning to tell us he wants something else – us.
He crawled in behind Mary on the couch, and we did one syllable at a time, “I – want – Mama.” Let that sink in a moment.
Maybe the vast majority of the parents on the planet with young kids had this happen to them lately, if not today. How many times have you heard a child shouting “I want my Mommy!” to the rolled eyes and exasperated responses of those looking on? How many times a day do these words go unnoticed really by anyone, except to think of them as some sort of tantrum?
How many times have those of you with non-verbal or minimally-verbal children thought something like, “I would give up everything I own – even a few body parts if need be – if my child could say that to me, just once?” I have, plenty of times.
Tonight the J-Man was very tired at bedtime. We had clipped his fingernails right before his bath, which always sends him into a sensory tailspin. We got through the bedtime routine pretty well and turned out the light. I put him in his bed, said all the things I usually say to him, and then began to walk toward the bedroom door. He began to sob and cry out pitifully.
“You’re OK, buddy. You’re OK.” I said reassuringly. “Everything will be OK.”
“I-I,” he replied in his tearful voice.
“I,” repeating that syllable as we always do.
After a stunned moment – or many moments, I don’t know – I walked over to his crib. He became quiet, stood up in his bed slowly and peacefully, and held his arms up to me, which I took in mine. We stood there in his bedroom swaying back and forth, with his head on my shoulder. I could feel his body sink and relax.
We swayed there in the almost-dark, his room illumined only by a small nightlight shining on the far wall. But it was enough light for me to see all the perfection and beauty of this moment, this wonderful and real moment that could now take the place of my dream.
After a timeless while, I asked him, “Do you want to get in your bed now?” He looked up and kissed me, a long-time part of his J-Man sign language for ‘yes’.
So, I helped him into his crib, told him good night, and slowly walked out of his room with tears still in my eyes, the kind of tears many of you know too. They are the ones that renew us in the present and water the seeds of wonders and dreams that are yet to come true.