I’m a doter. That much is unlikely to change any time soon.
But, since becoming a mother to actual humans (as opposed to — cough — cats), I’ve had to consciously curb my helicopter tendencies. The idea behind attachment parenting, after all, is to nurture a secure enough bond between parent and child that the child feels confident in forging his or her own path — understanding that setbacks, while an inevitable part of life, are neither mortal threats nor terminal failures. In other words, I want my kids to know that I will always be there to dress their wounds after a fall and help them to their feet again — but not to swoop in and catch them mid-air.
I think I’ve done a pretty good job of adhering to this principle. Nonetheless, it seems like persistent medical whatnot always manages to gum up the works.
Rather than reel off the details, I’ll just say that both Stuart, four in December, and MaryAlice, who just turned two, experienced complications from medical issues (multiple food allergies and a congenital larynx malformation, respectively) that went undiagnosed for over a year. And, even then, we only received answers after a lot of … pestering.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not one for wholesale railing against the medical establishment — or against our individual provider, for that matter. Pediatric general practitioners deserve a lot of respect for the educated guesswork that comprises the complex diagnostic process with pre-verbal patients. Even so, after many visits to the doctor’s office with complaints as amorphous as, “She makes this weird noise when she cries” and “His face looked kind of puffy yesterday. Like, swollen, I guess? Wait — here’s a photo I took with my phone …”, I started to feel like I had hypochondria by proxy.
Formal diagnoses leading to successfully managed conditions didn’t make me feel all that vindicated, either. See, when I was already trying to sit on my hands and avoid excessive alarmism, being told that, in the end, my concern was not unfounded didn’t inspire me to remain very laissez-faire.
The latest “thing” is Stuart and his /s/s.
Stuart voices the /s/ sound completely through his nose. If he plugs his nose, he can’t say /s/ at all. (Would that we’d known this before we named him “Stuart”). He’s done it since he first began to talk; but it only started giving us pause last January.
My husband, Cullen, and I were of two separate minds when it came to investigating this little quirk. My opinion was that it’s better to push for early intervention than to risk Stuart’s difficulties being compounded by the passage of time. Cullen, on the other hand, felt that it was just one more hassle that would require our attention — and, furthermore, not a “big deal.” He was confident that Stuart would outgrow the problem, learning proper enunciation at his own pace and with his own methods.
After several discussions, I was placated. We brought Stuart to a screening with our school district’s speech and language pathologist.
What’s going on with Stuart is this: phoneme-specific nasal emission, or PSNE. It’s an acquired misarticulation and, according to the article I linked to, is often found in children who have a history of “phonological disorder, frequent middle ear infections and/or conductive hearing loss, or tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy.” (Check … check … check).
The SLP cautioned, however, that because “the s, sh, ch sounds are not expected to be correctly articulated until age 7-8 years,” Stuart would be ineligible for subsidized speech therapy until kindergarten.
That was okay with me. Because, again, I’d rather be chastened for my hyper-vigilance by being proven wrong, than to have my fears confirmed. Plus, at least we knew that there wasn’t anything structurally amiss (like my original suspicion: velopharyngeal insufficiency. Don’t you love how that just rolls off the tongue?) that would require surgery or oral appliances. Steering clear of surgery and oral appliances always represents a tick in the Win column.
I put the PSNE out of my mind.
Stuart was happy. I was happy.
“Does he have a cold?” asked my sister-in-law, visiting from Seattle. “He sounds really phlegmy.”
I shrugged. “Nah. That’s just the way he talks.”
“I can only understand about half of what Stuart says,” my mom confided after an exasperating phone conversation.
An early childhood educator for over thirty years, my mom has such a close relationship with Stuart that she’s been known to send her husband to the guest room so the Favored Grandson (only grandson, it’s worth noting) can fall asleep in her bed, watching Scooby-Doo.
Still: “They said he was fine. They can’t do anything until he’s in school.”
I started noticing Stuart, with greater frequency “practicing” saying, “Ssssss,” while holding his nose.
And not being able to do it.
And getting frustrated.
“What noise does a snake make?” I encouraged him.
“Hisssssss!” responded MaryAlice, looking please with herself.
Stuart made the noise of an emphysematic snake. Snoring.
“My friend” — (one of the little girls at daycare; a “friend” by proximity only) — “says I talk like a baby.”
“How does that make you feel?”
I’ve kept Stuart alive for three-and-a-half years: cared for his growing body; sheltered him from salient threats to his wellbeing; fed his budding intellect and sense of morality. The first two tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs are pretty well covered. Just when I thought I could coast for a while, Stuart dips a toe into the “Needs for Love, Affection, and Belongingness” waters.
This is why waiting it out no longer seems like the clear-cut solution. This is why there isn’t a clear-cut solution anymore. When it was a question of, say, intervening to ensure that Stuart didn’t go into anaphylactic shock … well, there was no question. My husband was right, on one hand; the PSNE wasn’t a “big deal” as speech disorders go, mainly because it doesn’t signal a more dire, underlying impairment.
But the distinction between physical safety and social “safety” is both vast and elegant, I’m discovering. I have to decide whether I want to make this a learning experience, for Stuart, on the importance of tenacity and self-assurance and finding strength in the face of one’s challenges. Or whether I am going to throw the safety net under him; whether I’m going to grant him bland, blissful normalcy for a while longer. Whatever the choice, though, I am the one making it for him. The resopnsibility for the outcome is on me.
He has an appointment for an evaluation with another speech and hearing clinic.
I’ll turn off the coddling faucet another day.