My four year old is – well, he is my youngest child. I am sure he occasionally does things that someone out there might not find adorable and charming; I just can’t see it. He has all eight older members of his family wrapped around his tiny finger, and of course he knows it.
Thankfully my children are relatively close in age. This means that as far as they remember, they were all treated the same way at his age. In reality, by the time they were each four years old I had a two year old and a newborn! They were lucky to join a snuggle while I nursed someone else, or to find me alert and awake enough for five minutes to appreciate them.
With him it is different. I savor the minutes, having learned with the rest just how quickly they run. It doesn’t matter how many Bubbes told me it would be this way, to “slow down and enjoy them because it goes so fast“. Only with my own personal experience – and some sleep – did it all set in. And now he is forced to be my “baby forever”, poor kid….except that he enjoys it so darn much.
My little precious baby was born with an interesting speech anomaly. I say “born with” because my son didn’t babble like other babies. He made a seriess of pre-speech sounds – all through his nose. It concerned me then, and I was told he would grow out of it.
As he grew, his speech developed rapidly, with the quickness and vocabulary of a child that is raised by eight family members instead of two. But his nasal sound production remained. He could not annunciate a “ch”, “sh”, “j” or “tr” sound. At preschool at 2 they all noticed, and it concerned me even more, and I was told, again, that he would grow out of it.
As our planned aliyah crept closer, I started to move from concerned to slightly panicked. How could I move my son to a new place, ask him to acclimate to a new social environment in a new language, and not help him first correct his speech?
I finally got him an evaluation, recommendation and miraculously, insurance approval for some help. The evaluator told me that the problem was significant, that it was in fact masked by his level of speech, and that it was physiological, with habits learned wrong from birth, and that he would NOT outgrow the problem himself. It was an anomalous speech impediment that wouldn’t be easy to correct, but that once we found the key, she was optimistic he would correct the rest himself quite quickly.
Last week my son said “sh” for the first time. I cried and cried. I thought the day might never come. I cried in joy that I had fought to deal with it now, not later. I cried in pride that he clearly struggled so hard in that tiny little body to correct that which was completely natural to him, subverting the ego and listening to correction after correction. I cried that the gates of success were open for him in Israel, and his success would make his new life – which might be so much effort at the beginning – so much easier.
Once he could translate a “wind sound” (as the brilliant speech therapist Dawn told him) into a “sh”, he quickly began “j” and “ch” – on his own. It was beautiful. He can hear and feel the difference, and often patiently corrects himself, already in week one, without prompting.
What gratifies me most is the joy he feels from overcoming a challenge. I hope he never remembers his funny way of talking as a baby and toddler. I hope he does remember struggle and mastery and hard work with a huge finish line. The need for that skill will remain forever and is at least as important as the wonderful sound of a properly anunciated “sh….”
What makes me so misty-eyed is the innocence and childlike manner of his work. I wish I could preserve this sense of exploring the world without ego. As I help my older children navigate the thorny path of middle school with peer pressure and insecurity, I wish I could keep him safe from it all, remaining in a world where being corrected is okay, and getting it wrong until you get it right only makes you a hero.
Do you hear this gushing? I definitely sound like an Ima of her youngest child.