Milestone Chart Blues: Waiting for my Son to Speak

“Papa’s tractor!”

Two little words, coming from an 18-month-old, marked the beginning of the end of that blissful period of motherhood, when you’re sure your child really is perfect.

The little boy, who rightly pointed out a tractor in a book my son had brought to the doctor’s office, said his words clearly. My son, who was also 18 months, had a very limited vocabulary. He couldn’t say tractor… and he’d never put two words together before.

“Hel-i-copter!” the little boy said, rubbing salt in my wounds. “Mot-uh-cycle!”

My son looked at me, confused by his talkative new friend.

I smugly had believed my son was ahead of the curve . But this baby was talking circles around my little guy.

He trudged back to his mother and held out his arms.

“Up, please!” he said, taunting me with his tiny voice.

She scooped him up and carried him away.

“He must have been some kind of freaky Einstein baby,” I muttered to myself.

But when we went in to see the doctor, she seemed concerned about my little guy’s speech.

“It’s not time for speech therapy yet,” she said. “A lot of boys take longer to talk. Mine did. But we’ll check in again in another six months.”

A few months later, my son still hadn’t put two words together. Then we went for a walk in our neighborhood and came across a boy who was just a few weeks older than him.

“The-bird-is-in-the-sky!” he said, pointing up.

My son scowled, refusing to even say, “Hello.”

“Maybe he should start having playdates with him,” my husband later suggested.

“What, and be the mute little friend?” I grumbled.

Guilt started taking hold as I wondered why my son wouldn’t talk. Did I talk too much, giving him no chance to try? Was I not talking enough, giving him no stimulation? Should we read more? Watch more “Sesame Street?” Hire a speech therapist?

I started to beg him to talk. I tried to bribe him. I brought vocabulary flash cards to the dinner table. I even tried to say words to him in baby talk, thinking they might be easier for him to pick up. The little guy just laughed at me, and mum was the only word I got.

We read books all the time, but I thought some new books might help him along. I took him to the Fernandina Beach library and found a “Thomas the Tank Engine” book.

I began to read in a soft, whispered tone. When I reached a line about Gordon, the largest and haughtiest of the engines, my son let out a grunt, and then what sounded like a word.

“Gaw– Gaw-don,” he said. He rose his voice to a shout. “Gor-don! Gor-don! Gor-don!”

He got so loud, I had to leave the library. But he continued to declare “Gordon!” triumphantly up and down the aisles during our next stop at Publix.

By the time he turned two, he could rattle off all the Thomas characters’ names.

“Gordon! James! Edward!”

He still wouldn’t say grandma, much to my mother’s dismay, but I guess kids choose their own priorities at that age.

When I took him back to the doctor, we had the luck of being placed in a room with a Thomas the Tank Engine theme. The doctor couldn’t get my son to stop talking, and she said his speech seemed as clear as any two-year-old’s.

I breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps I could give up all the reading and Internet surfing I had done about speech delays. Maybe it was true, after all, that kids progress at their own pace, and learn in their own way. My son’s doctors had rightly identified an area to watch with him, but that didn’t mean it was time to panic, and – as I learned – there was no way to force him until he was ready. As parents who want the best for our kids, it’s hard to ignore those milestone charts, even with their disclaimers that each child is different. But, later in life, who will know or care whether my son’s talking took off when he was 1 ½ or when he was 2 ½?

Just a few weeks after he turned two, he said his first sentence, and I would never change his timing.

It was Mother’s Day morning, and we had just woken up. My son climbed onto my bed and sat himself down on my stomach, looking me in the eye.

“Mommy,” he said, his nose almost touching mine. “I lub you, Mommy.”

They were the sweetest words I had ever heard, and worth every minute I’d had to wait.

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