Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Loving Liberally

I hope I can write this post without making you feel like a bottle of Cheeze Whiz just exploded on your screen. There's something I've been wanting to write about for about a week now, but the words have been slow coming, which is funny because it was someone who has trouble getting his words out that set my pensive wheels into motion in the first place. A little someone. A little Henry. I know that his struggles with speech are likely just a natural byproduct of this stage of his exponentially expanding language development. I'm not unduly concerned about it. (At least I don't think I am.) So I hope this all comes across as honest reflection and not unnecessary maternal melodrama.

Henry started stuttering, somewhat severely, about a week ago. All of a sudden sentences that used to sound like, "I wanna foh-zen berry," sounded like, "I-i-i-i-i-i-i-i wwwwant a fuh-fuh-fuh-owzen berry." And "Shu-we watch Elmo?" became, "Shu-we watch Ew-ew-ew-ewwwwmo?" Sometimes seven, eight, even ten spasmodic syllables before the rest of the word came out.

I watched as a surprisingly disconnected spectator during the first few days of his anxious struggles to get words out. And then it felt like someone took a gallon jug of CompassionForHenry and glug-glug-glug-glug, it coursed in, until it spilled over the brim of my soul and dripped onto the floor. And I couldn't hold back hugs and compassionate strokes down his chubby cheeks when he got really, painfully hung up on a syllable. And I'd get right down in front of his determined little face and we'd say things slowly, and together. Simple things like, "I. Need. A. Drink." or "I. Love. You."

We've tried to slow down our speech and help him let his out less anxiously. What used to sputter out carelessly now takes determination and focus. I can see the conscious effort in his expression when he tells me, "I need a drink," and there's a heavy emphasis on the prolonged "I," as he lowers his head in a sort of physical manifestation of the mental energy he's expending to form a stutter-free sentence. Sometimes he lowers his voice to a whisper to get the really tough sounds out. It's strange because he can say everything normally in a whisper. No stutters. Maybe it's less strenuous to whisper? When he's not focused or whispering, he stammers through most of the vowel sounds at the beginning of his sentences.

I hope he outgrows it. Mostly because I know that he'll have to suffer some brutal play-ground ridicule at the hands of insensitive peers if he has an obvious speech impediment through his childhood. But honestly, honestly...his stammering has reminded me of a few inestimably important things:

1. The human heart has an astonishingly elastic quality. I think its love capacity is limitless; mine for Henry feels to have expanded to proportions that I never imagined possible.

And 2. Everyone stammers through life in one metaphorical way or another. Sometimes we just can't see it or hear it. Henry's little stutter is an audible daily reminder of that easily forgotten fact. And with that fact in mind, I feel like being a whole heap of a lot more liberal with my kindness and smiles and compassion and compliments.

And it's strangely satisfying to consider myself "liberal." If only in this one sense of the word.

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