In our digital world, you don’t need to consult an expert or even read a book to get parenting advice. It’s everywhere online, especially Mom’s groups on social media. It takes thoughtful consideration, but also courage to trust one’s instincts concerning our children.
We had three little girls, and then the last one was a boy, which came as something of a shock. Almost everyone assumed I’d kept having kids so I could “get my boy”, which was patently untrue. Out in public, perfect strangers would look at the three little girls and the baby boy and inform me that I could “stop now, you have your boy”. When this was said within earshot of the girls, and the boy was still too young to understand, I responded, “Actually I’m heartbroken, we were really hoping for a girl”. Not true, of course, we just wanted healthy.
Then, as he was approaching his third birthday, our son still did not speak. At all. Just about everyone had a theory about this. The relatives said, “Give him time”. Friends said, “Einstein talked late”. Our pediatrician delivered the classic line, “If you had four older women in the house, would you talk?”
Interested parties all around tended to focus on our son’s behavior rather than his lack of speech.
In a word, he was a miniature wrecking ball. The night we finished wallpapering the hallway, he found some red nail polish stashed away for Halloween, and embellished every inch of that hallway. While I was busy cooking for a family party, he removed his poopy diaper and systematically smeared every cushion of our brand new couches. He fed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into the VCR, and the machine dutifully sucked it in, just like those old VHS tapes. He decapitated every single doll in the house, wherever possible actually biting their heads off.
In terms of these destructive behaviors, however, the advice was solidly consistent. “You’ve had these three sweet little girls, get used to it”. Everyone told me that this was typical little boy behavior. That boys are more active, hence bound to break things. I discovered that “boys will be boys” is really still a thing. This was hard on me – I thought I’d absorbed enough feminist sensibilities that I’d be able to raise reasonably gender neutral children.
While I unfortunately can’t say there was a voice of reason in my head, there was something tugging at my heart. Something that said my little boy was not just “being a boy”, he was suffering. I contacted my local child study team and requested a speech and language evaluation. They have to give it to you, even though while doing so they act like you just killed their dog. They confirmed an expressive, though not receptive, language delay, meaning he understood language but couldn’t form words. Duh. But they were not required to offer any help because it didn’t have a congenital basis, as in chronic ear infections. Some loophole.
I discovered that speech therapy was crazy expensive. Insurance said no, just like the school. My husband freaked out at the price. I felt like a profligate, overprotective jerk, but somehow I still made an appointment. The speech therapist did an evaluation, some exercises, and callously assigned homework. Later that day I arranged the girls at the kitchen table for their homework, enticed my son onto the rug with me, and prepared for the conflagration.
Which didn’t happen. While he couldn’t yet do the exercises, or make the right sounds, he tried. He really tried. And without kicking or whining or ripping up the paper. And while he couldn’t actually talk for many months, he kept trying. Every day.
And here comes the piece de resistance: from that very first day of practice, our little boy did not do one destructive thing again. Not ever. I’m not sure how he knew this was what he needed from that very first day, but somehow he did. And since we had finally heard him, he didn’t have to work so hard to try to get our attention.
He wrote his college essay about this. And graduated with a master’s in engineering. Now, if something breaks, he’s the one most likely to fix it. And he always seems to know just the right thing to say.
So phooey on all that boys will be boys stuff.