Speech. Such a short word with huge connotations. We use speech every single day, a way to communicate, to express ourselves, to show emotion. So simple, but often so difficult. Before I had a child I would often consider speech a tough companion, because sometimes he was so easy to access, sometimes so hard, hanging out a few yards away waiting for me to stumble and wobble over, avoiding deep potholes that were always trying to trip me up. I would be so jealous of those who had no issues talking in public, or getting their point across to others.
Once I had my first child speech became a milestone, beginning in those little babbles that turned to “mama” and “dada” around 8 months, moving along to full words and then phrases a little bit later down the line. I spent my days talking and reading to a little baby who could only communicate with cries and babbles, hoping that it would all sink in and eventually turn into words flowing naturally from her mouth. I still talk and read to my kids all day long, a habit that I won't break until they demand me to.
When Luna turned one year old I expected to start hearing more than just mama, dada and "dat" (cat or dog depending on the animal, sometimes bird or squirrel). Instead we started to hear more and more tantrums, colourful moments of high pitched screams and streams of tears, snotty noses and sometimes so far as crying-induced vomit. A vocabulary that initially seemed so promising stalled and the eardrum piercing scream was perfected to a tee.
No matter how many talks we had, books we read or educational TV shows we watched, nothing changed. We used the excuse of being a bilingual family for a while, every time that people asked us why she wasn't talking, and were met with a few nods and a “ah ok that makes sense”. I told myself that my brother didn't start speaking properly until well past his second birthday and now he's studying towards his PhD, so there was nothing to worry about. I thought about how I am much more eloquent in writing than speech and that maybe it would all click into place for Luna one day.
Luna hit 18 months and then 21 and there still wasn't any improvement. The tantrums got worse, especially as she couldn't communicate all the mixed emotions that were running around her heart and mind, sharing her mummy with another baby, having to wait in turn to be nursed instead of just cuddling whenever she wanted. I found myself having to curb my frustration with her more and more frequently, and began to wonder if we should start seeing a speech therapist to help her through this. I began to feel completely inadequate as a parent, on the one hand wondering what I could have done differently or better, on the other thinking that maybe I was making too big of a deal out of it. Luna has always been strong willed and demanding, emotional and caring, maybe she would find her own way with our gentle guidance, one step at a time. I stopped reading milestone blogs and started just trying to communicate differently with her, calming her down before another tantrum would break out.
And then it happened. Not long before her second birthday she started to repeat words to us, and every day she says one, two or three more new words. At 26 months she can now string two or three words together, tell me she is hungry, tired, sick or thirsty, ask me for a hug or for milk, tell me she wants to read a book or watch Peppa or Elmo, say please and thank you, tell me she loves me, name her teddy bears and tell me what she wants to eat. She can count to five and say all of her colours (usually to the delight of everyone in the supermarket), and even surprises me by picking up one of her foam letters and telling me what it is. While she still has her tantrums and she's still as demanding as ever, we have noticed a significant drop in the screaming and a much higher willingness to take the time to express herself clearly. Every day she will say a new word out of the blue and it blows my mind - she WAS absorbing everything all along, just waiting for the right time.
So yes, I suppose speech is a milestone for a child, but Luna has taught me, in more ways than just speech, that patience is also a milestone to achieve at any age. Communication is not only the ability to speak but also the patience to listen and absorb. Language can often be a tricky thing, and when somebody has a big voice but no words to release it, other ways of expression need to be used. There are other ways of helping a child express themselves; you just need to find out which one, for some it may be sign language, others it may be through pointing or pictures. I realize how much more laid back and "go with the flow" I am now that I have a second child, but at the same time I really hope that she won't find it as difficult as Luna did... There were so many times that we were both in tears out of frustration and it hurts my heart still to think how hard it must have been for her. In the end I shouldn’t have worried so much about it, but it was hard not to when having to deal with upwards of 8 tantrums a day!