Sometimes, it's difficult to communicate with your child. First of all, there's the issue with puberty and suddenly they believe that it isn't deemed 'useful' to confide to you about their problems anymore or perhaps it's stubbornness as if venting to your parents is when you've truly sunk to the bottom. But, there's also the sense of awkwardness and embarrassment.
Growing up in a household where mental health and disabilities were not acknowledged. anyone who had fitted one of them was either ostracised and ridiculed by society. My brother is autistic, you see, and all of his life, he was seen as the 'jester' or the class clown of the family; hell, even I made a few jokes about it when I was growing up. But then, I migrated to the UK and learned that their take on disabilities was completely different from what I had grown up with. They were spoken about, not with ignorance or malice but with understanding and a degree of kindness.
I'll admit, I'd often say that I didn't want my child to have any sort of disability and that I wanted them to be normal and for a time, I believed that was the case, that they had turned out 'normal.' However, my third child had issues with her speech. At times, she couldn't speak. I assumed that it was due to the influence of children's television programs such as 'In the Night Garden' which was infamous for their slurred dialogue and did not pay much mind. But my negligence did not prove useful as the stuttering continued. Sure, it was hardly noticeable at times but there were occasions when she could barely get the words out. They just wouldn't...come out.
I remember confronting her about her stutter a few times and asking her why she was doing it, why she was annoying me with her stuttering and she looked at me with a glassy look on her face and replied, 'I don't know but I wish it would stop.' You see, I didn't take her to a speech therapist or anything like that, perhaps that I was hopeful that it would stop one day and go away like the incense of time. Time turned out to be a cruel thing...
Okay, maybe I'm overreacting. Her stuttering did not get worse, but it remained. It did not seem to get better and it did not seem to worsen too. Once she got older and she started secondary school, I began to become attentive to her expressions. Her eyes slowly grew distant and she became enclosed within herself as if she was bundling herself within a shell that no one could break. It was impenetrable. However, when summer holidays had rolled around, she would emerge from her shell, joyful, without a care in sight. That shell would return in September.
I realise now that five years rolled by and I never asked her about it. If her stuttering had been causing her any disruptions in class or if she had embarrassed herself maybe. But I could never bring myself to do it. Knowing her, I doubt she would’ve told me anyway. There were times when I’d worry and she’d blurt out, ‘It’d be nice, leaving the world early. I wouldn’t have to face my fears.’ Again, I did not pay attention to this because of my view on mental health, I assumed she was joking. My daughter is not suicidal, that much I could tell, but she was unhappy and scared of the future ahead. As she got older, I saw her reluctance to make phone calls and she shied away from talking to relatives. I saw it all. And I didn’t try to help her.
Now that I recall, there was this one time I made her awfully upset. And before I say all this, I’d like to put out a disclaimer. I am not a bad parent. And I love all of my kids but I am partial in insensitivity and can be blunt at times. I was fed up with her insistence to not take phone calls and I joked that I should get disability benefits for her too as well as my husband, who had recently gotten his chin and lip surgically debrided after life-threatening infection. This was months ago, but I still clearly remember her face. She looked scared; almost paralysed out of fear and I felt guilt right away. When I reached out to touch her, she shook and said she was gonna get some fresh air outside.
I can argue that I’m fairly a trusting parent and I let her go. Once I was alone, I thought about what I said. I knew what she had to do to keep her stuttering in control, the measures she had to take. But my anger had spilled out like a river of knives each of them pointing to her heart, stabbing her right in the middle. She returned home hours later when the dusk was starting to settle in, I didn’t ask where she had gone and she didn’t bother to tell me either. She glanced at me and headed upstairs. I found my feet hovering outside her door with my hands ready to knock, more times than I’d like to admit, but my pride would never allow it and I left her alone. At one point, I had heard her on the phone so I pressed my ear to her door and could make out the words of a ‘support group.’ She was reaching out for help and advice on how to control her stutter. Suddenly, I felt terribly apologetic and longed to apologise to her, to lean her head on my shoulder and tell her how sorry I was but I didn’t. Tears welled up in the corner of my eyes and I regretfully turned away.
I’m making all of this sound awfully gloomy right. Point is, I regret not doing more to sympathise with her and understand her stuttering from her point of view. For not understanding how hard it is to live in a world where nearly everyone speaks perfectly. I can tell how hard it is for her; she once told me that for people who stutter, they have to think of what they say beforehand, lest they make a mistake and embarrass themselves. She tells me that there are letters she has to avoid like the letter ‘S,’ and ‘D.’ Sometimes, I think she’s remarkable, how she could keep this so hidden and controlled because nowadays I hardly hear her stutter and if she does, she quickly composes herself and changes her words around.
Sometimes, It’s difficult to communicate with your child. My experiences with this have not been the most positive. I do not know when it will improve or when it will worsen. But for now, I will live in the moment and not cause a fuss...And disrupt time.