I sat in the pediatrician’s office with Emma squirming on my lap. “She’s not really talking. I mean she says words grouped together, but not single words.”
“Like what?” the pediatrician asked.
“Ba-bye, Da-da, Ah-done… things like that.”
“Smart kid,” the pediatrician said, checking Emma’s reflexes.
“So there’s nothing to worry about?” I asked.
“She looks great,” the pediatrician laughed, as Emma scooted across the room one leg jutted out in a crab-like crawl.
“So I shouldn’t worry, right?” I asked the young master’s degree student, studying speech therapy, who was Nic’s ‘teacher’ at his pre-school.
She nodded, “Some kids, especially the ones who are more athletic often have delayed speech.” She looked at me with a smile. “And her brother is pretty precocious, sometimes their younger siblings are slow to speak. I’m sure it’ll come in time.”
I was turning into one of those neurotic New York moms. It was classic. I needed to stop worrying, Emma was fine, I told myself as Nic and I walked home from his pre-school.
“Do you think she might have a hearing problem?” I asked my girl friend.
“But she looked up when that siren went by,” she reasoned.
“Yeah, I know,” I said, watching Emma push an empty swing. “Watch this. Hey Emma!” I called out.
Louder, “Hey Emma!”
Now shouting, “Emma! Emma! Look at Mommy!”
But Emma continued to play with the empty swing.
“Okay, but half the time my kids don’t look at me when I call them either. Kids do that,” my friend said. “Don’t they?” She looked at me with half a smile. “Anyway who wouldn’t be mesmerized by that swing?” she added, putting her arm around me and giving me a squeeze.
“When was the last time you heard Emma say, Chase me?” Richard asked.
I thought for a few seconds. “When was the last time you heard Emma say anything?” I asked in answer.
This was the conversation that poked the final hole in my bubble of denial. It was August and we had rented a house in Cape Cod. I remember standing in the living room, looking outside, watching the children. Nic and Emma were on the porch in their ‘swimming pool’ a make-shift plastic tub we’d filled with water.
The mask I had so meticulously constructed for myself and my family fell away revealing something I couldn’t identify and could not understand. I remember telling myself to breathe through the rising panic that threatened to consume me. And then I remember feeling the feeling that I would feel many times in the ensuing years. Failure. Something was terribly wrong with my child and I had failed to see it, failed to do something about it.
As often happens when I feel overwhelmed, I began to make a mental list of actions I would take the instant we returned to New York. The first two items on my list were: get a hearing test done and get an evaluation.