He staggers around, clutching the dustpan the way Dumbo held the feather thinking it enabled him to fly. My son is fifteen months old and just now taking his first steps. In the language of pediatricians, Nathaniel is a “late walker.”
He is also a late talker. He makes sounds—it’s possible he’s fluent in Swahili—but he has yet to say anything of substance in English or Spanish, the languages he hears at home. He has yet to say Mama. My pediatrician recommended early intervention. Early intervention! A mother’s fears confirmed: the baby is not normal and he and/or I and/or the whole godforsaken family need help, the kind provided by professionals.
When the assessors came, they found that my son could look them in the eye, turn the pages of a board book, “draw spontaneously” with a fat crayon, stuff Cheerios into a small tube and stack magnets and was by all other accounts healthy. He just couldn’t talk and they diagnosed him with a speech delay. With this diagnosis, he earned a position on the right-hand side of the bell curve, the side that’s sliding down, down, down. He was slow. He was one of the late bloomers.
It deeply upset me. I had also been labeled—in 7th grade, with a mathematics learning disability—and I was a nerd and outcast at the private, all girls school I attended. My hair was pulled, my uncool, Izod alligator-less clothes ridiculed. I wanted none of that for my son. I wanted him to be at the very apex of that bell curve, the position that looked down on the outliers.
I was mistaken. I had an image in my head, a Hallmark/after school special image of motherhood that allowed only the perfect child. Maybe I wanted perfection because I had been so geeky and introverted—so imperfect. I believe now in a new kind of motherhood, one that does not expect a son to be a genius radiologist Nobel Prize winner early walker but rather accepts him as unique unto himself. He’s a spectacular, beautiful little guy. You should see him in the bath.
I don’t know what the future holds for him, but I want him to be himself. To be oneself is an act of bravery. I say to him: I believe in you, your mommy believes in you. And, though I don’t think he understands me today, one day he will and it will give him great strength.
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