By almost three, her siblings had vocabularies like small dictionaries. But our fifth grandbean Lois spoke only a few words. Mama. Nana. Up. Buh buh, (Bye, bye). And “SHUSH!” She used that one often, especially on loudmouthed Ernie, our parrot. One evening, when crying uncontrollably, she even used it on herself – and it worked.
For almost everything else, Lois used one word. “Jitch.” That funny single syllable word she’d made up made sense to her. But rarely could the rest of us understand her flow of expressive sounds. We prayed for her tongue. For her brain. For whatever was keeping this otherwise highly intelligent little girl back.
She stumped even her speech therapists for awhile. Finally, they reached a diagnosis: Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS). Similar to stroke victims, children with CAS (for unknown reasons) can’t connect the brain with the tongue to form intelligible words.
Our daughter Amanda and Lois’s speech therapists began teaching her sign language. For a while, the signs formed a bridge between the words in her head and the people she wanted to know them. One evening at her house, I cuddled her to sleep in a living room chair. When she fell soundly asleep, I laid her in her crib. She cried at the shifting of position, then slept again.
She’d had a day full of misunderstood “Jitch”es and tears. Life is hard when you’re only two and a half and have no words, but lots of things to say. I tiptoed out, hoping the weary tyke would rest well.
As the older children prepared for bed, their noise woke their little sister. I let Lois cry a few minutes, then peeked into her room. She stood, bawling, holding onto her crib rail with both hands. Hair tousled, eyes and nose streaming, face flushed.
When she saw me, she rubbed frantic circles on her stomach with one hand. “Please, please,” those circles said. I picked her up. How could I not? She wrapped both arms around my neck and held tight.
Back in the living room, while I read Amelia Bedelia to her three older sisters, Lois didn’t move. Even after they went to bed, she didn’t shift, but kept her eyes open. In that quiet house, I rocked her and talked to Jesus aloud. About her. With four older siblings and one younger, she’d had less cuddle time from me than some of the others. I cherished those moments, and their memory.
With faith, hope and therapy – and plenty of coaching from family, Lois, soon four, has learned many more words, though some still need translating. “Me tso APPY!” she says, reflecting a heart often full of gladness. Every time I hear that short sentence, I think of the tremendous amount of work it took to form it, and rejoice.
And I remember that even at times when we feel misunderstood, when we can’t express to God the words our hearts feel, Jesus knows every one, and prays them for us.