Late Walker, Late Talker, Just Right by Cat Reilly
At the birthday party last night, Doodle toddled excitedly up to our neighbor, turning two, and yelled, “goolie goolie goolie!” in his low, guttural, forced-air voice.
That’s a normal birthday greeting, right?
Doodle is 19 months old, but I can no longer say he isn’t talking yet: we have just added a slow and excited “Yeah” and a head-shaking “no-no-no” to our small repertoire of signs. My husband and I are so ecstatic; we ask him a million questions a day just to hear his squeaky little voice make the words. The “yeah” is still an effort—you can see it takes some planning on his part. But occasionally it comes out with an upward inflection, like we’ve just said the most brilliant thing he’s ever heard. Those are the million-buck parenting moments.
“Doodle, do you want some banana?”
Pause. “….Yeah!!!” Upward inflection. Amazing idea, mom!
Yeah. That’s right. I’m the best mom. Sure, I’m 37, a little worse for wear, and carrying your 30-pound, late-walking self around has given me two herniated discs and crushing, daily sciatica pain. Sure the baby weight never fell right off, like in so many 20-something moms I know, and I’m so tired at night that I fall asleep not long after you.
None of that matters, because I totally just guessed that you wanted banana.
So, yes, I’m Cat. That’s not my real name, but I’m a psychotherapist, and I wanted to write freely without clients googling me and knowing a wee bit too much about my daily ins and outs. My husband is a writer—of books by night, of technical jargon by day. He’s not a bestseller, but we still add a hopeful “yet!” to the end of that sentence.
We gave birth to Doodle when I was 35 and he was 37. And Doodle was perfect. A fat, round little ball. He started smiling way before he was supposed to, and it was clearly not just gas—you could see his whole face light up at people, and you knew it was real. Slowly, slowly, he lost all the neck rolls, but stayed big; at the doctor’s office they would hand me the height and weight charts with all the lines rolling upward…and Doodle’s height and weight dots two inches above the 100% line. He was my giant, and his weight has settled a bit, but he’s still the height of your average three-year-old.
And for this, I feel sorry for him. Because he’s not talking, and he didn’t walk until 15 months, and he’s very unsteady with climbing, and playgrounds make him more nervous than curious, but in all of his excitement he unleashes ferocious strings of babble that make the other kids—and parents—stare in complete confusion.
Yep, that’s my little guy. No, he can’t talk yet. No, not even Dada or Mama. 19 months. I know, he’s tall.
And then I’m off to grab him again, because if he’s on a playground, he’s falling down, or he’s upset because he can’t figure out how to climb something or go down the slide. And sometimes I feel silly—am I the only parent who has to climb their child’s legs up the steps, then help him sit down, then help him scoot forward, then pull him over the edge until he’s finally sliding? And then do it 5 more times, each motion, each time? How do other kids instinctually know just what to do? And how did our sweet Doodle miss that memo?
So, we are in the unknown right now, and it’s hard. I’ve cried a lot, but my mom had good advice: there’s a time to cry, and a time to just get it done. So we’re getting it done. He’s been in speech therapy for several weeks now, and will be starting soon at an OT gym. No one can tell us yet if he’ll end up with a diagnosis, if he’ll need services for years, or if he’ll just suddenly age out of these idiosyncrasies and catch up with the other kids one day. Start talking in full sentences, start debating politics, take up pole vaulting.
But in the meantime, oh my god ladies—he is so perfect. He is so perfect, and I’m so grateful for every amazing string of babble, even as my heart breaks a bit, waiting so long for my first “mama”.