Red lights when you’re running late. Picking the slow check-out lane at the grocery store. Insomnia. Seeing red splatters decorate the wall after the spaghetti sauce somehow flies out of your grasp. Dealing with in-laws that are staying for three weeks. Listening to the new upstairs neighbors stomp back and forth across your ceiling.
As frustrating as those events may be, none of them reach the level of frustration involved with trying to understand a pre-verbal toddler.
Sam’s wailing cry is implausibly both guttural and piercing. It means that he is unhappy or uncomfortable. Or he is hungry or thirsty. Or he wants to play. OK, I admit I really have no idea what it means. Oh wait, I do have some idea; it means that my head is going to start hurting. Not that that helps.
Sam is 16 months old, and doesn’t say one recognizable word. If only I knew what his little crying heart desired, I would most gladly offer it to him, silver platter and all. Our saving grace is that Sam is overall a very content little boy. But when he lets loose with a demanding howl I wish so much that he could tell me what he wanted. As frustrating as this is for me, I can only imagine it is even more so for my Sam.
It’s not as simple as teaching Sam a few signs. See, not only does Sam not speak yet, but he also shows no (or very little) sign of comprehending anything I say. Some kids are late talkers, and that’s usually A-OK, because you can see that they understand everything that is said to them. Babies begin to build their receptive language vocabulary first. After developing their receptive language comprehension, they’ll eventually start speaking. My son, however, never responded to simple directions such as “Give me the ball.” And he wouldn’t turn towards me or Jack when we would ask “Where’s Mommy?” or “Where’s Daddy?” Sam seems to have gotten stuck somewhere on the path to language comprehension.
It has been, at times, so frustrating to decipher his grunts and yells and to feel that sense of emptiness where there should be comprehension. But even worse is the creeping fear that something is wrong.
So I’ve grown more and more anxious about his lack of language. I almost never mention it to anyone. I spoke about it to my sister once. She quickly replied with assurances that Sam was fine, all kids are different, Sam is so smart, don’t worry. I’ve always found that uninformed knee-jerk assurances are utterly useless and insulting to my intelligence. Worse, it’s like a quick dismissal of my feelings and concerns. I haven’t spoken to her about it since. I was anxious and worried, and I didn’t have anyone to talk to.
My husband believed, or wanted to believe, that Sam was understanding everything we were saying. I knew better. Jack argued that Sam would respond with happiness when my husband would propose their various fun activities, like running or swimming. I pointed out that Sam always responded with happiness whenever Jack would speak with a happy tone. That wasn’t clear evidence of comprehension.
Then we had Sam’s 15-month check-up with his pediatrician. He agreed that it sounded like Sam may have a language delay. And no, I didn’t really want to be right, but finally, I felt like my concerns were acknowledged and validated. Our next step is to set up an appointment to have a speech evaluation done.
The creeping fear didn’t have a concrete shape, but the scary A-word was almost certainly driving it. Autism is a huge terrifying monster for most new parents. It definitely was weighing on my mind as I waited to hear “Mama.” I don’t pretend to know a lot about autism. I know that language problems are one aspect, so understandably this was a root source of my anxiety. But as our pediatrician explained to us, social problems are far more indicative of autism than are language delays. My sweet Sam, I am happy to tell you, has great social skills.
Sam is my Snuggle Monster. He is very affectionate with both me and Jack. He makes eye contact and smiles and laughs easily when we’re being silly. He plays peekaboo. He also has his own version of peekaboo that he made up. While in his highchair, he covers his eyes with his hands. I say “Where’s Sammy?” until he peeks out from behind his tiny fingers with a twinkle in his eye. Of course I call out “There’s Sammy!” and he giggles and hides behind his hands again. It’s adorable.
While we were sitting in the doctor’s room, the pediatrician observed Sam giving Jack hugs and kisses, unprompted by us. A good sign, he said. Also, Sam carefully watched the doctor throughout the appointment, which the doctor said was very much expected behavior for his age. He said that an autistic child would more likely be gazing towards the corners and not paying attention to the stranger in the room. That half hour with the pediatrician did a lot to allay my fears.
In the past two weeks since then, I’ve had the joy of seeing some progress. It would look insignificant to the casual observer, but it feels momentous to me. Being careful not to look in the direction of the ball, I said to Sam “Get the BALL! Can you get the BALL? Where’s the BALL? Get the BALL Sam!” Where’s the B-B-B-ALL?” Four out of six times, Sam has turned, crawled straight to the ball, and grabbed it and looked at me with a big smile! You know I was whooping and clapping with joy! Such a seemingly little gesture, but I was overwhelmed with happiness and relief. I call that clear evidence that Sam understood exactly what I said! In the past, when I have asked him to get the ball, he would sit and give me a blank expression. He wouldn’t even glance in the direction of the ball. Now 4 out of 6 times, he made a beeline for his ball. And as for the two times in which he did not move towards the ball… well, he’s one. One-year-olds don’t always listen. They get distracted by other toys. That’s what I’m telling myself.
I still need to call to set up the speech evaluation. Hopefully we can get some advice on how to help Sam build his language skills. Until then, I’m still waiting to hear my sweet boy call me “Mama.” I can’t wait!
The scale read 16 lbs 12oz, which was a weight gain for Sam of one pound and three ounces! Woohoo for Sam! We were happy to see that he gained weight, and the doctor was very pleased with it also. Sam also measured a quarter inch growth in height. I’m not too sure about that though. I think that such a small difference could easily be caused by squirminess as the nurse was measuring. (You can check out the last post Small Boys in a World that loves Tall Men to get our perspective on height, growth, and why we’re so happy to see our son Sam gain over a pound during the last six weeks.)
Dwelling on weight gain and scales, I can’t help but think about the plentiful bounty of extra pounds that I’d be more than happy to donate to Sam. Or to some other child. Or really to anyone. Anyone at all. Please, take my fat.
I was a skinny 105 lbs until about 23 years old. I put on a few pounds and gained some lovely curves. Those lovely curves turned into extra flab with a few more pounds. I dropped some when I was 26. That was the year Jack and I got married; I was a beautiful and curvy 123 lb bride. I didn’t mean to let myself go after the wedding day. Truthfully, I really hate that phrase. But during our first year of marriage I put on another 12 lbs. Then, due to a cross-country move, I fell into some depression brought on by missing my home and my husband (who had to stay behind for awhile). The needle on the scale plunged back down to 125. I can’t eat when I’m depressed. Frankly I’d rather be fat and happy than skinny and depressed, but oh how I wish I could get to a state of happy and pleasantly curvy.
Unfortunately I really started gaining rapidly once hubby and I were settled in our new home and I was happier and more content than I’d been in a long time. My highest weight was 168, I think. Remember, I’m only 5’3” so that is quite heavy. The summer of ’09 I spent staying at my in-laws’ house back home. They were gracious enough to let me stay while I helped care for my grandmother during her last weeks. I started dropping weight again, this time was due not only to my grief but because I was walking everyday around their hilly neighborhood. Now that I think about it though, I know I was walking partly to relieve some of the care-taking stress and sorrow, so I guess that was indirectly related to depression also. Whatever the mix of reasons, I dropped twenty pounds that summer and was feeling a lot better about my body. Two months later I got pregnant. The nausea was so intense that I lost a few more pounds, and I looked great. By “great” I mean skinny and sickly and exhausted and green with nausea. But skinny! Of course I went right back up to 168 with Sam squirming and kicking around inside me. Now I’m at 148 lbs. Like I said, fitting into a pair of sexy jeans would be a heck of a lot easier if I could donate my fat, and I’m perfectly willing to do so. I’m not stingy and selfish about it. I’d generously give of myself.
I’m hoping Sam won’t need any of my donated fat. Like I said, I was so happy to hear the nurse say “16 lbs, 12ozs.” That was a few days ago though. Now I’m worried about this new development. Sam has always had a bottle right before going to bed. In the past couple days, he’s outright refused it. Not even a sip. I don’t know if this is a problem or not. I don’t want to have to breastfeed every night; I won’t be able to leave the house, go to work, or get my much-deserved nightly break. I’ll have to see if he still sleeps through the night without waking for a midnight feeding. I’ve heard that teething might be the cause. He does have a fifth tooth poking through. I’ve also heard that it’s a common phase to refuse the bottle. And some of my friends had mentioned that their babies let them know when they had outgrown the need for a feeding immediately before bedtime. I guess I’ll wait and see.
Oh, and feel free to contact me to arrange for your delivery of donated fat.
When the generalization becomes an expectation, there lives a stereotype.
Men are generally taller than women. There’s the generalization.
Men are tall or at least the real men are supposed to be tall. And there’s your stereotype.
Sam is a little guy. Even for a toddler, he’s small. Sure, he could go through a growth spurt at 14, sprouting gangly limbs and lurching around awkwardly, and end up a 6 foot tall giant. I don’t think it’s likely though. Did you pick up on the fact that I think 6 feet tall is a giant? That just might hint to you at how tall, or to change the perspective – how short, I am. I’m 5’3”. Jack is 5’5”. It seems likely then that our son Sam will follow the family trend.
When Jack was 18 months old he stopped growing for a while. For six months his growth had completely ceased, and then it began again, perhaps more slowly than normal. He was poked and pricked and tested for the next several years while he fell to the bottom of the growth chart. By fifth grade his buddies, the bullies, and the rest of his classmates towered over him by several inches or much more.
From x-rays of his hand and wrist, Jack was diagnosed with constitutional growth delay. It’s a condition whereby one’s physical age is younger than one’s chronological age. What? Yeah, I don’t really grasp a medical understanding of it either. But I do understand that it causes the kid to be behind his peers, growth-wise. Interestingly though, it does not cause any physical health problems; the individual should eventually reach full height and maturity albeit much later than everyone else.
In Jack’s case, six months of no growth was combined with short family genes and a case of ordinary late bloomerism. (The family trait of late bloomerism was evident in his brothers, too, who were also the shortest kids in their grades until their growth spurts naturally kicked in during junior high. However, while there’s no doubt that the brothers were short kids, the gap between Jack and his classmates was greater. As adults his brothers are 5’9” and 5’10”; there are a few tallish genes floating around the family tree. I think shortness reigns though. Jack, at his adult height of 5’5”, is still taller than both of his parents.)
You can imagine that, for many, the years of adolescence is rife with insecurity and general misery as a kid navigates the sometimes hellish social ecosystem that is middle school and high school. (It could be unpleasant for us nerdy types anyway.) In a population that, like most of society, values height, physical strength, and athleticism in males, how much more difficult do you think adolescence might be for a small boy? The problem with constitutional growth delay then isn’t one of poor physical health; it is a social problem. Additionally, constitutional growth delay does not only affect height; puberty is also delayed. It’s hard enough to ask a girl for a date. It must be even harder when you have the body of a younger boy.
Jack’s parents made the decision to start Jack on doses of testosterone by sixth grade. He’s glad they did. It gave his growth a much-needed jumpstart. Specifically, he was able to enter the not-so-magically-wonderful world of puberty. He gained all those delightful additions of hair in funny places and other awkward changes, and his voice transformed into the voice I know and love. He was still short but started making greater progress towards reaching his full mature height.
Fast forward thirty odd years, and here we have our sweet Sam.
Having gained a mere 4 oz since his six month check-up, at Sam’s nine month appointment he weighed 15 lbs and 9 oz. And he grew one inch. Our wonderful pediatrician Dr. Morton noted that although Sam was at the bottom of the growth chart, he looked healthy and happy. And he does; Sam has good muscle tone, healthy color, not scrawny looking at all. He looks like a completely healthy baby, but a bit miniature sized. Dr. Morton at this point is more concerned about Sam not gaining any weight than about his length. He said it was time to work another meal into Sam’s diet. Jack and I followed his advice, and it’s been three meals a day now. Lately Sam has been my little piggy; by which I happily mean that he has had a healthy appetite. At first we were only giving Sam about a ¼ cup of food for a meal, and he seemed satisfied with that (not even finishing that all the time.) But in addition to increasing the frequency of meals we’ve also increased the amount. Sometimes it’s ⅓ cup, ½ cup or even more depending on his appetite and mood. We make our own baby food: a mix of fruits, veggies, yogurt, chicken, and some cheese. I’m no farmer; when I say “make” I mean that I buy fresh organic produce and dairy and cook/mash/puree it. I still breastfeed Sam five or six times a day. Jack gives him an 8oz bottle of formula at bedtime—a remnant from the very early days when we had to supplement my breast milk. Now it gives me a much-needed, much-appreciated break in the evenings!
Tomorrow we go back to the pediatrician to check on Sam’s growth. It’s been six weeks. With all this yummy and nutritious food in his diet, I’m hopeful that we’ll see some significant weight gain. In fact I’d be very surprised if we don’t because, as Jack joyfully pointed out to me last week, Sam’s thighs have put on some extra chubbiness. When he’s being changed, Sam lies on the changing table and points his feet straight up in the air. Now I grab his legs and jiggle his thighs and gleefully sing “Chuuubbyyy thiiiighs!!!” and he laughs and laughs and laughs.
I can see the chubby thighs, but I don’t see any evidence that he’s grown in length at all, but who knows? Chubby thighs certainly indicate a positive weight gain, but there may still be some trials ahead. What would we do if Sam had constitutional growth delay? Would we give him testosterone? Some parents in that situation might even opt for the more extreme growth hormone treatment. Thank God that Jack’s parents didn’t do that. The children who took the newly available growth hormone in the 1970s didn’t fare so well as they got older. I don’t know about growth hormone for Sam. That feels extreme, and definitely doesn’t seem very crunchymunchy to me. Lastly, I get to what I see as the crux of the situation. Sam’s emotional well-being.
How do Jack and I teach Sam that height doesn’t matter nearly as much as society may lead you to think it does? How do we instill confidence in Sam, or help and support him in having confidence in himself? Jack had a friend in high school who was also shorter than most of the guys. Ted, however, was brimming with confidence, and nobody messed with him. What was Ted’s secret? And how do we raise Sam to not feel as though his height is a plague upon him? Jack believes that all children have a moment where they realize that they are different from other children in an undesirable way. For Jack, it was his height. The undesirability of the trait may be all in the child’s own head (for example maybe it’s glasses or red hair that marks them as different) but that doesn’t make the feelings and self-consciousness any less real. If height proved to be an insurmountable obstacle to Sam surviving the teenage and college years happily and perhaps an obstacle to romance as well, but there was some way we could improve the situation, wouldn’t we want to do it? If we decided to use testosterone treatment to advance growth, how would we do that while simultaneously preaching that Sam was perfect and beautiful exactly the way that he was? Perhaps most importantly, how do we raise Sam to be able to love himself and be comfortable in his own skin? And how do we do that in a world that loves tall men, and where short men are often the butt of a joke?
I am tired and want nothing more than to put my feet up, eat dinner, and enjoy some smooth Bailey’s Irish Cream. The day’s highlight? I was asked for ID when I bought the Bailey’s at the liquor store! Other than that happy moment, it’s been a long and tiring day. There’s nothing like having to work on a beautiful sunny Saturday instead of joining your hubby and son for an enjoyable day at the market and bookstore.
It’s 9:37 pm. I should be realxing to the sounds of peaceful nothingness. Or maybe just the sounds of Jack cooking dinner. And soft lullabies coming from the CD player in the nursery. But instead, Sam is in his jumper just four feet away fom me. He’s jumping up and down furiously, taking full advantage of this last push of energy for the day. The noise of the attached toys and especially the springs seems to grow louder and louder. Now it’s 9:43. Wow! He’s really getting some air between his toes and the floor!
I suppose that some might insist that I’m too lenient, I’m allowing bad habits, or that I’m not showing him who is in control. He’s 10 months old; of course he’s in control. Although perhaps “control” is not the right word. As a young whippersnapper, I always resisted the idea of being controlled myself, and I don’t feel any great need to “control” Sam. Plenty of advice givers from the great pool of *They* would advise me to put Sam in his crib and let him “cry it out” to sleep. It’s 9:48. He doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
So my options are 1) Place Sam, who is wide awake and full of energy, into his crib and his energy will drain from screaming. Granted, perhaps it is our fault that he is wide awake. Scheduling for the day was off, bath-time got started very late, etc. I suppose sleep-training proponents might argue that there wouldn’t be any screaming because by 10 months old, Sam would know better than to pointlessly scream. Oh wait, but he would still be filled with unspent energy then, wouldn’t he?
He paused in his jumping…it’s 9:54. Maybe he’s done… nope, there he goes again, still jumping.
Option 2) Place Sam in his jumper. He’s happy. He’s using up that energy. He’s tiring himself out. Sure, the noise from the springs is loud and annoying, but not nearly as awful to listen to as screaming and crying would be. Once he’s done jumping, I’ll give him some more milk, put him to bed, turn those soft lullabies on, and most likely he’ll fall asleep before long. This option seems like a win-win situation for tonight. Then tomorrow I’ll try to do a better job of physical play and meals and evening scheduling, etc.
With such a choice analysis, I’m not sure why I would even consider option #1 cry in crib. Except of course that that is what *they* say I should be doing. (There’s always a faceless, anonymous They to be telling you what you ought to be doing). At least I’m fortunate enough to have some friends who also eschew the Ferber sleep training method. I have to say though, when I first heard about it Sam was only maybe 6 weeks old. I was informed by a friend to start sleep training at 3 months. I thought I would, because I thought that was what you did. It sounded like a good idea; make bedtime a smooth and quiet affair. My husband, Jack, was the one to refuse Ferber methods right from the start, saying that we could still have a happy baby that would sleep at night even without being trained. I’m glad he did. We’ve definitely seen our share of some difficult nights. And as I write that, I think to myself that “difficult” is an understatement. There were a few nights that I wondered if I would have to resort to letting Sam cry it out. But those aren’t common. For the most part, Sam’s bedtime is very pleasant for all involved.
It’s 10:07. He’s definitely slowing down. Now I can feed him and hopefully he’ll sleep. Then I can proofread this blog, publish it, and maybe figure out how I can get spammers to stop showing up in my site stats. Oh yeah- and grab a glass, pour a drink, and savor some smooth and sweet Baileys Irish Cream.
And then your four-month-old baby boy fusses and cries.
I tried to block out Sam’s cries as best as I could. My husband tried to soothe and quiet him and coax him to sleep. Sam finally fell asleep at 10 o’clock; I fell asleep several minutes later. I had to be at the testing center by 8 AM, so that meant waking early enough to be up and dressed, eaten breakfast, nursed Sam, and a 40 minute drive. Even going to sleep at 10, it would still have been fine. Not an ideal amount of sleep, but I certainly could have managed.
But I woke up again at 3 in the morning. I think Sam was making those cute little baby snuffling sleepy sounds that babies make. They used to wake me up instantly during those first few months. Sam fell right back to sleep, but now I was awake. Wide awake. I believe with conviction that one of the hardest things you can do is force yourself to sleep. I’ve been an insomnia sufferer for years. It got much better after buying a luxurious new mattress about five years ago, but it still strikes occasionally. Lying there in the dark, my thoughts were so sharply on the test that there was no way I was going to be able to fall back asleep. As I lied there awake and miserable, the more distressed I became. The more distressed I became, the more difficult it was to sleep. As the red numbers kept changing on the clock, the more distressed I became. It was a vicious circle. I awoke at 3 AM. I never was able to get back to sleep.
Jack drove me to the testing site. I cried most of the way. I cried with exhaustion. I cried with despair. I cried with defeat. And I hadn’t even taken the test yet. They walked in with me. I held Sam tightly and hugged him. Hug a baby for luck, I told myself. Then I took the test. I felt frazzled and unfocused the whole time. I made a lot of guesses, some of them random. Like a few times the words seemed to be hazy on the page; those were random guesses. I was so tremendously fatigued. I didn’t even manage to fill in all of the circles. On the LSAT, you are not penalized for wrong answers; you only rack up points with correct answers. It is always in your best interest to fill in all the remaining circles even if you have no time to read the questions.
When I saw Jack drive up, I climbed into the front seat quietly. He asked how it went. I said, “I don’t want to talk about it.” Let me make clear, I was not using the tone of voice that says that I really do want to talk about it. I didn’t say another word the whole drive. I think I might have cried quietly. At home I went into our bedroom, climbed into bed, and pulled the blankets way up.
Sam started fussing again. I didn’t care. Jack could take care of him. I certainly didn’t harbor one ounce of negative emotion towards the baby at all; I just didn’t have any strength, physical or emotional, to take care of him at that point. So, Jack could take care of him. Except that Sam wouldn’t calm down. Perhaps he could sense the miasma of depression and failure in the air. Or maybe he just had gas. Either way, Jack knew that I needed to be left alone, I needed to rest, and that I did not need to be hearing Sam crying. The usual, feeding, burping, rocking, etc. wasn’t working. So desperate Jack—who hates pacifiers(see Battle of the Binky Part I)—gave Sam a pacifier. The effect was instantaneous; Sam calmed down, his face relaxed, and he fell asleep – with the pacifier. Just a one-time occurrence? Or was this the beginning of the slippery slope of pacifier dependence?
(I was awakened when Sam started stirring from his nap. I picked him up, and he gave me one of his sweet smiles. And I smiled. My boy could make me smile on one of the worst days of my life. That was pretty incredible. I was in a funk for days, but it was so much lighter than it would have been if it had not been for playing and laughing with Sam.)
Can anyone give me any tips on how to stop 10-month-old Sam from biting during breastfeeding? He has four sharp teeth like tiny daggers. Two on the top, two on the bottom. When the first one poked through, we were so surprised and thrilled! This fresh, new, white, hard point sticking out! Without telling them why, I had my momanddad- in-law wash their hands, and then told them to feel inside his mouth. Nobody shares your excitement about your baby like the grandparents do. So it felt like a celebration when that inaugural tooth arrived. And it explained all the unusual crying of the previous night.
That was a few months ago. It has happened several times in the past week or so that he bites me during nursing. It hurts!
I have been using a firm, serious tone of voice to say “No Biting.” Sometimes I say it twice or try to unlatch him. I’m opposed to any sort of slapping method of getting him to stop. Breastfeeding is our special snuggly time; I don’t want to make it unpleasant for Sam by yelling or hitting him. But I also won’t allow myself to be hurt and bitten like some sort of self-sacrificing martyr.
I’m guessing that the firm voice and trying to unlatch him are the best methods, but if anyone out there has any other advice, please feel free to share! And he is only going to get more and more teeth. Is this the beginning of the end of my breastfeeding? I was hoping to go longer.
Sam and I went to the playground today, the first day of spring. It was a lovely breezy day. He was laughing as I pushed him in a baby swing. We had the playground completely to ourselves (where are all the other parents and kids when it’s so nice outside?) Then another mom showed up with her kids. Playgrounds are often divided into sections for little kids and bigger kids. I saw her younger boy go running toward the set of play equipment where Sam and I were playing. The mom yelled at him to follow them to the other end. Little boy didn’t want to play on the other half. Other mom yelled at him, “We’re going to go home if you don’t obey!”
I realize I’m new at the whole mothering job, but I didn’t believe for one second that this woman had packed up her two kids plus a baby in a stroller, driven to the park, just to turn around and go back home. I’ll file this in the Empty Threats file. I could also name this the Useless Threats file. And the terrible misbehavior that prompted the Empty Threat? The little boy wanted to play in a different part of the playground than his brother. Oh no! That definitely deserved a Useless Threat! (I can imagine the wollop that Older Brother would have given Younger Brother if the mom had indeed followed through on her threat to take them all home right then.)
And I hear parents threatening their kids with punishment all the time. One might hope that on a springy and fun morning at a playground, there could be an escape from the constant threats of punishment. It just seems so dreary to live that way, for the kid and for the parent. I’m definitely treading into some crunchymunchy Alfie Kohn parenting philosophy here. I really must get back to reading Kohn’s book, if I could just get a spare few minutes, whenever that may be. Speaking of spare time, I can hear Sam clearly now, not napping. Actually, I would’ve been surprised if he was asleep since he napped once today already, and he usually only takes one nap a day. He just seemed so sleepy as I nursed him that I thought I’d give him a chance to nap if he wanted. God knows I would happily take a nap this afternoon!