So, it’s been 7 months since I was photographed and interviewed for Rebecca Lupton‘s wondrous blog “The Mothers“.
Yunalesca was 17 months old at the time, and I am using this particular blog-event as a milestone, because I said:
“I am so looking forwards to Yuna being able to talk properly, it will be a world of wonder for both she and I … her first word was most definitely cat, or “Aaahht!” … She was about 10 months old, and … things have progressed slowly since that point, but I know her speech will blossom when she’s ready, and I’m so excited.”
However, 7 months on from that blog, I’m sad to say that nothing really has changed in relation to Yuna’s speech. In fact, Yuna doesn’t even say “Aaahht!” anymore.
It’s really rather hard trying to communicate with a toddler at the best of times, as I am sure most parents will agree – however, if your child seemingly has no real way of communicating their needs to you whatsoever, it can feel like you’re forevermore stuck in the newborn days – Yuna can definitely communicate that she’s unhappy, because she has a fine set of lungs that seem to be permanently stuck on full-throttle.
Yet, like a new mother confoundedly catering to her newborn’s needs, I am a walking collective of implements to ensure I appease my daughter’s needs.
Her screams are akin to that frustrated newborn – yelling furiously for milk, sleep or a nappy change. I have become attuned to Yuna’s routine to such an extent that I am always on-hand with either a drink, snack, book, nappy or dummy; however it’s frustrating for both her and I when I don’t quite provide for her needs immediately.
It’s very hard to explain to other parents that you meet in the park, or at play group, that your child doesn’t talk yet. They often comment that their child “didn’t talk until they were 3 years old”, yet in the same breath, mention that their child could point out their needs or make an understandable, substitute noise in replacement of “real” language.
That’s when I know I am suffering a completely different experience to most other parents. Yuna is 2 years and almost 2 months old, and she doesn’t point let alone talk. She doesn’t wave hello or goodbye. She seems to completely ignore passersby, receptionists or checkout ladies whom coo over her as we go about our daily tasks. Yuna… just doesn’t interact.
More often than not, my parents or father-in-law will pop around to see her, to which we (the adults) exclaim “Look Yuna, who’s here?” (taken from one of her favourite shows “In the Night Garden”), yet they’re met with a stony-faced reception.
This isn’t because she doesn’t know who these people are – my mum visits almost daily, my father 2-3 times a week and the same for my father-in-law. Yuna just doesn’t seem to … care that they’re here.
Our close family have come to understand Yuna’s particular “character traits” and duly amuse themselves with her apparent coy and aloof toddler attitude, however, her lack of reaction to the attention of strangers can become overwhelmingly disappointing, to both the stranger and ourselves.
We live very close to a Thai restaurant, and often the staff will sit outside the front in the daytime, accommodating the chairs and tables otherwise reserved for the patrons come evening. Last week we were talking Yuna for a toddle (or should I say, a sprint – Yuna can run faster than any child I’ve known of her age!) and as we passed by the restaurant, a beautiful, young Thai lady was soaking-up the sun, checking her mobile phone.
Yuna ran straight up to her, but not to interact, more to get to the window behind her so she could see herself in the reflection. She placed her little hands on the lady’s legs to get closer to her desired window-spot, not caring for a second about the lady in the way.
Of course the lady immediately tried to engage Yuna; blonde hair in bunches, dressed in little pink shorts with a ladybird pattern belt, a pastel rainbow striped vest with a glittery red heart in the centre and little velcro-fastening Mary Jane shoes adorned with plastic daisies on the toe.
“Oh hello cutie! Look at you!” the lady exclaimed to Yuna “How are you today?”
Yuna was understandably too enthralled with her own reflection at this point for anyone to grab her attention. However, we picked her up to continue to our destination, and the lady tried and failed to engage Yuna further; waving and laughing, cooing in both English and Thai, yet as usual, Yuna seemed utterly oblivious to the lady’s attempts to interact.
We laughed it off, as we usually do. “Oh, are you not saying goodbye?” the lady said, as she frowned dramatically and pretended to wipe sad tears from her eyes. We held Yuna’s arm and made her wave as she watched a bus passing by behind us.
If you’re reading this blog post, you must understand that it is becoming increasingly hard for me to discuss these problems with anyone. I’m constantly torn between two camps of thought:
1. Don’t rush her – all children develop at a different pace.
2. Don’t leave it too long before intervening if you believe she has a problem.
My parents and father-in-law are very much in camp number one; they’re clearly qualified parents themselves, however, even my mum is slowly coming around to the realisation that Yuna isn’t developing quite like all the other children we’ve known over the years (coming from an Irish Catholic family, you meet a lot of children!)
Yet, even talk of option number 2 seems to send our parents in to a frenzy of opposition.
We’re currently waiting for a letter from the NHS for Yuna to visit a child specialist unit, via referral from our GP. I’ve been under a barrage of comments from our parents, from an altogether different era, whom insist that having specialists “poke about” and “interfere” with Yuna can only be a bad thing.
“You’re going to get her labelled for life you know?!” they say to us in relation to her up-coming NHS appointment.
I feel as though I’m doing a disservice to my daughter by apparently worrying too much about her development. Even whilst writing this blog post, I feel as though I am, in some way, belittling and dishonoring the abilities of my amazing daughter in some way.
Almost like I am an unbeliever in my own genetic output.
“She’s clearly not stupid” one family member said to me.
“I have never questioned her intelligence – ” I retort “You can be a modern-day Einstein and still not have the ability to talk, you know?”
It’s hard for people to understand that personality, intelligence and the ability to communicate are such complex, often abstract concepts.
My father-in-law feels we should wait for Yuna to talk when she’s ready, and sees our response to her lack of speech as perhaps a little prematurely overreactive.
However, it’s not Yuna’s inability to talk that has driven us to intervention, it’s Yuna’s constant screaming in place of other forms of communication that is so hard to cope with.
She used to sleep so well, from 6pm until at least 6am, in her own cot, in her own bedroom.
However, since Christmas 2011 we’ve been woken at either 3, 4 or 5 am with a constant scream. Not a typical toddler-yell that can be sated with hugs or pure ignorance, but a scream that will continue literally on for hour upon hour if Yuna is not either taken to our bed to watch a DVD on the computer (a computer we had installed for this very reason) or taken downstairs to be entertained.
Perhaps this is pure toddler self-assertion - Yuna’s testing the water to see exactly how far she can push her parents, however, this screaming is common-place in our everyday life ever since she was around 7 months old. Whether it’s breakfast and she’s unhappy about something (what, we never really know) or we’re out and about and she needs something, she breaks out this uproarious, uncontrollable din, to such an extent that passers-by will often feel the need to comment, or at the very least, stare judgmentally.
I’ll be frank – I often feel like telling them to “fuck off”. They look at me, desperately trying to contain my screaming, fitting toddler, with an expression that simply says “why are you letting her do that?”
I’ve been prone to “esprit d’escalier” many times throughout my life, none so much as these situations with Yuna in public. If all my efforts were not placed on trying to stop Yuna from hitting me and pulling my hair, I would probably blurt out “Do you think I want my daughter to do this, you fucking idiot?!” However, that would be just plain rude, much like their judgmental stares.
I feel I am usually quite coherent and to the point with my blogs, yet I really feel like I’m struggling with this one, so I’m sorry if what I’m typing seems to go off on a tangent.
I thought I’d do so well at clarifying my opinions and problems with this blog post, yet I’m beginning to flail.
I do truly believe that Yuna will talk at some point, and perhaps she’ll astound us all as we’re hoping, and wake up one morning talking complete sentences – boy, will I look like an overreactive idiot then, eh?
Maybe she’ll get the help she needs to talk and we’ll be hearing the wonderful and beautiful voice and ideas all hidden away in that little head of hers.
Whatever happens, I just want our family to live a happy life, and right now, I feel that we need some external support to achieve that.
Seth has been taken to one side at work due to his lack of attention, caused purely by sleep deprivation (Seth is the most hard-working, reliable person I know) – he’s taken holiday time off to help me with Yuna because she’s been so much of a handful. It can be said without much hesitation that Yuna is a two-carer toddler; on a bad day, it can be impossible to look after her on my own.
Right now, I feel like I’m in a quagmire of tiredness, guilt and confusion – I barely sleep, I feel guilty that perhaps I’m just not reacting to parenthood as I expected and pure confusion as to whether this is “just what it’s like” to be a parent.
I feel like I need to justify my love for my daughter, because I am being derogatory towards our experience of parenthood with this blog post – however, I of course love Yunalesca with every cell in my slowly deteriorating body; yet, I’ve helped to raise 10′s of children throughout my life, and none have been such a handful.
When I hear friends or relations are planning a second baby when their first (i.e. equivalent of Yuna) is only 1 year old, or 18 months old, all I can think is “If I were to have another child now, I would officially stop functioning”.
Again, that’s when I know, that our experience of parenthood, has to be different from those around us.