Thursday, October 25, 2012

Felix Baumgartner, Speech Delays, and Acceptance

In the instant world we currently live in, just now writing a post about Felix Baumgartner's incredible sky dive from space is a little behind the times. But from originally thinking the entire idea of skydiving from 24 miles up was the stupidest thing I've ever heard of, I am now spending an inordinate amount of time pondering the entire thing--from the fact that an energy drink made it possible to the idea that any activity that random and pointless could require such intelligence, dedication, and energy from a remarkable number of engineers.

Of course, on the day of the dive, I found myself thinking mostly about Baumgartner's mother, on whom they focused the camera several times while recording the event from ground control. Cementing my place in the Jewish Mothers' Club (motto: If we're not anxious about something, check our pulse), my only thought at the time was "How could he do this to his mother?"

I was certain that Baumgartner couldn't possibly survive this stunt, you see. I was almost surprised at the amount of work that ground control was putting into the event. I had assumed it was just a stunt.

J, of course, was fascinated by the whole thing. When they cut the feed to handle troubleshooting various issues--like the heat problem that was affecting his visor's visibility--it was an incredibly frustrating moment for J, who was paying close attention to everything that was happening. As a born engineer, the ways in which Baumgartner's crew handled unexpected problems was almost as interesting to J as the stunt itself.

For me, I had assumed that Baumgartner was a grandiose Evel Knievel. I thought he was just doing this thing to see if he could--which of course was true. But he was also using intelligence and expertise to test the limits of our collective abilities.

So when everything went without a hitch, thanks to the engineers and the science and Baumgartner's training, I suddenly became a fan-girl. Not just of Baumgartner--who has quite the Daniel Craig as James Bond handsomeness to him--but of the entire engineering team that allowed a single man to do something both pointless and breathtaking. No, that sky dive may not have put food in hungry bellies or brought peace to troubled areas. But it still had nobility as an act, because it tested the limits of what we can do.

This is all to partially explain why LO will be dressing as Felix Baumgartner for Halloween this year.

But there's more than that. I've been thinking about Baumgartner and his engineering team lately because of Baumgartner's mother. As a harried young mom of a daredevil toddler, I doubt that Mrs. Baumgartner dreamed her son would one day jump from space to Earth on a soft drink's dime. And yet, she must be proud, immensely proud, just like the mothers of each of the engineers on the team. That strikes me as very important, considering where we are with LO right now.

LO, though he is now a mature young man of 2, is still not talking. When I spoke to his pediatrician about it back on his birthday, she suggested I call First Steps of Indiana to have him evaluated.

J and I both bristled at that. There was nothing wrong with our young man. His lack of English skills (for he does talk, just not in a language recognizable to adults) was the result of stubbornness. He didn't talk because he didn't choose to. If he wanted, he could let out a zinger that brought down the house, as when he told my father that he wasn't a baby, but a MAN! But even with his well-timed bons mots there is a definite difference between his verbal skills and those of his peers.

When my pediatrician reminded me on that fateful visit that everything is an opportunity to talk to LO, I responded that I was a former English teacher who never shuts up. We're certainly providing LO with a language-rich environment. J suggested that night that perhaps LO was just an engineer's son.

I've been turning that over in my head for a few weeks. LO certainly shows some engineering/math and science tendencies. He loves to arrange his cars in a row, patiently putting cars you move back in place to fit in with his tidy vision. He can focus for a remarkably long time on very specific skills, like figuring out how to replace a wheel on a toy shopping cart. When J put felt pads on the bottoms of our chairs, LO loved lining up the nail part of the pad with the holes J had drilled. Clearly, there are some engineering tendencies here.

But LO is also a writer's son. In all this time that I've been watching his analytical side develop, I have found myself wondering where I am in his makeup. Where is the love of words and the leaps of ridiculous imagination? Where is the ability to use story to make a point?

It took me nearly two months of working through this before I felt comfortable calling First Steps. I honestly don't think there is anything wrong with LO. He has never been content to rest in the center of any bell curve, so why should talking be any different? But if there are techniques we can use to coax him to use his words, I finally decided we need to know them. If for no other reason, we need those skills because LO has inherited my low frustration tolerance, and having two of us in the same house with no common language is not a great idea. Especially for poor J.

But more than just trying to find out what we can do to encourage his verbal skills, I spent two months trying to accept that LO is not necessarily the son I expected him to be. While I've always told him that he can do and be anything he wants, there was a part of me that wanted him to be like me. There was a part of me that wanted him to never think of doing something foolish and dangerous and incredible, because I never would. Part of me wanted him to be good at math but love language. Not caring whether he grew up to marry a nice Jewish girl or settle down with a nice gentile guy was much easier for me.

I feel a little foolish having such difficulties recognizing that I get the son I get, and not the one I necessarily dreamed of. After all, we're talking about a minor speech delay at worst, and an inherent interest in something that helps the world go 'round. But still, this has been a reminder that LO is most definitely his own person, who will forge his own path in life.

And that's okay.

Because it will certainly lead to great things.


  1. I look forward to hearing more about what First Steps tells you. I have an almost 23 month old who seems disinclined to speak. There are occasional words in English, but mostly babble. She excels beyond her peers in every other area but verbal communication.

  2. Funny in this generation how he start to imagine our children's futures when thyy're only playing with blocks. I wouldn't worry about the talking thing. My oldest didn't talk either until close to 3. He also had a pacifier until 4. ANd he's now advanced in writing and reading. And at age 3, when it was suggested my other son be evaluated for speech therapy, I decided to wait and see. He was fine. Never needed any help. Meanwhile, was hard to make playdates because seemed every other friend of his was too busy with speech therapy etc. Our kids are expected to grow up too fast and we hover too much. Let's face it. We are a helicopter parenting generation, as much as I try to resist it.

  3. @Sandra, I absolutely agree with you. I was not going to get LO evaluated to begin with because I didn't want to be a part of pathologizing normal behavior. I changed my mind when I realized the level of frustration I was feeling when he can't/won't communicate was rising. I decided to get him evaluated for my own sense of well being to make certain that I'm doing everything I can to be his best mother, even when I'm frustrated. I'm fully prepared to tell First Steps that I don't want to accept any therapy depending on how things go.