His & Hers: Sometimes life is a bear hunt

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Husband-and-wife journalists Bob Miller and Callie Clark Miller use this space to offer their views on everyday issues.


For the third time that morning, Dawson pushed the white softbound picture book into my lap. I looked at him looking at me, big brown eyes eager and expectant. As if sensing my hesitation, he shoved the book closer to my hand and opened it to the first page.

I so wanted to say, "Not right now." I was sitting at the laptop, working with mounting pressure on a project with a looming deadline.

I didn't have time to go on a bear hunt, again. Not today. This is Dawson's favorite book -- one we read together at least half a dozen times a day; one he totes around like a security blanket and presents to every visitor in our home with the expectation that they, too, read it to him. With a sigh, I shut the laptop. This is the nature of working from home. It's writing a story with the "Imagination Movers" blaring in the background. It's trying to do an interview with Eli crying in the other room. It's tripping over a large metal fire engine while trying to get to the ringing phone, which has soggy Fruity Cheerios stuck to the receiver.

Mostly, it's wonderful. And I've been shocked and awed at how well we've adapted to our new routine. But some days -- some days I cheat. I admit it. Some days, I put in an extra "Elmo" DVD just to get an interview done. Some days we don't get out of our pajamas until 5 p.m. (Right before Daddy gets home. We wouldn't want him to think we're slobs.) And some days, I start "We're Going on a Bear Hunt" halfway through, instead of at the beginning.

Today is one of those halfway-through days, but I pull Dawson into my lap and start. Dawson doesn't look at the pages as we read the book, he stares at my lips forming (with enthusiasm and inflection) the words to the story. I can tell he is amazed by what, for most toddlers, is a fairly simple, natural act: Talking.

Dawson learning to talk has been a little like going on a bear hunt for us. We have stumbled through that forest for quite some time now. He had chronic ear infections for the first eight months of his life until we finally had tubes put in.

When he wasn't saying "momma" or "dada" by one year, I started to worry and spoke with his pediatrician. When he still wasn't talking at 15 months, we agreed it was an issue worth investigating. He had another hearing exam, just to rule out deafness. That wasn't a problem. In the past few months, we've gone through a fairly rigorous evaluation process with Missouri's First Steps program, and two weeks ago he started speech therapy.

His therapist believes he's verbally apraxic -- that there's a disconnect between his brain and his oral muscles preventing him from forming certain sounds and therefore words. Compared to so many children facing severe mental or physical challenges, apraxia is minor and treatable. But any time your child isn't developing normally, it is scary. After multiple miscarriages over several years, I have been waiting a long time to be called "momma." To now watch as Dawson struggles with even this simplest of words tears me apart.

So we squelch-squerch along through the verbal mud every day, exclaiming "up" and "drink" with exaggerated, cheerleader-like enthusiasm in hopes that something will click and Dawson will repeat the word. We've started some sign language as well, as a means of communication until he shows progress in his therapy. Some day, I have no doubt the word "momma" will roll off his tongue without forethought or struggle. But for now, we can't go over it, we can't go under it. We've got to go through it. And that's why I read "We're Going on a Bear Hunt" six times a day, even when I am late turning in an assignment or when the laundry is piled up to the ceiling. Because maybe, just maybe, today is the day.

"Uh oh," I read. "A snow storm, a swirling, whirling snow storm -- can't go over it?"

"Uh ... oh." Dawson's words are stilted, but clear. It's the first time he's uttered this phrase, and I send up a silent prayer of thank you. "Uh ... oh."

What a beautiful day. That's why I'll always go on a bear hunt, again.

Callie Clark Miller writes for Southeast Missourian special publications. Bob Miller is the Southeast Missourian editor. Reach them at cmiller@semissourian.com and bmiller@semissourian.com.

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