Monday, July 7, 2008

Open mouth, insert foot

Why is it that strangers always find the one feature about your child and draw attention to it? For L 's first year and a half, we struggled with her growth. She just kept falling off the growth charts in height and weight. So what did we hear all the time? ohhh, look at that tiny little thing! She is awfully petite, isn't she? Are you sure you're feeding her enough? It's not limited to L ...with K, people would ask at least once a week, "Can't she walk? How old is she? Shouldn't she be walking by now?" I mean, seriously. Is it any of their business?!

I thought I'd grown callussed to these brainless, seemingly-benign-but-hurtful comments, until this week. The girl at the gas station said about L, "Wow, she really is a quiet one, isn't she?" I just smiled. "I mean, I've never heard a girl her age so quiet." Again, I said nothing, but nodded. "Why is she so quiet? Is she tired? Is she alright?" Seriously, woman. Do you want the full explanation! But no, I just said, "she doesn't say a lot." And left it at that.

What was I supposed to say? She used to talk, but then she had this nasty cluster of seizures that broke her speech. She says lots of sounds, but no end consanants. She jabbers, but only in vowels. She's really learning signs quickly and is now saying two-word phrases in signs. But you won't know what she's saying, because YOU don't read signs. This week she said "ungry" which we think meant hungry but could have meant angry, because she was mad that supper wasn't ready yet. Either way, we were just excited to hear the -ngr- sound, because that's a pretty advanced sound. But no, she won't say it now. It was a one-day thing. But the speech therapist says in two years, you probably won't even know she ever was in speech, she'll be talking so well. And maybe, just maybe, at that point, people like you won't say anything about her to make her (or myself) more self-conscious.

And I think that's what bothers me. L listens like a 3-year-old. She understands a thousand times more than she can say. She knows that the girl at the gas station was asking why she was different. And she seemed sad and extra quiet the rest of the day. And that, ladies and gents, makes me angry. Angry at the situation, angry at unintentional people. Just angry. And frustrated. But after that fact, I calmed down. And I think how lucky we are that this is the only stumbling block L needs to overcome right now.

Oh, and we weren't the only victim of thoughtless comments. My SIL is feeling guilty about the weight her newborn, R, lost during the first two weeks, when nursing seemed to be going well but in fact there just wasn't any milk. R went from 7 pounds 7 ounces, to 5 pounds 14 ounces. She's gained it all back now and is thriving. But when we walked in a convenience store, the clerk gushed about how tiny she was. "Oh, she's just itsy bitsy! How old did you say she was? She's just a wee thing! I've never seen one so petite!" Seriously, one was bad enough, but going on and on like that. ick.

So, for future reference, you're best off limiting comments about infants and toddlers to "what a cute baby" or in the case of not-so-cute babies, "what a cute outfit" or "what beautiful eyes." And leave it at that. Please. Pass it on.

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