Wednesday, July 25, 2012


My four (soon to be five)-year-old daughter, Emma, battles a severe speech apraxia that reduces the intelligibility of her very complex sentences to that of an 18-month-old toddler. We have waited for her to outgrow this "speech delay," and we have given her the benefit of the standard early intervention and school system therapy programs, but these produced zero real progress in 2 1/2 years time. Finally, this March, after spending nine months on the wait list for a private group of speech-language pathologists who practice at a hospital 36 miles away, Emma received a real assessment and a diagnosis of severe speech apraxia, and I received a glimmer of hope.

Therapy didn't start in earnest until one month ago, and it is only once a week, but its major contribution has been to give me ideas for how to work with Emma myself at home each day. Coinciding with this has been another idea of mine--that if Emma could read and write it would benefit her in three ways: it would make her attend to each sound in a word instead of constantly omitting sounds that are difficult for her to produce; it would give her an alternate form of communication, writing, if she could not make her mouth produce a word; and it would supremely boost her confidence and her self esteem to able to keep up with her sisters academically.

I wasn't positive Emma would succeed at learning to read when she was still four, but I was fairly sure of it. She had spent the last school year learning to identify and write all the letters, and she'd shown her bright mind in other ways, so we gave it a try. We started in with intensive daily home speech and reading therapy for Emma one month ago, and I'm delighted to announce excellent progress!

We do tongue and lip exercises each afternoon. We practice new sounds and pairing these sounds with vowels over and over again: "Ta, Teh, Tih, Tah, Tuh, Tay, Tee, Tie, Toe, Too." I say each sound slowly and clearly, and painstakingly Emma battles her uncooperative tongue to mimic these sounds. She tries, but instead of "Tah" her tongue follows the familiar route that her brain has created for her to produce the "ah" sound, and she says, "T-gah." Tears well up in her eyes. "I gah goo ih!!" (I can't do it!!) she yells at me, pounding her fist on the table. I look at her with tough love and teach her to yell, "It's hard work!!" instead. "Ih ah wuh!!" she yells, pounding her fist again. I look at her tenderly and smile, and this time she smiles back. We both know she just needed to vent. We back the train up again to "T......aaaaahhhh." She succeeds at producing these sound separately, and I praise her. I draw an imaginary line in the air as we connect the sounds now with no "g" in the middle, "Taaaaahhhh." She swallows, focuses and succeeds again, "Taaaahhhh." And we go wild. Progress. We've both tasted it now. And we want more.

"Sa, Seh, Sih, Sah, Suh, Say, See, Sie, So, Soo," we continue. More tears, more yelling, more tough love follow. "You can do this, Emma! Keep trying, Emma! Don't give up." Slowly, more progress follows. "Okay, on to reading," I say cheerily. We move from the kitchen to the living room now: fresh room, fresh perspective. We leave the frustration in the kitchen. We open our book, "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons," and spend far more time on learning to pronounce each sound properly, pay attention to each sound in a word, and blend sounds into words than a normal child would need to, but it is working.

Emma has tasted the sweet success of speaking intelligibly as well as reading small words, and suddenly she has an insatiable appetite. Words are all around her and she knows now that she has the power to decode them (with a little help). She wants me to read with her all the time now. We're still on words like "See Sam read it," but it makes sense to her, and she wants more. I don't want to hold her back or tell her things like, "You don't know how to read that yet." So I teach her the extra rules that our book hasn't addressed yet, and she soaks them up like a sponge.

Did she just say "top?" I say to myself, overhearing a conversation between Emma and Hannah. Yes, I heard it with my own ears--not "gah," but "T-AH-P" with all the sounds so crisp and intentional, with no one coaxing her, and suddenly I want to cry.

This afternoon the real miracle occurred. Emma came to me wearing some papers taped to her shirt and said, "Woo ah my gay." I recognized the first three words as "Look at my..." but Naomi, Hannah, and I were all clueless as to the last word. "Gay!!" Emma screamed at us. "Gay!! Gay!! Gayyyy!!!!!!" Out came the tears as I looked sorrowfully at her.

"Be careful,Emma," I coaxed her. "Say each sound for me. What letter does the word start with? Can you write it down for me?"

"I goh oh!" (I don't know) she yelled back, but then she paused. Her eyes brightened. "Tee" she said excitedly, and on the paper in front of her she wrote "t."

"Tee?" I asked with giddy excitement, "It starts with Tee?!"

"Yeah!" she yelled back.

"Great, Emma! Good job. Now think about the next sound. What comes next?"

"A," she said, and wrote down, "a."

"Look at my tay..." I coaxed her. "What comes next?"

"Chee," Emma said. I wondered a moment what "Tay-chee" was, but as she wrote I understood. She wrote "g."

"Look at my TAGS?!" I asked.

"Yeah," she smiled with pride.

It's almost imperceptible, like the rising of the sun, but we began last month in the dark, and today I realized we are standing in the brilliant pink and copper glow that herald's the sun's grand appearance. I don't know exactly what the daylight will look like for Emma. Just this morning I wondered to Matt if Emma would ever speak completely fluently or if it would always be obvious that she had an impediment. I guess we won't know that for several years, but I know it's growing brighter around her all the time.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Girl Talk

We've been watching some of the 1970's "Little House on the Prairie" series with our kids at bedtime. In a couple episodes Laura has had a crush on a boy, or Mr. Edwards has dated a lady in town, or Johnny Johnson has been smitten by a pretty (and immodest) girl. So the idea of boys liking girls, and the idea of dating have now been raised in the minds and hearts of my girls. (Sigh) I can't keep them four years old forever.

Naomi's been acting a little shy when the subject comes up. Hannah's been spending more time than usual in front of the mirror--brushing her hair, changing her clothing, and rarely satisfied with what she sees. "I don't think I'm as cute as Laura is," she once openly despaired. This made me laugh when I thought of Laura's long braids and buck teeth. I had to assure Hannah that she was beautiful inside and out, but that the loving heart inside of her was what made the outside so pretty. "Aw," she shook her head, "I still don't think I'll ever be pretty like Laura."

Tonight, as the sunlight faded, and Matt and I tucked the kids in their beds, I lay down beside Naomi and joked that I was going to have a slumber party in her bed with her. "Could we?" she asked, with all seriousness.

"Oh, I think Elijah would get jealous," I answered.

"Well, just until he wakes up?" she pleaded.

Normally in a hurry to give them all a quick kiss and steal away for some time by myself, tonight I paused my busy day and snuggled up beside my daughter and had a girl talk--just what we both needed. I told her a couple stories about childhood friends and games and how I used to ride my imaginary horse, Cheyenne, everywhere I went when I was Naomi's age. It wasn't long before Hannah and Emma had climbed into Naomi's bed too and we had a full-blown slumber party going.

I told them a story about how my best friend in 2nd grade, who happened to be named Laura, had moved to Colorado and how she had returned when we were in 6th grade, only for us to discover we wouldn't be friends anymore. "Why?" Hannah probed.

"Well..." I searched for the right words, "Because she had grown to care about having just the right clothes, and the prettiest hair, and being popular, and having all the boys like her...And I knew those things weren't important. I didn't want to be friends with someone like that, and she didn't want to be seen with someone who wasn't popular."

This led to a wonderful discussion of true beauty, of what to look for in a husband someday, and of the joys and follies of high-school dating relationships. "The most important thing," I summed up, "is to find a man who loves God with all his heart. And if you love God with all your heart, you will be the most beautiful girl to him, and you will always be best friends."

"Oh, of course," Hannah said, " I already know that."

Maybe she was just in need of a reminder, I don't know, but we all seemed to enjoy the talk. I'm glad the lines of communication on this subject are open now at the ages of eight, six, and four. I pray they stay wide open as we enter the teenage years. The girls from my dormitory at the boarding school we worked at know I have plenty of dating advice to hand out, sprung from my own mistakes and regrets. Guiding three girls through the troubled waters of teenage relationships is an enormous task before me. I'm grateful they gave me the chance tonight to get a jump start on the journey.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Toby's False or True

Toby, Emma, and Hannah are sitting at breakfast right now, playing a game of true or false, or rather, as Toby calls it, "False or True."

"I should treat Emma like my blaster: false or true?" Toby calls out to his sisters, who reward him with giggles and assure him that the answer to that is false.

"OK," Toby replies, gearing up for his next question, "I should line all of the bananas up for a spank: false or true?"

More giggles ensue. Hannah decides to mix it up by answering, "True."

"OK," Toby laughs. He goes over to the bananas, gives them each a slap, then gets distracted by just how much that bunch of bananas resembles a helmet. Turning them upside down on his head he announces, "This is my helmet!" Singing a little "dee dee deee" song, he dances around the kitchen, gaining further encouragement from Elijah who has been watching from his highchair, and is clearly amused.

When the banana-helmet show is over Toby returns to his breakfast, but deciding he is more nourished by peer-approval than chocolate chex, he continues his quiz.

"I should take all of these chairs to time-out: false or true?"

"True!" Hannah agrees.

"I should go potty: false or true?"

"True!" I yell from my office.

Toby laughs, caught off guard by my response. "Never mind!" he yells to me, on his way to the bathroom, "You don't ever say that to me!" Which, I believe means something like, "Nobody invited you to play, so mind your own business."

Once the potty business is finished, Toby emerges from his chrysalis transformed into a ravenous tiger. He spies the easiest prey (Emma), and benevolently warns her, "I'm a tiger! And I can eat anything I see!"

The chase is on. It's 8:30am, and another day at the Eby house has begun. Sigh. I should leave my computer, get dressed, and do some housework: false or true?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Mommy Accomplishments

I miss my blog. I miss sorting out my thoughts in my quiet office with my cup of coffee while Toby and Elijah nap. But we have been parted, my blog and I.

Toby is outgrowing his nap. This is a very sad development for me. I would like to still put him in his room each afternoon for some "quiet" time, but Elijah is now learning to nap in his crib next door, and Toby still can't remember instructions to be "quiet" longer than a minute or two. This means Toby stays up and plays loudly, Elijah gets woken early and screams, and I get...well...not much of a break right now. Alas. But this is not the only reason I've had to put the blog aside.

I've also been feeling convicted about being more intentional when it comes to raising my kids. When they're so little if you keep them clean, fed, and safe, and if you teach them the basics of obeying rules, sharing toys, and other social skills, you are a good parent. There may be some time left over to blog. But they are growing now, and I'm starting to feel behind. I've been devoting two evenings a week now to swimming lessons at my in-laws' kiddie pool, and I'm pleased to announce that Naomi's swimming pretty well now, and Hannah and Emma aren't far behind. One point for me. Bike riding lessons have been put on hold entirely due to the heat. I am still trying to potty train Toby, and still failing, but I just got another idea for incentive when he dove into the matchbox cars display at Wal-Mart and tried to pick up armfuls of cars before I drug him away. One potty chart with Matchbox car rewards coming up. That would be $0.98 really well spent if it works!

Then there's my littlest time thief. I spent the last week trying to get baby gates installed at the top and bottom of my stairs because Elijah is rolling around now, and may not be far from crawling. There's mischief in his eyes and no carpet on my stairs, so baby gates are a must. One gate had to be installed into a hollow plaster wall, so it took some creativity, three trips to the hardware store (with five kids in tow), and serious woodworking skills to create a solidly anchored piece of wood to install the gate into. But they're up now, and they are not coming down. Elijah's also getting to like his baby food meals, which is great, but time consuming to prepare, serve, and clean up three times a day. I did let Naomi feed Elijah yesterday and it went pretty well until Elijah grabbed the spoon from her and flung baby food all over his face. At least we had a good laugh.

When I do get a small window of calm in my day I now sit down with Emma at the kitchen table for her daily speech therapy. Some days it kills me, because I so want to just relax, but I know I need to do this for her...every exceptions. And she wants me to help her, reminding me one day, "Doh or-geh my pee er-a-pee!" (Don't forget my speech therapy.)

So I spread yogurt on the back of a spoon
and move it around the outside of her mouth, while she attempts to lick it, to help her learn to control that unruly tongue. We smack our lips and paint the roof of her mouth with yogurt. Then we work through speech flashcards that her therapists have sent home for her to practice. We're especially targeting "n," "t," "d," and "s." Last we spend 20 minutes working through the book, "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons." I like this book because it is very slow and incremental and spends a good deal of time pronouncing words slowly and then fast, which works out to be excellent speech practice for Emma as well as reading preparation. We just finished Lesson 13 where Emma read her first three-word sentence today, and she was so proud of herself.

It is worth every minute. It's worth it to see her now pronouncing many words much more clearly (N, T, D, and S are in a lot of words!), and to hear from everyone around her how much more they can understand her now. It's worth it to see her confidence soar, and her personality bloom. Exhausting, but worth it.

At the end of the day, when I lay in bed, I never wish I had spent more time relaxing. Lately, I've been so glad that I've put in the extra effort: Elijah is safe and well fed, Toby might someday learn to use the potty consistently (maybe), Hannah and Naomi are swimming, and most exciting of all Emma's speech is improving.

It's a good thing I'm feeling encouraged and energized, because bike riding lessons will need to commence soon, and thanks to the generosity of someone who thought my kids should have a piano, it looks like piano lessons are next on the agenda.

I miss my blog, but I may be away for awhile. Here's to meeting again soon, with lots of accomplishments to report.

Monday, July 2, 2012

No Running...And No More Happiness!

She was a probably a nice old lady, in her purple smock, volunteering at the hospital, and she probably doesn't understand just why I became so defensive. I'm not sure that I fully know either, only that she was concerned with rules and not people, and that I felt judged.

She didn't know that I had woken early to prepare the bags and driven 1 1/2 hours in the damp morning heat with my 5 children for my daughter's nephrology appointment. She didn't know that my children had sat still for that time, then been reined in for another hour of quiet, controlled behavior in the doctor's office, then sat still and ate with their heads over the table so as not to drop crumbs in the hospital atrium. She didn't know that I had first asked my children not to run when they got up from lunch, but I had reconsidered.

The atrium was empty. Not a soul sat at the four tables around us in the corner of the first floor lobby. Across the lobby visitors occasionally came in the doors and stopped to speak to the volunteer greeters. Realizing how incredibly well my children had behaved all morning, and taking into account the 1 1/2 hour drive in the 92 degree heat ahead of us, I permitted them to run laps around our lunch table. They skipped and laughed and ran in a very calm and orderly manner, for four little kids. No one screamed or pushed. We weren't near anything breakable. We bothered no one. I think we actually brightened a few sick people's day. Nothing like pure smiles and giggles and exercise for medicine.

When she came, in her purple smock, and looked condescendingly on us; when she cleared her throat and called out loudly, "Excuse me!" then declared again for no apparent reason, "Excuse me!" I first felt like a kindergartener caught running in the lunchroom, and then I felt angry. "There is no running in the hospital!" she called firmly.

I thought all the way home about how I could have responed at that moment. But at that moment I just reacted. "We have an hour-and-a-half drive ahead of us. They're kids, they need to wiggle sometimes," I said calmly, but a little disgusted. "They're not bothering anyone."

"Well, I'm just a hospital volunteer telling you the hospital rules," she retorted.

I thought to myself, Well let's just let beurocracy take over our common-sense!  I thought to myself, Do you have any idea that this is the only bright spot in my children's 6-hour trip to the doctor today? And possibly the only bright spot today for that old guy in the chair over there who was enjoying watching us? Does it make you feel more important or more valuable to come and enforce rules that don't benefit anyone, but only harm them in this particular case? I thought about calling out to my kids, OK kids, back to the hot van, where I can strap you down so you won't cause any more disruption to this lady's pleasantly boring day! And wipe those smiles off your faces! Who knows what rucus further happiness could lead to?!

But I quietly finished wiping my crumbs and called my kids to leave without even looking at her further. She was a probably a nice old lady, in her purple smock, volunteering at the hospital, and she probably doesn't understand just why I became so defensive. But I guess that's it, she didn't understand us: beurocracy before people happens to be one of my biggest pet peeves. But maybe I'm being too hard on her.