When my son was young he was diagnosed with what was called a “pervasive language disorder of unknown origins.” It’s hard to remember now, but at an age when other children were having conversations, he would rarely use more than one or two words in a sentence, and questions asked of him, now matter how simple, would go unanswered. He spent a lot of time in therapy, and predictions about his future were often tempered with a gloomy medical skepticism. I always believed he would be all right, however, particularly after what happened one night after a swimming lesson. Like a lot of kids his age (four or so at the time), he liked sweets. Treats, we called them. All sweets were treats, and they were rationed out as stingily as we could. But Sawyer loved them; was passionate about them. An entire day could revolve around the eventual delivery of a promised treat.
One day after a swimming lesson he passed a vending machine and pointed to a bag of iced animal crackers (it was the icing that made them treats, in my estimation). He wanted them. I said no, but he persisted. Dinner’s already cooking, I told him. No treats before dinner. He still wanted them. I’d seen this before. An explosion was coming, an explosion I was not prepared to cope with in public—so I played a little trick. I bought the iced animal crackers, but said I would hold onto them until we were in the car. Once we were in the car, once he was safely and completely secured in his car seat and the windows were rolled up, I sprung my trap. No animal crackers. They’re treats.
He went mad. He screamed an unholy scream all the way home. No matter. I told him he had left me no choice. I told him he knew the rule about treats and why did he think he could break it this night? I kept telling him he knew the rule about treats and he kept screaming. He was still screaming when we got out of the car but I didn’t care. I was right and I was the parent and he was learning a lesson. That was when Sawyer found his voice.
“Crackers aren’t treats!”
I was marching toward my back door when I heard it. I turned around. He was standing by the gate to the house pointing an accusatory finger.
“Crackers aren’t treats!” he repeated. “They’re crackers. They aren’t treats. I can have crackers before dinner.”
It was the longest string of words I’d ever heard out of him. He got the crackers. His desire to express what he believed to be the truth finally overrode whatever limitation had strangled his language for the first four years of his life. He would return to his version of silence after he got the crackers, but it was too late. He’d given himself away. Within him dwelled the same desire that dwells in all of us: to share what matters. I knew then it was only a matter of time. Eventually he would understand that everything in life is valuable, is a potential treat, and the worst punishment anyone could impose on themselves is to stay silent on this fact.
If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.