Cicadas will emerge from the earth this month, after 17 long years of incubation. When I was 8, they dive-bombed us as we played hide and seek among the pine trees. At age 25, a friend’s brother pranked him by filling his car with cicada carcasses. At 43, I have a son who has been counting down the weeks until the cicadas appear. He’s fascinated by an insect that’s been growing underground nearly twice his lifetime.
His expectation is so high, but I fear he’ll not like the reality of what he’s hoped for. After a long year spent quarantining inside…we’ll be trapped inside again, trying to avoid these swarming, noisy pests.
My expectations have been broken before, too. I remember, as we counted down the days to board our plane to South Korea, a well-meaning acquaintance encourage-bragged for me not to worry, her internationally adopted children were fluent in English within 8 weeks. As we sat in a hotel room in Seoul, looking at photos of our dog Martha while Maggie babbled, “Ma-Ma” at her photo, I thought, Look! She’s right! She’ll be talking by her birthday.
When Maggie’s birthday hit—four months later—she still wasn’t talking. I brushed it off with my typical “wait and see” attitude. No reason to dwell on the negative. Think positive!
When her 1st anniversary home hit, it stung a little more, but I comforted myself with the fact that Korean and English are such different languages, and she’s so young, and maybe this is her “thing.” That bit in her life many adopted kids choose to control. She’ll be talking by this time next year.
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After two years, we started speech therapy, and my expectations reset. This is okay. We’re getting help! It will click soon. Just a few months, and she’ll be talking up a storm.
A friend encouraged me that her adopted child didn’t talk till he was six, and now he studies at Vanderbilt! Just wait! She’ll get there.
After another year, we had her tested for autism and started ABA therapy. “We can make her talk,” her therapist told me. “But it won’t be easy. I might be here 8 hours waiting her out for one word. Maybe longer. It will be torture, for her and you.” We decided there were other, more pressing issues. “Plus,” they encouraged me, “so many kids start talking once they get their AAC device. It motivates them!”
This year marks four years. Four years home, and just as many words.
And then, only sometimes.
I have a six year old who has never said, “I love you.” She’s never said her siblings’s names, not really. I don’t have a journal of funny things she’s said over the years.
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Instead, she uses an iPad to talk. It’s a game-changing bit of technology and a monumental achievement in organization. Pages of icons are grouped by topic so she can quickly navigate to the word she wants. Now, a computerized voice tells me her requests in single-word utterances. “Blueberry.” “Dada.” “Bathroom.” Once, she asked for a hug.
But when we can’t find the words, literally, it usually devolves into crying. Sometimes from both of us.
This isn’t a post with a miracle ending. Maggie isn’t talking yet. Maybe, like the cicadas, it will take a long, long time for her to emerge. Or, she may never talk. My expectations for her are broken, scattered among the dirty dishes and piles of toys on the floor. In the pages of my Bible. But it’s where God has met me.
Among those shattered expectations, I have found priceless treasures: A child who carries no baggage into a new relationship and makes friends with joyful abandon. A child who doesn’t worry about the future. A child who can draw tenderness and playful silliness from her teenage siblings.
What would I have missed if she had been a typical child? What would I have missed if my expectations had been met? And as I look at her, sitting on the floor at my feet, matching letters on a puzzle, I realize: her limitations have opened wide my world.
Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash