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“You do realize she’s saying ‘tits,’ right?” our friend asked us.

We sighed. Yes, we do.

It’s our three-year-old daughter’s word for everything. It’s what she says when playing and in pretend conversations with her stuffed toys. It’s the sounds of cars and trains. It’s also what she says while lifting her fingers in the air and asking for more.

And yes, it sounds a lot like “tits.”

But it’s a sound. A consonant and a vowel sound. And as I’m learning about the intricacies of speech and language that I’ve taken for granted up to this point, consonant and vowel sounds together are good. They’re important: the beginning building blocks to speech. It just so happens that my daughter’s consonant and vowel articulation sounds a lot like “tits.”

For the last few months as we’ve gotten into the routine of speech therapy, we’re hanging onto every sound our daughter makes. We listen for new sounds. We cheer when she says a word. We work with her to say sounds close to the words she should be saying. We shorten words to just their vowel or consonant sounds. As long as it’s some sound from the word she’s saying or asking for, we’re excited.

“Mmmm” becomes more.

“Teee” becomes tree.

“Oooo” becomes open.

“P” becomes please.

“Eee” becomes eat.

And then there’s “tits.” We’re not sure what that becomes.

Nothing cues my mama-anxiety more than social interactions with people who don’t know my daughter. She’s three and has a speech delay. She’s also tall for her age, so most people think she’s about four and expect her to talk. They ask her questions and wait for answers. She’s a personable and outgoing toddler. She loves people. They are drawn to her and then they expect her to answer questions.

“What’s your name?”

“How old are you?”

“Is that your baby brother?”

Sometimes she’ll act shy, burrowing her face in our bodies. Other times she’ll chime in with her sounds and words. At the library the other day, she brought her baby doll. She held her baby very protectively. The librarian excitedly greeted us and said, “Oh, is that your baby?! What’s her name?”

To which my daughter replied, “Tits.”

How do you recover from that?

I just kept smiling and casually shared that her baby doesn’t have a name.

There’s such an innocence about my daughter. She loves being with other kids and playing. Somehow it works for her and the other kids, the language barrier doesn’t impede their playing. Yet I do wonder what the other kids think – if they wonder about why she doesn’t talk. Many times I’ll translate for her, interpreting her hand motions and sign language for others. Yet if I’m not around to see her signing “please,” others won’t know what she means and that she’s asking politely for the toy that they’re holding.

Our daughter’s speech delay is just one of the many things about her. She’s more than just her ability or lack of ability to talk. Yes, we do spend a lot of time and energy getting her to repeat sounds. We spend a lot of time in the car driving to and from speech therapy. We spend a lot of time waiting and listening during her sessions. My husband and I are good at shortening words and isolating the sounds. Our daughter is quick to pick up on certain sounds although others come with difficulty or a blank stare. Lots of times we’ll simply say, “Good trying.” I listen intently to her speech therapist and try to repeat what she says.

Ultimately, when we look at our daughter, we don’t see a girl with a speech delay. We see a girl who works hard and plays hard. We see a girl who loves her brother. We see a girl who lights up a room with her smile. We see a girl who has great fine motor skills, who loves to color and paint and turn screwdrivers with her dad. We see a girl who watches everything. A girl who laughs, loves, and joyfully plays.

I have a feeling we’ll be involved in speech therapy for the foreseeable future. We’ll keep celebrating the sounds and words she makes. We’ll keep pushing her. We’ll keep learning. She’ll have to work harder at speech than most kids her age. Sometimes we’ll just marvel at her, our precious daughter. We’ll listen to her, the sounds of tits and all, and we’ll give thanks.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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