“Mama? What’s college?” she asked a few months ago as we passed LSU on the interstate after I pointed out where I went to college. I explained in seven-year-old terms that college is where people go to learn how to do their jobs. I went to learn to be a teacher, and her daddy learned to be a nurse. That satisfied her, and I quickly forgot the exchange.
Simple things haven’t always come easy to my girl. She hit most major milestones on the late end of the normal range. Her speech wasn’t clear to most people until well into her third year of life. When we expressed concern, it was dismissed time and again, because she sat on the line between average and below average on her milestones. Otherwise, she is a happy, well-adjusted girl so the consensus was that we had a late bloomer, and she would easily catch up.
But through the years her speech and language deficit seemed only to grow, and instead of catching up, she was falling behind her peers. At age five, she received a year of speech therapy through our school district, and when she no longer qualified for this service, we put her on the waiting list at LSU’s Speech, Hearing, and Language Clinic. For a year, we waited, and called, and waited, and called some more, until finally a spot for her came open earlier this summer.
My husband and I talked up the three-hour diagnostic testing she would have to go through before beginning one-on-one therapy with an LSU graduate student. “You’re going to LSU, and you will play games with a teacher!” I watched most of the test on a monitor in a separate observation room, and giggled at the things my silly girl said as she happily worked through all the articulation, reading, and writing tests that the graduate student put in front of her. The supervising professor even stopped by the observation room to compliment her hard work and disposition. When we returned for her therapy sessions, she took each new challenge with the same determination and willingness. “She’s so happy to be here!” the professor kept telling me. I chalked it up to our awesome parenting skills. Obviously.
One day, when she was about halfway through her summer therapy sessions, I was flipping through my phone and deleting hundreds of blurry selfies and pictures of doorknobs and other such things that appear in my gallery when my children get hold of my phone. I came across a video I hadn’t seen before. “Hi! My name is Eliza, and I’m seven years old. We are visiting the college. I’m learning about speech, so I can teach everybody about it. And it’s my job to do it. Thank you, and I love you.”
I had a flashback to the short conversation we’d had in the car months ago. Did she really believe that SHE was in college and that teaching speech was HER job? After some internal dialogue, I realized that my little girl had taught me more about perspective than 31 years of living. She could be upset about going to therapy, upset about being behind her peers in reading skills, upset that life is just not as easy for her. Instead she saw these therapy sessions as her job. Her purpose. And she blew everyone away with her perseverance and attitude. It doesn’t matter that her test results showed deficiencies in auditory processing, language, and reading. We now have a plan to help her overcome and fill those gaps. Her strengths lie in what cannot be measured and taught. And I’ll do what I can to not only protect it, but learn from it.
I decided to keep that video forever.