My son, Brian, was a late talker. We had speech therapists help him along the way, but I knew it was just a matter of time before he'd really take off...and I was ready. I would bargain with God at night by whispering in the dark, "If he talks, I promise I will never tell him to be quiet. Please just let my son start talking."
Boy, did he. He started talking and never stopped. Brian had an early obsession with flags, and all day and night, he would point out flags on our walks, on car rides, in the house and in books. It was so important to him that I pay attention when he proudly showed me that he'd found yet another flag.
If I'm being completely honest, it was more than mildly annoying. I get it—another flag. But he always had my attention, and I worked hard to patiently listen to his sweet little newfound "voice." A wise woman once told me to be sure to pay attention to all the little things your children tell you—no matter how mundane or repetitive or boring they seem. Because if you pay attention to the little things, they're more likely to share the big things with you down the road. I took that to heart from the very first flag sighting.
The next phase he hit was "Why." Every day, all day, I heard "Why?" after everything. We are our children's first "Google." They come to us for all the answers to all their questions. And all of their questions are important to them. The same wise woman once told me, "Answer your children's questions and address their concerns with truth. Even if the truth is that you don't know the answer." So, I answered every why; I addressed every concern; and I told him the truth, always, and hoped he was paying attention.
Brian's older brother, Gavin, had significant developmental delays. Brian grew up watching a steady group of therapists come through our home to help his brother do all the things that he was naturally able to do. Gavin was not "different" to him. He was just his big brother. Brian never thought to ask me if something was "wrong" with his brother, and he never treated him any differently, except to help him when he needed it. When the boys were 2 and 3 years old, I went to the hospital to have their sister, Darcy, and came home with empty arms. I never discussed in depth either of these situations with Brian, feeling he was too young. But I was ready to discuss them anytime he brought them up.
Soon the time came when Brian was ready to start school and leave the protective confines of our home. We started chatting every night when I'd linger after I tucked him in. As we sat on his bed, the room illuminated by stars from his nightlight, he'd open up to me about his nervousness meeting new friends at school or what snacks he really wished I'd buy at the store. We were suddenly having conversations, and my once silent little boy was expressing opinions and feelings—and quite eloquently, I should add!
Then one day, on the way home from school, I heard this from the back seat: "Mommy? One of the friends in my class asked me what was wrong with Gavin and said he didn't walk or talk. He asked if he was a baby." I instantly felt my blood boil and assumed that this "friend" was making fun of Brian's big brother. I calmed myself before asking, "How did that make you feel when he said that, Brian?" I was stunned with his reply. "It didn't make me feel anything! He just wanted to know what was wrong with Gavin, so I told him that his brain doesn't work like ours, but he's funny and nice and likes to play," he said, matter-of-factly.
He was paying attention. Our children are always paying attention.
One beautiful and sunny spring day, Brian woke up and had breakfast with Gavin. That night, he ate dinner beside an empty chair. His big brother, who had taught him about compassion, trust, friendship and perseverance, had a random febrile seizure that afternoon. He was flown to a hospital an hour away and never came back home.
I started lingering a little bit longer after I tucked Brian in at night. Our conversations stalled for months. All he wanted, every single night, was for me to tell him the story about how his brother died. And so I did, every night...methodically. I told him the truth and hoped he was paying attention. Soon, he started to talk and the questions came slowly.
"Mommy? Do you think Gavin was scared to die?"
"Mommy? Do you miss Gavin?"
"Mommy? Are you glad I didn't die?"
When grief would overcome him, I would listen in silence. It will never be my place to talk him out of his feelings. Not to mention, I can't at all relate to how it feels to lose a big brother. I want Brian to know that his words, his thoughts and his feelings will always be safe with me.
One day on a walk, we stumbled upon a bird's nest that had fallen from a tree onto the hot summer sidewalk. Three baby birds lay nearby. It was a very sad scene. The entire walk home, we talked about it. How sad the mommy must feel that she lost her babies. How the baby birds must have been scared as they were falling. We walked in silence for a block and then I heard him say, "Mommy? Were you so sad when my sister, Darcy, died? It's so unfair that her tube got so twisted and she died before she got to meet us."
He was listening. Our children are always listening.
We still have our conversations. I have listened to him talk about the differences between all the Angry Birds until my eyes glaze over. We have had interesting chats about friends, God, school, and his favorite topic of conversation, snacks, while we created Lego masterpieces. I know more than I care to about Minecraft. And I've heard him explain to his friends who ask how his brother died how he misses him with a grace that belies his age. But it's those quiet, nighttime conversations we have under his starlit ceiling that I will treasure the most. My once silent little boy is now my friend. And I will be his "Google" for as long as he'll let me.