Gia is almost always the first one awake in the Tufano household. She is the ultimate morning person. Her light is so bright when the sun comes up, as if she slept away the frustrations of her everyday life. She wakes up forgetting her struggle for words, and her insatiable desire for sensory input. She’s the purest form of herself in those early hours; her mind is restored, her body is refreshed and her soul is renewed.
By 6:00am, Gia is ready to take on the day, and she’s taking me with her whether I like it or not. Every morning she sneaks quietly into our room, looking for early morning company. She’s like a tip-toeing bandit on a mission for mom. I wake up to her big blue eyes and single-dimple smile looking up at me, just itching for an invitation in to bed. So I scoot my sleepy butt over, she crawls under the covers, and so begins our very predictable morning routine.
I get about 10 minutes of cuddle time with Gia before the inevitable question arises, “Bekfast?”. Her stomach wakes up as early as she does. So with one eye open, I follow her lead to the kitchen. “Mom, how’s you seepy day?”, she says to me. What Gia is of course trying to ask me is, “How did you sleep last night?”, but her brain has not yet been able to process and express the common phrase accurately. This is a perfect example of Gia finding a way to replace typical language, but still get the same point across. I don’t correct her, because it’s freaking adorable! She’ll correct herself in time, and until then, I’m enjoying these words for what they are. This simple greeting is like a daily reminder of how far she’s come. I’ve actually thought a lot about that inevitable morning that Gia greets me with, “How did you sleep last night?”. It seems strange to say, but the thought of it makes me kind of sad. As much as I want her to talk like everyone else, I’ll miss this phase in her journey to normal speech.
When we reach the kitchen, Gia will typically make one of two standard requests, “cereal!” or “waffle!”. These are her go-to breakfast foods, and this is exactly how she asks for them. One word and straight to the point. This is another example of the phase of speech that Gia has reached. In many of her statements and requests, she’ll use a single word that makes her point, and makes it quickly. It’s the word that makes the most impact, and provides the highest likelihood of success. Success = being understood = happy girl! She has spent her 4 short years of life navigating through the English language, looking for her sweet spot, and she’s found it! This is an essential stepping stone to Apraxia recovery, and a big accomplishment for Gia. As nice as it’s been to have a less frustrated child, it can also make for a less motivated child. This phase of recovery has been the most difficult to break through thus far. We need to recharge Gia’s brain to welcome the next phase, and not fall back on what feels comfortable. This is a big focus in Gia’s therapy right now; extending her one word, to a simple, three-word sentence. like, “I need shoes”, or “I want ball”. She says these with ease on command, but has not been able to apply them to real life (classic Apraxia). Instead she’ll say, “shoes”, or “ball”, and I fill in the blanks.
On a recent early morning that was not unlike the rest, Gia chose “cereal!”. So I opened the pantry as she sat at the counter waiting. Before I could even reach for the box, I hear, “Mom, I want cereal!”. I turned to look at her, “What did you say?”. She starred at me. “What did you say, Gi Gi?”, I repeated. Now with a smile on her face, “I want cereal…pease.”.
What can I say? It was just one of the moments – a moment I will remember forever. We had been working toward this moment for months, and I was watching it break through. I just looked at her with tears in my eyes, and she smiled at me with pride; she knew! I took her over to the couch and squeezed hugs into her on the way. We sat together and talked all about her accomplishment. She said a lot of gibberish while I gave a lot of praise. There were kisses, hugs, tears and giggles. We celebrated in a way that only the two of us could really understand.
Gia will read my blog someday, and I keep that in mind every time I write. I don’t need her to know every detail of her rocky road to normal speech, I just need her to know that she fought for the life she has. I want her to see it for the rollercoaster that it was; from the slow upward climbs, to the sudden stomach-turning dips.
Just as we finished our victory celebration, we heard the predictable little footsteps and yawns of my son coming down the hallway. Gia jumped off the couch and ran to greet Nick…”Hi Nick! How’s you seepy day?”