The summer my daughter started speech therapy we lived in a townhouse with a raised deck, six steps down to the cement sidewalk. My daughter, two-and-a-half, always moved at a most meandering pace. I was sure I had time to run inside for some forgotten thing. I returned just in time to watch her tip headfirst from the top of the stairs, and I couldn’t close the distance fast enough to catch her before she performed an anti-gravitational trick, palming the stairs halfway down, only her fuzzy blonde hair making contact with anything ground-ward, and landing full-circle, full-stop on her soft rump. She was shaken, but un-scraped and un-bruised and un-anything worse. It all happened in slow motion – in reality, not just in perception. It was the slowest fall I had ever seen.
When I took my daughter for her speech assessment that same summer, I was both anxious and hopeful. Would they be able to tell me why she was hardly speaking? Would they unlock the thoughts I knew were formulating behind those ever-observing eyes? The answer was a small sheet of paper pushed across the table.
“I’m going to write down a word here,” the specialist told me after the three-hour session. “But” – good woman – “I don’t want you to worry too much about it.” I picked up the slip: “Dyspraxia.” She advised me not to Google the word; information overload feeds anxiety.
A cheerful speech therapist starting coming to our house, and the words my daughter knew came spilling out that summer.
The therapist laughed, “What other two-year-old knows words like these?”
It has taken me a long time to describe dyspraxia to others, which is ironic, because that’s a big part of what dyspraxia is: an inability to find the words, even when you have them. Online articles and descriptions help. But I turn to a friend who asks for an explanation, and I can’t land on the right phrase. “It’s sensory,” I try, but not everyone knows what that trendy diagnosis means. “Like the autism spectrum,” I tack on, but that sends assumptions in the wrong direction. “A disconnect between the brain and the muscles when executing certain tasks, like speaking.” I get glassy stares. “It’s a nervous condition!” I think I’ve nailed it. But I actually mean neurological, not anxiety. Although my daughter is admittedly anxious when she gets overwhelmed by stimuli that won’t let her mind process at the careful, calculated rate it needs in order to make sense of things. I worry people think I’m making it up. “Oh, she’s just fine,” they reassure me, and it feels like criticism. Well, yes. She is fine. I didn’t mean to say otherwise. Slow and quiet, I sometimes want to shout, is just fine.
My daughter is four now, and her flow of thoughts and ideas, questions and stories, can hardly be stemmed. It is just as the speech therapist predicted. On quiet, introverted mornings at home, or from the backseat of the car, or at the table over lunch, she chatters like a happy bird. Her insights are profound. For me, she shines as brightly as the sun.
For others, the light is dim. On busy, schedule-bound days, or in friends’ living rooms, or surrounded by classmates, her thoughts slow down. Her voice hones in and out, silencing itself at the tiniest interruption. The sweet voice that shakes the foundations of my understanding flies away.
Her cousins bend down to watch her write on a sheet of paper. They chatter about writing and narrate what she’s doing and monologue a myriad of other things that spring into their minds. They don’t mean to stymy her thoughts, not one bit, but still, they act as an unintentional blackout to what she wants to say. My daughter’s brilliance retreats inside herself, curtains drawn. She stops writing the words she knows how to write. She watches and waits, instead, as life revolves around her, anxiety sketched on her face. Her cousins ask, “Why did she stop writing? Does she not know how?” No, she is just overwhelmed, I think to myself. Let her move at her own slow pace, I plead, but I don’t say it out loud.
One of my favorite essayists lately is Brian Doyle. In one essay, he describes his agile young son, “twisting in the air as he falls backward from a porch step, landing on his hands and knees and bouncing up again in a single smooth motion and sailing away at top speed, not a cry, not a scratch, my mouth falling open to see a body so quick to sense and react, so blindingly quick to rearrange itself. A body wholly at home in the ocean of quick.”
Can a body be wholly at home in the ocean of slow? Can an almost unbearably calculated pace from the front door, down the steps, along the sidewalk, and into the car render everyday moments somehow just as spectacular as the quick, feline gymnastic flip of a kinesthetically-gifted kindergartener? Can a question or comment painstakingly crafted, still strike like a bolt of lightning? Yes.
My daughter, the full physical opposite of this fast son of Doyle’s, sits in the foyer and loops the straps through her shoes with great care and precision. I bounce the heavy baby and hold the front door open as my girl takes one thoughtful step across the threshold, then another. I am at the car, fast. We are already late for preschool, and I turn in frustration, but the “Hurry, now!” dies on my lips. She leans over the grass and turns to me with her hand held out. “Mommy, Mommy! I found a ladybug. And he didn’t fly away!” We are late for school, but her face is luminescent, her voice reverent: “Wow.”
Slow to speak. I go to the Bible for wisdom, and it tells me to be this way. Slow to move. “Live a quiet life,” it advises. Would this book spell out such a requirement if most of us didn’t have to work to be comfortable with quiet and with slow? Perhaps being naturally at home in the ocean of slow is its own kind of gift. Why do I ever look at my daughter’s cousins, at friends’ children, and feel tempted to worry extra or apologize away the sudden stillness that overtakes my girl? There is more to being alive in this world than being quick with words; there is a way to blaze and burn brightly without being fast or loud. Let the chaff of other people’s expectations, including my own, fall away. Thomas Merton saw ordinary people walking around, shining like the sun. When I hear my daughter say the things that stun me clear out of myself, even if no one else hears them, I know he is right. Those are the things that spark and burn, a glory, as from another world.
 Doyle, Brian. “Grace Notes,” Leapings and Epiphanies
This essay was offered anonymously, so as not to disclose this awesome girl's diagnosis to the big, unknown internet world before she's old enough to consent. But the author is very sociable. She would love to talk with you about all kinds of things related to this topic. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. One of her favorite things to hear is, "Hey! Me, too."