Out of the mouth of babes...

My youngest son is eight years old. He has been in speech therapy since Kindergarten, and every year we have to meet with the Speech teacher to go over the IEP for next year. The IEP, or Individualised Education Program, is a fancy way of saying, "here's where the kid is, here's where we want them to be, and here's how we're getting there". That's it, that's all, it's very simple.

So, every year, around about May, just as school's letting out, I go see the SLP (that'd be Speech and Language Pathologist. I've been blessed to have an SLP at both his elementary schools). Some times the physical therapist is present-- as it's pretty standard to work to improve children's fine motor control as they work on their speech. For my son, working with his fine motor has helped him voice his missing sounds, so I would guess that it's that way for many kids.

I'd spoken to his SLP a couple times, as this was his first year in the Sunnyside school district, and he was new to her. But it was your normal, "Who did he see last year? and What did they work on?" There was nothing to indicate the surprise I got when I saw her this past May.

I wanted to write about it then, but things got busy, and so this blog post got pushed back and back. Finally I decided to just sit down and bang it out; if something else didn't get written, I didn't care.

My son is precocious, as I've explained before. He uses big words, and knows what they mean. He sometimes sounds like he's 8 going on 30. He has picked up one of my (and my husband's) verbal tics: instead of sure, or yes, or OK, often we say "True, True" when we're in agreement. It is a verbal tic, it's one of the weird speech patterns that we have evolved, but it's hilarious to hear it come out of an eight year old's mouth complete with the nod that always accompanies it.

He also asks questions that surprise people. Often they're related to whatever we're discussing while we're eating dinner.

I know having a brother seven years older than he, and a sister who is five years older would have some affect on him. I knew having me as his mother would affect him. I mean, I'm hardly a paragon of virtue-- and often say things I shouldn't say. I've never denied them an explanation-- if my children articulate the question, I will answer it. Often this means they're years ahead of their peers when it comes to comparative religions, sexual health and politics-- the three OMG You Just Didn't! buttons.

In my house: "you can ask me anything" is the truth-- even if I'm not sure where in the hell that question came from.

Knowing this about my kid, I had some expectations of weirdness when I saw his SLP. His former therapist (for Kindergarten and first grade) was a bubbly woman who snickered at everything, and loved the crazy things that would come out of my kids' mouth. I think she didn't take him seriously, but she helped him and loved having him. His new SLP is a tiny woman with a very expressive face and very large, expansive gesticulations when she talks. Talk about night-and-day differences!

After my husband and I sat down she started explaining how he was doing. It was very normal, "he had trouble vocalising this sound, or that one, and so we worked around it." She told us that he had all his sounds, and now we were working on his breath-work. He clenches his shoulders and causes himself to do this weird breathy-stammering thing. A lot of kids do it, and run out of breath while they're talking, so they repeat sounds over and over.

He'll say something like, "I we-we-went to see [our friends] up i-i-in Phoenix this week-week-week-weekend, and we went tubing." It's not stammering, or stuttering, but it sounds a lot like them. But she told us that another year or so of therapy and he'd have it. His sounds, the actual words he uses have all the proper letters in the proper order-- and that was a big one! He didn't have "R's" for awhile, and it was very difficult to understand him if he got excited with all those extra w's in there.

OK, this wasn't so bad, I was enjoying the IEP meeting, and so I asked, "how did he adjust to your methods, versus [his old therapist]? Did he give you any trouble?"

Oh, boy, did I open the flood gates!

No trouble, as such, she explains. He's very smart, uses a lot of "more educated words and phrases" that his peers don't have, and so he gets frustrated when he has to explain to them what he means (most of the speech therapy is done in small groups).

OK, yeah, I've noticed that being the case with his older siblings, I say. I know we use big words, and never talk down to them. If I say something and they don't know what it means, I'll stop, define the word, and go on. We aren't your normal household, after all.

Yes, yes, but that's not all. He's also very honest [this caused a huge "whew" from me, I'll tell you]. So much so that he's vocal and immediate about correcting things that are wrong.

Well, that's good, isn't it? I was confused, and my husband was too.

Of course it is, unless he's in class.

We looked at each other, and back to the therapist.

He raises his hand and he's standing up. "Actually, Mr. Garcia, this-is-this, not that. You're wrong, here and there."

The SLP smiled, snickering. I was instantly embarrassed and started laughing. See, I've seen him "Actually" me before, and my husband and our other kids. We call each other to account when we notice something wrong. Mostly it's "no, Mum, it's actually that, not this" as I've crossed some Pokemon thing or another. Never anything serious, but I've told my kids I'd rather they let me know the truth, even on some thing small as a cartoon.

The SLP said the teacher wasn't very fond of being corrected by an eight year old, as I can well guess. But he never told me, so I had no idea! She worked out an excellent compromise, though: now my son writes down the mistakes, and then shares them with her later. "See, see, he says," she channelled his body language perfectly! "Oh, yes, you're right," she nods, recounting what she told him. "Then I want my sticker! right here!" pointing to her upper chest. "It is OK. It's good that he knows grown-ups make mistakes... that he knows we aren't perfect and infallible. We just have to work on not being so loud about it. Some teachers-- especially male teachers-- they don't handle that very well at all."

I nodded, relieved, and very embarrassed. We explained that we had no idea! That we were shocked, and I was so sorry! But I understood her point, and agreed she'd managed it perfectly well.

"Which brings me to another thing," she folded her hands. Uh oh, I thought.

"He's very smart, and knows so much that his peers don't know. One little boy was really needling him about Sunday School. [Your son] said you didn't go to church, that you didn't agree with, or believe the same way. He was very polite about it, and even said, 'No thanks'. And I tried to move the conversation to something else."

That made me feel some relief. I did teach them to politely say no when pestered about going to church with people, or our lack of Sunday sanctification rituals in some overpriced building.

"But it went on until [your son] finally stopped, put down his crayon and looked the other little boy in the face. He said, Your God is a Figment of Your Imagination."

My eyes were as big as dinner plates.
I was shocked as all hell.
He's only eight years old!

Again the SLP came to the rescue and explained how she turned the conversation with, "Some people believe one thing, and other people believe something else. In this class we respect people's right not to go to church."

She actually had my kid's back! I thanked her most profusely. We both explained that religion and politics are very common topics in our house-- that I'm a political scientist, and have a thing for comparative religions, that we're political activists, so we wouldn't be surprised if she heard other things about faith and belief later on.

We also apologised, explained we'd tried to teach manners. Mostly though we were surprised by both what he said, and her own reaction. While shocked as all hell, she held it together, and I was very glad of that.

We continued out talk, hashed out the rest of the IEP, and she told us she always looked forward to what he'd say next! "I go home from work, and say, 'Honey, you'll never guess what I heard in class today!' " I was very glad she was amused and not angry-- this area is very religious after all.

Now, about that phrase: Your God is a Figment of Your Imagination.
It came from a conversation about why Jesus said such nice things, but those mean christians say such evil things. Why do they still say they believe in God?

When he asked me I was stumped. But by an answer, but by the way he asked me. He said, "You told me Jesus was a good guy, who was nice to people. But these christians, they're not like Papa [what they call my Dad]. They are mean and don't want gay people to get married and have children! That's mean! Jesus wasn't mean! How come they get to say they still believe in God?"

My son, my heathen eight year old kid got it. He gets it! "Love your neighbour as yourself"... he understands that very basic concept, the Golden Rule. He knows that those words mean something, and are important to us in this house-- and how they're discarded by the very same people who claim to love Jesus so much.

So I had told him, "That mean god who hates everyone they hate; that mean god who is cruel and says it's OK for people to starve if they don't agree with those christians; that mean god who supports their wars, and murders and everything that they support; that mean god who says everything evil and awful and cruel and nasty-- he's a figment of their imaginations. They made him up, so they'd feel good about themselves, and could justify being so awful. They are afraid, afraid of change and want to make the world stop. It doesn't, and that scares them more."

Then we talked about how we all justify things; it's easy with kids, you just ask them, "remember when you told me you punched your sister because she fell over your foot? Yeah, that's justification." He understood, nodded and went back to doing whatever he'd been doing.

I never thought, not one time, that he'd repeat that months later to some kid in his class.

It never occurred to me that he actually understood it enough to say it later to someone else! I knew he got it, in context of our conversation-- but to be able to say it, in the right context-- to someone else, later? Never even occurred to me!

He believes that Jesus was a cool dude-- if he was a dude-- otherwise he's a cool story dude. He told me he thinks Zeus hangs out on the clouds, maybe. But he doesn't know, and that's OK. He's more interested in Pokemon, and playing Dungeon Defender or Hoard with me. He'd rather take good care of our kitties, and enjoy our apples than worry about some dude in a church telling him what to do.

He understands that this world, it's home, and it's all we have. He understands that the Golden Rule is a serious thing-- that we really do have to treat people the way we want to be treated. There is no other way.

He understands that some people are deceived-- and deceive themselves because their hearts are full of hatred and they are so afraid. He gets it. Their God is a Figment of Their Imaginations. 

I will keep trying to explain that figment or not, we have to be kind; we don't have to agree, and can vehemently oppose-- but we will be polite about it. I will try not to laugh about it when we discuss it with him but, it doesn't help that it's so fucking funny that he put it that way! I snicker like a madman thinking about it now, a month later!

Kids do say the oddest things. They have an insight we adults lack-- because we have society imposed, polite-filters that prevent us from saying things some times. It's nice to be reminded of such a stark truth-seeing.

I will never tell him not to speak-- I'm just working on the right way to say such a profound thing as he said-- without laughing, of course.


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