This time last year we mainly heard grunts from our 2-year-old son as his primary means of communication.

He would grunt for food, sleep, comfort, and play. My husband and I had become so accustomed to the grunting sounds that we quickly developed our own language of sorts. One grunt: “He must want Goldfish.” Two grunts: “He is tired.” A high-pitched grunt: “He is upset.”

It wasn’t until our pediatrician raised his eyebrows at my explanation of our newly formed translation system that I started to realize the depth of the situation.

“What does he call you?” my pediatrician asked.

With a blank stare and a very blank space in my head, I replied, “Nothing.”

I’m not sure if verbalizing that one word “nothing” hurt me the most or the fact that my precious, kind, tender-hearted little boy was not equipped at that moment to meet the statistics chart that defines “normal”.

In fact, we were far from that.

Thoughts plagued my mind: What did I do wrong? How can I help him? Will this ever get better?

We qualified for therapy, which meant twice a month for an entire year I watched a speech therapist visit our home.

She would come with goals in mind and work alongside me to find words and then phrases. The single words were the hardest: dad, cat, dog, etc. These were not easy. In between the therapy days, I spent many mornings praying that the Lord would grant him “words to say” and me the ability to help him.

We started small. One day we spent an entire hour working on the word “dog”.

It is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture when a three letter word starts to feel impossible.

If he struggles with a three letter word, how will he ever go to college?

Parenting can often be a world of extremes. We tend to think a tantrum means delinquency, a missed meal means starvation, and an unmet milestone means failure.

So often we can lose sight of the fact that we are raising children to turn into adults that are all still a work in progress.

The old adage that comparison is the “thief of joy” is every part correct. So often, I let my own insecurities and inward battles take root within my mind.

I have failed because he cannot say the word “dog”.
Did I eat too much pizza while I was pregnant with him?
This has to come from his dad’s side of the family.

I would hone in on children much younger than mine who seemed to have recited Shakespeare overnight.

A newly turned 3-year-old once asked me how my day was going. My inward response: “Great, you cute little overachiever.”

My outward response, “Just fine, thank you.”

Meanwhile, I would sit down hoping the kids staring at my son pounding his chest like a monkey would understand that he didn’t actually believe he was a caged animal, and that three-part grunt was, in fact, a plea for someone to play with him.

I knew the process would not be instant, but I did not know it would be isolating.

I repeatedly found inward encouragement by verses in the Bible that directly address our speech:

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only what is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” -Ephesians 4:29

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”- Psalm 19:14

“My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart shall be understanding,” -Psalm 49:3

God had this. He created my son, He formed him, and He cared. He also wanted him to speak and in time, he would.

There were small steps each day where the grunts seemed to fade and sounds and words would be uttered. Each time I heard something come from his mouth, I praised him and delighted in my own heart that it wasn’t a grunt, but an actual word.

Cheese, yes, pizza (maybe I did eat too much during pregnancy), bird, turtle, etc. These were all coming from his mouth each day. We would be driving in the car and all of a sudden I would hear a faint sound in the backseat: “Look!” or “Dog.”
With new milestones, there was a new word, reassurance that maybe, just maybe, everything would be OK.

It wasn’t until a few months later that we were in a store with my mom that I heard the three-letter word echoing in the quiet crevices of the building.


I looked up to see my brown-eyed boy excitedly wanting to show me something he had found, but clearly using his voice to catch my attention. I’m pretty sure the clouds parted in that very moment and angels everywhere began the Hallelujah Chorus as I knelt down to bear-hug my child for the sweet and tender way he called my name.

Words and phrases now come easily to him. We hear him talk 24/7 and I’m pretty sure his inside voice is actually his outside voice with three megaphones attached, but with each sound that comes from his mouth I give thanks.

Thanks for the therapy that came during a time we needed it the most. Thanks for the countless puzzles, sensory bins, and outdoor play we concocted to prompt him to speak. Thanks for the other moms not judging me when I passed out snacks to my son based on a weird grunting system.

And, thanks to the Lord for listening to a mother’s heart and giving my son the three-letter word I longed to hear for so long.

This post originally appeared on the author’s blog.

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Emily Reed

Emily Reed is a stay-at-home mom to two small children. After previously working in the newspaper industry, she now freelances for several publications.