My five year-old daughter has a lisp.
Not an in-your-face, over-the-top Sylvester the Cat “Suffering Succotash’” sort of thing. But a fairly straight forward, middle-of-the-road inter-dental lisp.
Last Fall, we took her to see a speech therapist to work on it. And even though I knew that the therapy would prove helpful, I secretly dreaded going. In my mind, you see, the lisp was a stigma. It was something that set her apart from the other kids and made her more difficult to understand. And so I approached the topic of speech therapy with her very delicately, afraid that she’d be ashamed to tell her friends at school why she needed to leave early every Monday afternoon.
Boy was I off base.
Not only did my daughter love going to speech therapy every week, it became a tremendous source of pride for her. She loved having a challenge that she could clearly identify and then – with a bit of elbow grease – overcome. She poured over the exercises the speech therapist sent home. As the weeks wore on, she mastered “ch” then “sh” then “zh” then “j.” And while we never quite fully nailed the “s,” the therapist is confident that with the progress she’s shown so far, if we wait a little while and come back to it, she’ll master that as well.
So we put it aside, a bit wiser for the wear.
Fast forward to this summer when we watched not one, but two movies back to back in which a major character has a lisp. The first was The Music Man, a film whose praises I believe I’ve sung before. In this movie, the character of Winthrop – played by a very young Ron Howard (of Opie and then Richie and now Famous Director fame) – is so stymied by his own lisp that he barely speaks to anyone outside his family. (Take a look at Howard and co-star Robert Preston singing Gary, Indiana.) My daughter was so taken with this film that she began requesting that I sing “Wells Fargo Wagon” every night before she went to bed, just so she could sing the part where Winthrop lisps.
Then we went to see Night At The Museum: Battle At The Smithsonian. Here, one of the lead adult characters – Kamunrah (played by a hysterically funny Hank Azaria) – has a lisp. This really caught my daughter’s attention. Half way through the movie she leaned over and whispered: “He’s a grown up and he has a lisp!” Following her lead (because I’d learned a thing or two by now), I answered, “Yes, he does! Lots of grown ups have lisps.” She was positively enchanted. The next morning she took out all of her “s” work from her speech therapy folder and insisted that we begin working on it again.
This experience was instructive for me on so many levels. First, it reminded me that – as with so many things – we end up learning so much more from our children than they do from us. For me, the lisp was a weakness to conceal. For her, it became a source of empowerment.
Second, it also reminded me that one of the hardest things to learn as a parent is how not to burden your children with your own issues.
Finally, I got to re-memorize the lyrics to “Wells Fargo Wagon.” Imagine my delight!
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Image: Wells, Fargo Wagon by ViperWD via Flickr under a Creative Commons License