As a step-parent I feel helpless. No not in the same sense referred to by most parents when they watch their child suffering and recovering from an ailment under their care. No instead I spectate the injustice, mistreatment, and neglect of a toddler from states away and I am not warranted an opinion or input. When he is suffering from a hacking cough at the age of three for literally months at a time from states away, I have no power to will him to a doctor. He has to wait the three to four months before he flies to us before the doctor will diagnose and treat the now serious infection and we stand by as he suffers through the recovery so we can quickly return him to the care of his mom where he promptly relapses. When we receive the phone call that B has had another seizure and yet again she will only listen to the reasoning of her paramedic friend who waves it off as stress, I am helpless. And then there is his speech…
It was two summers ago and little B was only three years old. His speech was only just starting to really develop and was completely unclear. My brother Chase looked at me with great concern, “you really should get his ears checked.” I nodded to him and said “yes, I’ve suggested similar, but he seems to respond when I speak softly so I may just wait until the next visit to really take this seriously”. Chase’s concern was one of personal experience. When he was young we had our own special language as no other person could understand a word he was saying, when we took him to the doctor for an ear infection at three they found that he in fact had a mass blocking the passages of his ears. After a quick operation, and a few weeks of looking like Frankenstein with dark black stitches protruding from his now bald areas around his ears, he could suddenly speak clearly.
After the next visit B seemed to experience no real improvement. My specialty as a teacher was not speech therapy, though we did review a few exercises in a class or two in college. I was struggling to discover the source of his stunted development, I could not place if it was a lack in focus since he was unable to maintain eye contact or if it was his hearing. He seemed to respond when I stood behind him and spoke softly, but all the same when I spoke to him I utilized ASL along with my speech. In our short times I would try to teach him terms and words with his hands so until he did have regular assistance with his speech he could more easily communicate with at least me. I spoke to him with hard consonants so he could maybe hear the sounds he was missing. I would have him repeat everything back to me at least once so he had practice. At the end of that visit (and each visit after that) I would send his mom an email or two to urge her to place him into a speech therapy program and to get his hearing checked by a doctor. The emails of course received no real response aside from “Thx”. I would ask Josh to talk to her (since I’m the “whore” that she resents) and ask him to reach out to her. He would nod, but then nothing would come out of it. Of course anytime Josh does talk to her she loves to lavishly brag about her kind words she says to me, that she responds to my emails with much appreciation and gratitude of my efforts and choosing to really love our B.
Each time when B returned and no speech classes had been instilled I would grow frustrated which would be quickly shut down by Josh, he didn’t want the fight. Finally when B was put into preschool the school system forced him into a speech class. It has almost been 7 months in speech therapy and when we speak to him I still cannot understand a word he says. I hear absolutely no improvement. About a week ago I mentioned this to Josh as caring and sincerely as I could. I told him I didn’t understand what the block was, that there should be some improvement by now, there has to be something more. Instead of understanding my concern he read into it only criticism of his son’s intelligence and again quickly shut me down. He didn’t want the fight.
Last night it finally happened. The urging, the begging, the pleading, it all resulted in a late night Sunday text message from B’s mom. “They checked B’s ears, they think he has an infection effecting his hearing, he needs to see a specialist.” Should it really have taken until he was 5 and half and already in school to have figured this out? I know I should have been relieved but I just really wanted to break down and cry for him. That is 5 years that he couldn’t understand, 5 years that he has missed out, and lost speech development. More importantly that’s an unmeasurable amount of time that he was let to suffer from an infection. That is 5 and a half years B and I had only the power to watch nothing be done about any of it. I told Josh how frustrated I was, and he of course again shot me down “I didn’t tell you because I wanted a fight, I just thought you had the right to know.”
I don’t want a fight, I only want someone to listen. I can’t help, I have no power, and the least I ask is the ability to let it out instead of allowing it to eat at me day in a day out. As a step-parent I feel helpless.