When I was 16, I competed in the National Forensic League Tournament in Portland, Oregon. It was a huge deal to compete on a national level, to travel from Saipan, through Japan and descend upon the Portland University campus in a sea of brilliant suit-and-tie nerds who had just finished DEBATE CAMP (yes, all caps because nerds need all caps for attending DEBATE CAMP) prior to competing.
I competed in the Extemporaneous Speech category. I chose a question and then had thirty minutes to prepare a seven minute speech, using all the pre-Google print outs and magazine articles I had gathered back home. We assembled in a large cafeteria, seated at rows of tables with our speech materials in front of us. There were those who had a briefcase of annotated notes and highlighted passages and others had football field-long filing cases with quirky nerd quotes like, “ISIS! ISIS! RA! RA! RA!” HA! Nerds and their Egyptian god jokes! I bet they said to each other, “Don’t be stingy! It’s a papyr-US, not a papyr-YOU!”
I don’t remember the question I chose, only that I didn’t make it past the first round and a large reason is that I was pathetically prepared to compete in a category I only won on Saipan because NO ONE ELSE ENTERED. That is the way to make it to the top, make sure there’s no one else in the ring.
While others had all the copies of World Book Encyclopedia at their disposal, I just had that week’s magazine offering from the airport newsstand. One of the officials roving the crowd asked where my research materials were and I lied that they were probably lost in Japan, stuck in customs somewhere. It was the story I told anyone who eyed my paltry assortment of Time and Newsweek. I lost it in Japan. I had two suitcases and only one arrived. Yeah, you should have seen all the work I did! Maybe those evil Japanese airport workers saw that my monster crate was bound for the jingoistic hub that Portland, Oregon is and wanted to bring America down! U-S-A! U-S-A!
I knew my chances were slim, compared to the Harvard Early Admission hopeful from Virginia who went to DEBATE CAMP for fun when I had just learned that the Hubble Telescope was not located in Marpi.
And this long climb, short slide of an anecdote is to tell you that the panic that filled my chest when entering that speech-prep room is exactly how parenting feels to me, especially this week. I’ve entered this terrordome of people who know way more than I do, who have been parents longer than I have, or who haven’t made all the mistakes I have made.
Tomorrow afternoon, Nathan is going to be evaluated for speech therapy with a woman who sounded so wonderful and understanding, I wanted to hug her through the phone. Nathan’s having difficulty with long sentences. His commands are choppy, like, “Juice, Mom? Get it!” or “Mom, bed!” when he wants me to snuggle with him on the couch. Multi-syllabic words are a struggle. Popsicle becomes “pop-cul.” Elephant is “phant.” I know there are some areas where he can improve along with areas where he is excelling, like numbers and spontaneous counting and letters and impromptu announcements of all the letters he sees. He is also delightful, loves to laugh, hug and kiss and snuggle and balance objects on my head. We read books, keep monsters at bay, flip through flash cards and laugh at funny words.
For the first time I feel l like I’m ready to tackle this and as worried that I am, I know we’re going to see the light at the end of this and Nathan will tell the story.