A Christmas Eve Lesson on Cows, Speech, and Love

And the cows said, “MOO!”
The sheep said, “BAA!”
The chickens said: “Cluck!”

Charlotte could have chimed in with the cows shouting, “MOO!”
But that’s where her animal sounds end.

As she stood on the pew watching the Christmas Eve pageant with the children telling the story of Jesus’ birth, I thought: She could be up there.

She goes to Sunday school with the preschool class, those 3 and 4 year olds dressed as stable animals for the pageant. She loves animals. She loves music, too. And dressing up. So often she’s the center of attention with her outgoing and joyous personality. But she wasn’t up front with the other children. She didn’t wear a cute animal costume with ears and a tail. She didn’t shout animal sounds. She didn’t sing.

Instead, on Christmas Eve during the children’s pageant, she was watching. Full of awe and excitement. If she was in the pageant she could have yelled, “MOO,” and then she’d be done. She can’t say any more words or animal sounds. At least that are discernable for the most part. She doesn't’ talk in full sentences or sing.

These days I don’t stay awake stressing over my daughter’s speech delay. I am faced with it everyday and it’s never far from my mind, but I don’t dwell on it.

At least not anymore.

I know there are experiences that she won't have yet. I know our trajectory to speech and understanding will go in different directions. I know I have to do a lot of translating for others regarding my daughter’s wants and needs. Still, when I saw all her pre-school-aged friends walking to the front and singing their hearts out on Christmas Eve, a part of my heart felt sad. And not necessarily for Charlotte who cheered and beamed throughout the whole program. Not for Charlotte who clearly was communicating the heart of the night through her joy and awe. But more for me, her mama who still needs the reminders that her daughter works on her own schedule. That her daughter is and will have to continue to work harder at speaking repeating sounds over and over and learning how to form her mouth to speak. But lest I feel too sad, I turn to look at my daughter.

Throughout the Christmas Eve service she grabs for her brother embracing him in a hug. She wraps him in her arms. She kisses him softly. On Christmas Eve in front of us a group of children were telling us the Christmas story, they were sharing about love coming down, of Jesus being born. In my sadness at not seeing my daughter a part of the chorus of kids telling the story, I almost missed her demonstrating that same story - love coming down. Love reaching out for us and for the world.

The arms of love wrapping around a baby.

Maybe next year Charlotte will be able to say more than “MOO” for the Christmas program. But maybe not. If I’m learning anything at all through my daughter’s speech delay and time in therapy it’s that you can’t measure her progress in time. It’s measured in small steps taken every day. Over and over again. Next year her brother will be more mobile. He’ll be able to free himself from her hugs and kisses. But I trust that he and I will still know the power in her unspoken words, the power of outstretched arms embracing us in love.