In my previous posts about toddler language acquisition, I’ve largely talked about my younger child, who is currently aged two-and-a-half. You might think this is because my older child, aged four-and-a-half, has already passed most of the more interesting milestones.

This is the opposite of the truth.

Our oldest son Ciprian has had severe language acquisition delays, for reasons that no one knows. For whatever reason, he never passed the linguistic level of a typical two year old, knowing about two dozen single words, and that’s all. He never progressed to simple two-word sentences, he acquired new words very slowly if at all, and his pronunciation remained idiosyncratic and difficult to understand. This was combined with a variety of difficult behavior issues, such as an obsession with running water (he would turn on the water in the sink and watch it for hours if we’d let him), and self-harming when he was frustrated or angry.

It’s hard to overestimate how frustrating this was. When he wanted something, Ciprian would simply shout "Give give give" over and over, and you would have to guess what he wanted from context. (He also didn’t know how to point to request things, an essential pre-linguistic skill that he never mastered.) If you couldn’t figure it out, then you had to prepare yourself for a bout of screaming and self-harming.

Earlier this year, shortly before his fourth birthday, we said enough was enough and sought help from his pediatrician, and then the child psychologist that she referred us to. Unfortunately, all we got was a bunch of negatives: he isn’t autistic, his hearing is fine, and he isn’t cognitively impaired. The technical term they deployed was just "developmentally delayed", without any suggestion of the reason. This was less than encouraging. Eventually, the best thing we could do was just to enroll him in a preschool to give him more opportunities for stimulation, and talk to the school district about special education. The local district offers pre-K special education for qualifying students, and after their assessment they quickly assigned him a speech therapist and an early childhood specialist.

This was the best thing we’ve ever done for Ciprian.

It’s now six months later. While it would be great to say that things changed overnight, the reality is that we saw only marginal improvements for the first several months. His self-harming behavior decreased and his overall mood improved, but we only saw incremental additions to his vocabulary and no significant breakthroughs in his overall language. That was, until about six weeks ago, when for some reason the floodgates opened.

It feels like his vocabulary has doubled or tripled. He’s added a variety of English and Romanian words, and has started to use them more appropriately, where before he would indiscriminately apply the few words he used to virtually everything, making it very difficult to discern what he actually wanted. He’s become scrupulously polite, always saying "please" and "thank you" when making requests, in both English and Romanian. But most importantly, he’s started actually using sentences. Now, he actually says "I want cookie" when he wants something, and life is good.

His sentences aren’t grammatical yet. For the most part they’re two- and three-word collocations. And there’s still a long ways to go—he isn’t remotely like a normal four-year-old yet, and his little brother is significantly ahead of him. But for the first time in years, it feels like we’re actually getting somewhere.

So what am I thankful for this year? I’m thankful for a fifty-item vocabulary, for two-word sentences, and for my awesome kid Ciprian.

We’ve been sick in my house.

It began with the littlest, who spent one restless night being tormented by vomiting and diarrhea. The next day he seemed to be better, but when the afternoon rolled around we found that our other son had thrown up during his nap, and was curled up shivering on the floor and whimpering. He spent the next several hours being cradled in my arms and vomiting periodically, finally perking up just before bedtime.

Then it was my turn. Just after our kids went to bed I vomited once, then swiftly deteriorated into intense nausea, stomach pain, and headaches. From 11pm to 5am I woke up every half-hour on the nose and emptied my belly into the toilet, though of course my stomach was empty after the first few times, leaving me with dry heaves that felt like my intestines were trying to expel themselves through my mouth. Intermittent diarrhea completed the torment. As of now, late the next day, I’m only partially recovered, having waddled through the daylight hours bearing up under only mild nausea, exhaustion, and a headache.

My poor, long-suffering wife has so far avoided the bug, but she’s suffered two consecutive nights of essentially no sleep taking care of her children and husband. The house is a disaster—it’s amazing what two children under four can do when their parents are too ill or exhausted to stop them. But we just might be finally looking out the other side of this.

So naturally my thoughts turned to thanksgiving.

There’s nothing like a period of sickness to make you suddenly grateful for health. I don’t get sick very often. It is easy for my to consider my hardiness as the natural state of things, and to be proud, somehow, of the resilience of my immune system, as if I had forged it myself out of white blood cells and antibodies. A few days of sickness will teach me humility. It is hard to be proud when you’re clinging to a toilet bowl, reeking of puke and sweat and diarrhea, too miserable to even wish to get better, hoping only to somehow get through the next few minutes. After emerging from an episode like this, the return of health and wholeness can be appreciated for what it is: a gift, a blessing, grace.

I read today the following words over at Fr. Stephen Freeman’s blog:

We see ourselves as the agents of change – or responsible for many of the disasters that litter our lives. Those who “succeed” imagine that they are the masters of their fate, or, perhaps the ones who responsibly “chose” God.

For the weak, the addict, the genetically impaired, the myth of choice and the power of freedom are often experienced as a merciless taunt. We not only fail – it is judged that we fail because we have not willed to succeed. Our weakness becomes a curse, while the blessed enjoy their prosperity and their health.

I am, for the most part, one of the blessed. I have been given a lovely family, a stable job, excellent friends, and a surfeit of other gifts. This bout of illness serves to remind me not to look down on those with fewer gifts, and confuse blessing with merit. I don’t deserve any of this, and it can be taken away, for a few days or forever.

But while I enjoy the gifts that I have, I give thanks.