Putting on the brakes

Today’s post on The Power of Patience is by Power of Moms author, Catherine Keddington Arveseth. 

Last night I was driving down Parley’s Canyon at a pretty good clip. All three lanes were dotted with traffic and moving at a steady pace. The immense darkness on both sides of the interstate, kept me focused on my two white lines and the distance of the car ahead of me.

Suddenly, a wave of brake lights sparked on in front of me. Every car, barreling west on I-80, was forced to slow down until we had been corralled into what looked like a sea of glowing red embers where three flashing arrows indicated we were to merge into two lanes… and then one.

It was the perfect visual for what has happened to my family over the last week. 

Two months ago I noticed that both my twin boys (age 2 1/2) were beginning to stutter. I figured it was probably normal. They were going through a verbal explosion, acquiring new words by the week, and I assumed their mouths were simply struggling to catch up. I watched and listened, hoping it was something they would outgrow. But last week, after talking to a friend familiar with stuttering and doing some research on my own, I realized theirs is a true stutter that needs intervention, and the earlier the better.

I won’t go into the angst I’ve felt, or the guilt I’ve had to process, that maybe their stuttering is a product of my mothering or the dynamics of our family. But I did learn that the home environment and the pace at which a family moves are significant contributing factors.

We have five children, including two sets of twins. All five were born in the short span of four years. I don’t go very many places with my children for logistical reasons. But our home is, without a doubt, chaotic. As much as I’ve tried to instill routines and abide a good schedule, we’re hustling much of the time just trying to prepare meals, feed, clothe, and bathe everyone, get children to school or lessons on time, read and do homework. And of course, there are the daily disasters to clean up. When my husband is home, it’s much more manageable, but during certain seasons of the year (like tax season) his profession requires him to work late nights. So with some imagination, you can guess our playroom, dinner table, and couch (especially during story-time) are loud places where each child seeks my attention, wants to sit on my lap, takes their small hands to turn my face towards theirs. They want to be heard – all five of them, and often at the same time.

It is no surprise my boys have developed a stutter.

The first thing we were told to do was slow down. Slow our life right down and give our boys plenty of white space to just be. This means if we’re running late, were going to be late. And we’re not going to worry about it. It means giving ourselves wider margins when we have somewhere to go and I have five children to buckle into seats. It means creating a calmer atmosphere at home by speaking slower and softer. It means leaving the dishes in the sink when my boys are trying to talk to me and they need my eyes. It means moving through the evening without getting irritable when it’s past bedtime and my girls are jumping on the couch and someone has smeared toothpaste all over the bathroom floor. It means spending more one-on-one time with each boy – a rare occurrence with twins. It means giving them more physical closeness, choosing to do less, and training everyone in our family, even their sisters, to not interrupt when the boys talk but to give them our full attention. In effect, I feel like the brake lights have been slammed on and it’s now my job to blow the roof off our habits and stop rushing, even if I am the only one asked to merge and the rest of the traffic is going to keep trucking on by.

So I’ve been experimenting over the last week and it’s been interesting. As I’ve come out of myself and set aside my agenda for the progress of my boys, I’ve discovered a place of patient living I haven’t been able to access in recent months. I’ve found a well I didn’t know was there – an ability to do something difficult while flowing at a more organic pace. With new motivation, and some prayerful pleading, I am finding it easier to be softer, gentler, and more attentive.

You might think I’ve felt unproductive. But I haven’t. I’ve actually felt empowered. I’m still getting the major things on my list done, but it’s as if choosing to slow down has somehow stretched out time, giving me space to take care of the things that really matter.

There’s a lot to be learned down there, at my boys’ level, as I crouch low and listen to them speak. I look into their brown eyes and watch their lips work words, wrangle words, repeat words. Only to discover it is connecting us, tying us together in a tighter way, as we peel off the layers of living that do not matter.

It took my boys stuttering to realize that each of my children need this kind of attention and kindness. And I can’t help but wonder, what else is happening to our children (that we can’t see or hear) because our lives are too hurried? What’s going on in their hearts and minds when we are too rushed to listen, to distracted to talk gently? It’s not that we don’t love them, but maybe that’s the message we’re sending when we’re too concerned about keeping up, doing more, or squeezing in one more errand. Of course we want to expose our children to every sport, instrument, or art form, but at what expense? What is happening to all that precious white space we are given at the beginning of each day?

This recent putting on the brakes has me thinking that maybe families everywhere could benefit from slowing down and rushing less. A patient, unhurried home can be like a fertile field in which children can grow at their own pace. A patch of dirt wide enough to allow for any mistake. A place of nurturing where every child knows with confidence that they belong, they are loved, and they are heard.

QUESTION: Do you use preserve enough “white space” in your day to avoid feeling hurried and harried? Do you know what’s going on in the minds and hearts of your children?

CHALLENGE: Find some ways to cut back, slow down, and put on the brakes in your home to create more time for the nurturing and listening that every family member (including mom!) needs.

8 comments

  1. Michelle L.

    Thanks for a thoughtful, inspiring post, Catherine. I think my teenagers crave white space as much as your toddlers. I’ll be thinking about your words for a long time.

  2. Jana B.

    I really enjoyed this post, Catherine. Though my greatest desire is for my children to have a beautiful childhood, I find the “pulls” of society to be very great at times. So many other children are excelling at sports, music, and dance – and all by age 7! I want my children to be successful, too, but at the same time allow them the childhood they desire and deserve. I remember spending hours as a child just exploring the world and letting my imagination run wild (and not being hurried through that process). I now have a 7-year-old boy who has some struggles of his own, and your post was a great reminder that my slowing down could be one of the greatest blessings he receives. Thank you.

  3. Hotrace P. Bogardis

    Please know that stuttering runs in families. In 2010, researchers for the first time identified “stuttering genes” which account for 9% of the cases of stuttering. It is probable that soon the majority of the cases of stuttering will have a proven genetic link.

    The list of “Famous People Who Stutter” on the website of the Stuttering Foundation (www.stutteringhelp.org) lists famous people who stutter or have stuttered in the past. Some of these big names have family members who have stuttered, too, such as Sophie Gustafson, Dominick Dunne, John Gregory Dunne, Ertic Roberts, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, Emily Blunt, Garteh Gates, and many more.

    The website of this nonprofit organization also offers a slew of free resources for children who stutter. The streaming videos are especially good. The toll-free helpline is 800-992-9392.

    The most important thing is that a child get in front of a speech therapist immediatel;y when the stuttering starts. Early intervention with a speech therapists greatly increases a child’s chance of being among the 75% of kids who stutter who grow out of it.

  4. angie f

    I don’t have any twins, but I do have five children and they all desperately need the wide margins, the white space you talk about. We had a very bad Fall as a result of insufficient margins and we’re still trying to pull back from it. As a mother, with so much to be done combined with my very introvert personality where I need my own margins, I often find the hardest thing to do is to be present, to be really present for my children. It’s what they need most and sometimes what sucks the living air right out of me. I’m pretty good at saying no to a lot of things. I’m not raising the next Derek Jeter or Ronaldinho or Yo-Yo Ma and that’s okay. I need to be better at saying yes to people, to my beautiful little people. That requires a lot of slowing down, of purposeful thinking, of margins of my own. Thank you.

  5. Anne Marie

    This is absolutely beautiful writing, Cath. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences here. You have such a wise, loving mama heart. Those 5 little ones are so lucky to have you. Slowing down in our times seems to only happen if it is a deliberate choice. Your boys will be so blessed with the time and space you’re giving them.

  6. Doreen Lenz Holte

    Hi Catherine — I also have twins (now 20) and a 15-year old who stutters. I so enjoyed reading your post! You sound like an amazing mom…in quantity and quality! I have written a book called “Voice Unearthed: Hope, Help, and a Wake-Up Call for the Parents of Children Who Stutter.” It is available on Amazon and as an e-book, but I’m more about readership than selling books and would love to gift you a copy if you would send me your mailing address. You can send it to voiceunearted@gmail.com. You can also go to http://www.voiceunearthed.com and http://www.voiceunearthed.blogspot.com to learn more. The book is short and to the point and many busy moms (and speech therapists) have thanked me for that! Best to you and your crew — enjoy, they grow up way too fast — and it sounds like you’re doing just that!
    Doreen (Dori) Lenz Holte

  7. Monica

    That was so wonderfully written, we sure need more white space. This crazy, hurried world is killing both people, relationships and society. When I had my 8th child at age 44 I learned this great lesson that I had to slow down, and a lot, to be able to be the mother that he ought to have. I was so tired and too old for a baby and to be able to not be too stressed and loosing my temper aso I really cut out most of my “musts”. It´s amazing how much “musts” you, and the family, can do without! I think we can use Martha and Mary in this situation too, sure there are things that needs to be done in a household, but they can and have to wait. I don´t think I did any dusting for a whole year at that time and believe or not, we susvivied! And that won´t last forever, soon enough they will be big enough for you to be able to have a nice and clean house again. For every thing there is a season. Thank you so much for sharing this wisdom, I think you are both marwelouse people!

  8. Emily

    Hello Catherine! There is a great book (and a great author) called “The Majesty of Calmness” by William George Jordan. And since you a reader I would also recommend “Learning All The Time” by John Holt. I have four little ones. They really are learning all of the time and by being repsectful of that I learned a lot as well! Thank you for your posts and articles, I have enjoyed reading them.

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