Signs, signs, everywhere signs…

For this today’s post, I took the lead from my friend over at Zazlandia. She has been posting weekly prompts, sort of like a picture a day prompts or the word of the year resolutions prompts, to help get your creative juices flowing. This weeks prompt is sign. A street sign popped into my head first, then a saying sign and I thought, let’s go deeper here lady.

Having a child with difficulty speaking, my next thought was about American Sign Language. Being an occupational therapist (OT,) I know “survival” signs, like, eat, drink, more, stop, go, walk, ball, potty and now. As a first time mom, I was amazed at how my oldest daughter took to baby signs early on and I think it helped with the frustration of learning to talk. As the big sister, she of course tried to speak for her new little brother when the time came but his response? Learn to talk early. My next child used her facial expressions like a champ and used those quite effectively until one day full sentences just came out. The funny thing is, being a mom of four and a professional working with developmental disabilities, still did not help me to see the signs that my youngest was struggling with speech and language development. You see, it was all going along swimmingly and then one day it was not, only I did not see it. It is only in looking back in pictures that I can can recognize it still. It was not until I had a developmental language chart right in front of my face, projected larger than life, at a conference surrounded by speech language pathologists, that it hit me. Only then did I go looking for signs and sure enough they were there.

It was then that I realized that a lot of what my son was doing, the things that got him into trouble, were his way of communicating, without words. Instead of asking for help in anyway, he would figure something out himself… like how to use a screwdriver to change batteries at just over two years old. Thinking back, there have been so many times when I have seen a person’s actions be a sign of what they are thinking… The way a backpack gets dropped on the floor after school, the way keys are put on the counter after work, the way a door closes, a sideways glance, a sneer… To even more abstract behaviors like handing your mom your shoes… and then her shoes.. when she keeps talking and it is the end of a long evaluation and you want to let her know you really are ready to go. That little gesture was both a sign for the moment as well as a sign to that mom about how truly smart her son was, even when autism forced words to elude him.

My mind wandered to how much progress my son had made and how as an OT I had been taught to look for and measure signs of progress and change. Let me tell you, sometimes, change is really hard to see. Like looking for spring, you have to look for really small signs. Once you see them, it’s hard to miss them again but you have to first stop and look and recognize. Are coats getting hung up without asking? Is homework and practice time no longer a struggle? Did bath time go off without a fuss? Is the sock pile finally sorted? (Like that is even possible!) Are you checking things off your to do list? So many little signs to see.

And then there are signs of love… An unexpected hug or kiss or gentle touch, a kind, unexpected word or smile. These simple signs bring joy so easily and are so easy to give. Then there are hidden signs of love, with words unspoken so that feelings aren’t hurt, so that support can be felt even though there might be pain, as well as signs from God. These are the signs that we ask for. search for but that we often struggle to see.  I think these hidden signs of love from God and family are the most difficult to see, until they hit you square in the jaw or the heart or for me, the knee.

I had just gotten engaged and had less than a year to plan. I was living away from home and the budget was generous but tight.  On my daily commute, I drove 45 minutes one way, through the middle of scenic nowhere.  I love nature and truly enjoyed the commute in the summer and fall, but it was winter so there was simply a lot of snow.  Mounded snow, dirty snow, slushy snow, blowing and drifting snow… you get the idea but speeding back and forth I went, blissfully unaware. Then, within a two week span, I hydroplaned on black ice, missing a tree and a ditch by inches, was stopped by a rafter of wild turkeys crossing the road (seriously. 50 turkeys walking, slow as they liked, never minding my horn) and finally I was pulled over for rolling through a stop sign (though I will tell you to this day, I had a full 5 second stop!), when NO ONE was even within viewing distance, including that generous police officer (who only gave me a warning to be safe.)  Never mind those signs.  A week later, I got the message I had failed to recognize.  After nearly 25 years of playing soccer, I tore a ligament in my knee.  I shredded it to smithereens the doctor told me.  Surgery and recovery would FORCE me to slow down for the next 3 months.  It was then, with the calm of my mind, with minimal distractions from work and life, did I see those signs.

It happened again as a Mom, not too long ago. I had applied for a promotion that meant more travel, more hours, more responsibility and more money. It was a great opportunity. I had been working part time for 3 years and it would mean full time hours again.  I am happy to say I was offered the job but needed to consider it  (and confirm it with my family) because it would mean a big change. Seemed fair right?  My family all agreed that if I could finish out the summer as things were and start a couple of weeks later that it we could make it work as a family, despite the change. That short time would give me a chance to make sure they were taken care of and things were in place. I spoke with the manager the next day and let her know of this requirement and she said it was start today or pass, no flexibility. My heart was smashed. I had no flexibility either. I could not make plans for travel and leave my family to fend for themselves. It was the middle of summer and all I had was an as needed babysitter. No matter how I sliced it, we had to agree it could be nothing but a pass then. I couldn’t believe how quickly it had come and gone.

Quietly crying in my room, I heard a light knock at the door.  My oldest daughter entered and asked if I was okay.  I explained that the job was not going to work out.  She sat down on the bed next to me and then, from nowhere, my oldest daughter gave me the sign I needed in the words she uttered next.  She said, ” I am sorry you didn’t get the job Mom. But thank you for choosing us over work.”

These moments, these signs are so fleeting and hard to see sometimes.  Change happens so quickly and yet happens painfully slowly as well.  But just like with road signs located in scenic no where, you will find them.  The signs will let you know if you are headed in the right direction, if only you are willing to open your eyes and look.

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