On the screen my son, Arthur, holds up a Hot Wheels car and welcomes viewers to his YouTube channel. Just an hour before, I dropped him for the week at his father’s. The video is evidence that Arthur’s happy to be there. He speaks fluidly to the camera.
“Welcome back to Speed Wheels where I talk about Hot Wheels cars and sets. Today I’m going to talk about the Transport Collection.”
“Well,” his father speaks offscreen.
Arthur’s gaze lifts.
“Why don’t you talk about the color shifters you just got?”
“Oh, that’s a good idea.”
The kid’s always been generous.
He looks back at his audience.
“. . .”
His jaw moves. He keeps his lips closed—a trick that worked for a couple of months a few years ago. But his chin quivers and soon the trembling pulls his lips apart.
I can see his tongue working inside his mouth. You’re not supposed to mention the stutter to the person who stutters. But I’ve discouraged the practice of pushing his tongue right out of his mouth to move past the stutter. I’ve told him that everyone knows that some people stutter. The tongue just confuses them.
On screen, air squeaks past the stranglehold of Arthur’s vocal cords. A loud exhale. My own shoulders relax.
He takes another breath and goes right back in, “. . .”
I hold my breath.
“. . . Okay.”
Another loud exhale, followed by a huge inhale that fills his chest to his shoulders.
“. . . I, I, I, I will . . . a . . . a . . . a . . . . . also talk about color sh, sh, sh, color sh, sh, sh, color shifters. Because I just got a new set. Which is cool. Ya.”
“You could tell them which set.”
” . . . “
Desperate to make it stop, I close the computer lid.
My custody schedule is one week on–one week off, with Sunday dinner. So after dinner on Sunday, I take Arthur to the couch for a cuddle.
“I saw your video.”
Tears melt slowly over the rims of his eyes. He swipes at them with the heel of his hand. I pull him in tighter and coo.
“Ya, let it out.”
“I’ve told him!”
He pulls away to look at me. His face furious, he pounds his knee for emphasis.
“I. HAVE. TOLD. HIM!”
“I know, honey. I’m sorry it keeps happening.”
“They’re my videos!”
“Ya. C’mere.” I pull him back in.
After a while, he says quietly, “Can you talk to him?”
Frustration filling the space where my lungs should be. “I’ll try.”
Hi. I wanted to . . .
Hi. Listen, about Arthur’s video . . .
Listen, about Arthur’s stutter . . .
Listen, can I . . .
Hi. Can I say something about Arthur’s stutter . . .
Hey listen, I wanted to talk to you about
Arthur’s stutter. I noticed in the video
that you spoke up a couple of times.
And I thought your ideas were good. But,
given that no one besides our families will
ever see these videos, they’re a great time
to just let him talk and negotiate the stutter
under a bit of self-imposed pressure, you
know? It’s a good time to give him space
to talk. Hope that makes sense.
I don’t need to be told how to handle Arthur’s
stutter, as if you know better than I do.
You can’t tell me how to handle myself
in my own house. I didn’t hurt
his feelings, I was trying to help him
make a better video.
I see that texting about the video
was an error in judgement on my part.
Stutter’s bad today.
The child bursts through the door, greeting the toys he’s missed for the days he was at his dad’s. In my doorway stands his father, a leather jacket that will never see even the back of a motorcycle.
“The stutter’s been bad.”
I do not need telling.
“He said you’ve been practicing the strategies from speech therapy.”
He rubs the back of his thinning hair, squints his eyes like he’s concentrating. “Remind me of a few?”
His rain-or-shine self-righteousness sends a familiar cold vacuum through my head and chest. In that tundra, I calculate. I cannot defend myself and protect Arthur too.
“Just play a game using simple phrases. ‘My monster is red.’ ‘My monster is bald.’ So he can keep it smooth.”
“And model speaking slowly.”
Arthur charges into me, wraps his arms around my hips and buries his face in my belly.
He looks up, “Did you talk to him?”
Acid spills into me. “Yes, I did.”
Arms wrapped around me still, Arthur turns to his father, “Mum. . . Mum. . . Mummy says she c, c, c, couldn’t even watch that video we. . . s, s, s, sent.”
Now he’s said too much.
I don’t know what you told Arthur
but I’d appreciate it if you did not talk
to him about your opinions of me.
I have my own relationship with him.
I do not need your voice in his head.
I hold the button on the side of my phone and then slide my finger across the top to turn it off. It needs to charge.