This is the story of my daughter’s first lemonade stand, which she set up at a church garage sale in September 2012 to raise money for the Walk for Children With Apraxia of Speech. I share it today on Apraxia Awareness Day.
A six-year-old girl stands next to a big blue jug set atop a short, squat table. A stack of cups and a money jar sit alongside. This is her first lemonade stand—a childhood rite of passage—and she’s been planning it for months. She says her sales pitch to each grown-up that walks past. Some buy. Others don’t. But no matter what, she smiles brightly.
She is turning metaphorical lemons into literal lemonade. She is happy, and I am proud. Let me tell you about her.
Her name is Anna. You can’t tell it now unless you look closely, but she was born with a cleft lip. Her lip was surgically repaired at four months of age, and she has grown into a beautiful and vibrant first-grader.
I’m her dad so I’m a bit biased. But if you met her, you’d agree. She’s not a kid you can easily ignore, even if you don’t understand her at first.
You see, her cleft isn’t the only obstacle she’s had to overcome. At two-and-a-half, she was diagnosed with childhood apraxia of speech, a motor-speech disorder that leaves her tongue struggling to keep up with her rapid-fire thoughts.
But God can’t make lemonade without lemons. And today Anna is sharing some.
“Lemonade for apraxia!”
It was shortly after Anna’s second birthday that we first suspected something was wrong. My wife Julia and I had taken Anna to our local Gymboree studio for open gym. We were watching her play with some other kids about her age when a little voice caught our ears.
“Help please, mommy.”
We turned to see a small boy struggling to climb up the ladder behind Anna. His mom leaned down and gave him a boost.
“Thank you,” he said as he climbed the rest of the way up the play structure set in the center of the multi-colored classroom.
“He’s a beautiful little boy,” Julia said.
“Thank you,” his mom replied.
“How old is he?”
The words hit us hard, like the play structure had collapsed on our heads. At eighteen months, his speech was clear and fluent. Anna was seven months older, and we couldn’t understand her.
She’s always been smart. She knew what she wanted to say and she tried to communicate, but we only understood her about a tenth of the time. Mostly she babbled to herself or her toys, but every so often she would ask us for something, and we had no idea what she wanted.
Anna stood in the middle of our living room, waiting for a response. We looked at each other, puzzled.
“What’s that, honey?” Julia asked.
“I have no idea,” I said.
She made the sign for eat, putting her hand up to her mouth.
“Eat,” Julia said. “Eat what?”
“Oobie?” I asked.
“No,” Anna replied. Her “no” was unmistakable. “Nah oobie, oobie.”
Anna folded her arms in frustration. It was hard not to laugh, but at the same time I felt so bad for her.
“It’s something she wants to eat,” Julia said.
Anna nodded. “Oobie.”
“So it’s food, two syllables?”
“Great,” I said. “We’re playing charades with a two year old.”
“You’re not helping.”
Anna put her hands on her hips. “Oobie ees.” The hands on her hips were even cuter than the folded arms.
“Oo – bie – ees?” Julia sounded out the words, grasping at each syllable as it passed over her lips.
I joined her. “Oo – bie – ees.”
Over and over we both said it. “Oo . . . bie . . . ees.” Then it hit me.
Anna smiled and nodded again. “Oobie ees.
Anna was happy to get the cookie but clearly frustrated. So were we. She was smart; she understood us, yet she couldn’t get the words out.
And as strange as it sounds, Anna’s cleft was a blessing. Without it, her speech disorder might have gone undiagnosed for another year or more. But a routine visit with her cleft-lip-and-palate team gave us the answer.
Childhood apraxia of speech.
She began therapy right after her third birthday. When she started, her speech was mostly unintelligible, but in the first year, she made tremendous strides. By the time she turned four, she spoke clearly enough to order for herself in restaurants, communicate with her preschool teachers, and socialize with other kids her age.
So in the cleft, God gave us a lemon, and through the apraxia diagnosis, he turned it into lemonade. As he told the Prophet Isaiah, “my ways are not your ways, and my thoughts are not your thoughts.”
Or to put it another way, he is truly “a God of surprises.”
And now, almost four years later, it’s Anna chance to help other kids. To do for them what God did for her, and turn their lemons into lemonade.
“Lemonade for apraxia!”
Her outgoing personality and her beaming smile are hard to resist. We had her set up her lemonade next to the cash table at our church’s rummage sale. As she chats with the people in line to pay, she wins more and more customers.
“Lemonade is a little sour on my tummy,” an older lady says. “But can I make a donation anyway?”
“Sure!” Anna replies. Another dollar goes in the jar.
This is our second year participating in the Walk for Children with Apraxia of Speech. Across the country, families and friends of “apraxia kids” participate in 5K walks to raise money to train therapists and provide assistive technology to help children communicate. Anna doesn’t understand the details, but she knows she’s helping kids just like her. She likes that, almost as much as she likes selling lemonade.
“That does look delicious,” a young woman says as she walks up with a baby carrier on her chest and several sets of kids’ clothes in her arms. She turns to the two older kids next to her. “Do you want some?”
One boy about Anna’s age and a girl maybe two years older both nod.
She hands a twenty to Julia, who’s taking a turn with me at the cash table, and out of the change hands a dollar to each kid. They pay Anna and each take a cup.
“You’re welcome.” Anna hands the woman an information sheet. “And this is about Team Anna.” That’s the name of our Apraxia Walk team, of course.
“Wow,” she says. “And you’re Anna?”
“Was this your idea to sell lemonade?”
She smiles and nods.
“Well in that case, I think I’ll take one too.”
One more cup of lemonade, one more dollar in the jar, and Anna returns to her sales pitch, ready for her next customer.
“Lemonade for apraxia!”
Turning lemons into lemonade, for kids just like her.
For information on apraxia, and to find out how you can help kids like Anna, please visit The Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association of North America (CASANA) online at Apraxia-KIDS.org.