I started talking at a very early age. My sister, just fourteen months older than I, was not as early a talker, but her diction was perfect. Mom always said Jeannie never spoke until she could use full sentences. Not me! I was jabbering away and blissfully unaware that I was talking with a lisp. OK, so I’m not really sure at what age I developed the lisp, but I do know that when I was in elementary school, I had to go to the “speech” class several times per week.
I recall the speech therapist or teacher or whatever she was very patiently instructing me on the correct placement of the tongue, BEHIND the closed teeth rather that protruding slightly THROUGH the teeth when attempting to make the “S” sound. In front of the mirror I practiced and honestly, though I achieved the desired effect, I could never actually discern the difference myself. So, week in and week out, I lisped happily through my days and visited the speech lady as directed, and NEVER changed.
My lisp and I grew up and, in fact, I was in good company, for all of my four brothers parroted my speech patterns, rather than those of my clear speaking sister. As with all things democratic, majority rules, so, though we were wrong, we felt “good” about it!
In the process of the maturation of my lisp we moved to England and then back to the states. I acquired a British accent while living in the UK, but I did not let it interfere with THE LISP. Upon our return to the states, not particularly thrilled with being called “English Muffin” by the other kids, I spent after school hours practicing in front of the mirror…losing the British lisp for the American one.
About this time, my youngest brother, now in elementary school, now subjected to the speech classes, found out he had a lisp and very quickly rid himself of it. Hmmmm. The democracy was changing before our very eyes. Now the five pro lisp vs. one anti lisp had shifted to four to two. Never mind, what did they know?
One day, at age 15, I was visiting a friend with whom I had become chums in England and who now also lived in the US. Typical teenagers of that time, we had the records playing and we were singing along. I was in heaven…right up until my friend Linda said, “Judy, you know if you ever want to sing professionally, you’re going to have to get rid of that lisp.”
Well, I was shocked! This was the first time that I BELIEVED anyone could hear that lisp. Ten or more years of adults sending me to speech class had made no impression on me, but a simple statement from my friend made me a believer. Thankfully, though I had not rid myself of the lisp through the speech classes, I had learned HOW to do so.
The next day my family left on vacation to Florida. On the drive down, I corrected myself every time I lisped. I drove my family mad correcting myself. And I successfully changed the lisper demographics of the Fletcher children as we became a three-to-three ratio.
A lesson I learned from this, and one I tried to remember when raising my own children, is that my own imperfections can be pointed out to me by many and yet, I will not see them. But when a person I thought of as my peer pointed out the very same thing, I listened. I also learned that educating the person who does not accept the precedent for that education can still be very worthwhile. One day, when the light bulb goes on, those lessons kick right in.