How Do I Sound?
Six pounds and twelve ounces, my beautiful new bundle felt much lighter in my arms. Just one last test before I could take her home, a routine hearing test, which shouldn’t have taken more than 10 minutes. The time passed, and then another 10 minutes, and yet another. Finally, they returned, my bags packed and ready to go. “Your baby failed the hearing test,” the nurse said to me as I cooed to my daughter. It’s a mistake, I told myself. I thought my daughter was fine and we went home.
Yet as the months passed by, I could hear the sounds my baby didn’t, the calls of her name that she didn’t respond to, the way she watched my face because she couldn’t hear fully what I was saying.
My daughter was later diagnosed with a hereditary condition called otosclerosis, which results in difficulty hearing certain tones and voice frequencies. She received her first pair of hearing aids a few days after her second birthday. It was no easy task to make a strong-willed two-year-old understand the importance of wearing hearing aids. We fought with her daily and often resorted to bribery.
One day, a family member suggested calling them “princess earrings.” It worked! She went proudly to school wearing her beautiful “princess earrings.” A few weeks later, a mother approached me in the carpool line and said her daughter wanted to wear “princess earrings” too. For two glorious years, my daughter was proud to wear her hearing aids, but like most bouts of magic, it didn’t last forever.
One day after a bath, I went looking for the hearing aids. I needed to change the batteries and clean out the ear wax that normally accumulated from daily usage. I usually placed them on a kitchen counter near the cabinet where I kept the rubbing alcohol and cotton balls. They weren’t there. I looked in her room, under the bed, even in the heel of her shoes. No hearing aids. Then I found them in the trashcan by her desk.
I asked my “princess” why she threw away her “princess earrings.” She told me to stop calling them princess earrings. I could hear the tears before I saw them rolling down her cheeks. I pulled her into my arms and waited to hear the story that would break my heart. She told me how the kids at school laughed at her. Then she asked me if she could go without her hearing aids in school.
I could see the proverbial fork in the road stretched out ahead. Should I call the teacher and suggest that a specialist give the class a talk about hearing disabilities? Should I call the parents of the children who were insensitive, letting them know their little dumplings had hurt my daughter? Or should I begin to foster the inner strength in my child which she would need to overcome the challenges she would face now and into the future?
I told her that not everyone is lucky enough to be special. She rolled her eyes at me, but I kept with it. I pointed out all her strengths, both physical and mental: the straight cartwheels she performs for onlookers in the park and the fact that when she sets her mind to a goal, she never gives up, whether her parents like or not. I told her having difficulty in life can make her stronger. We hugged and she agreed to wear her hearing aids to school with a more positive outlook.
The bullies were still in the courtyard and her hearing challenges would not likely improve, yet she walked into school with her head held high and friends by her side. I’m told by her teacher that she doesn’t hide her hearing aids behind her hair like she used to. It’s progress, and I’m proud.
Some part of me still wanted to organize a sensitivity training course. It’s important for the students to understand her disability. People can be “tone deaf” to the feelings and needs of others, especially children who don’t know better. But I’d rather focus on my daughter’s strengths. She is so much more than someone with hearing loss.
In her own way, she is a real-life walking sensitivity course. Her teachers are now better equipped to handle other hearing-impaired children after having taught her. They’ve learned the importance of a properly retrofitted classroom with the required acoustic environment and how to use an FM device that blocks out background noise. Her classmates have learned how to make sure she can see their faces before talking with her. I have learned from her that communication is more than words, it’s the complex art of making a connection with another person.