Where’s that voice coming from?
Sound localization is one of the most challenging aspects of hearing loss. When I hear birds singing, I always look for them in the trees to my left, although they’re just as likely to my right, ahead or behind me. But I do hear the birds, so what do I care where they are? It becomes a problem, though, when the sound I’m trying to locate is a small child in a 3-story house.
Ok, sweetie, where are you?
Where here, dear?
Here, where I am. In the room!
But what room, Joel, your bedroom?
Yes, mommy, I’m in the baff-room! Comeeerr!
But which bathroom, Joel?
This one, Mommy!
Of course, I’m running around like crazy during this exchange, cursing myself as a bad mommy who should never have been allowed to bear children. (I know what you’re thinking, but tell me you never lost sight of your child for even a moment! Kids get away from you – that’s one of their earliest goals in life – to escape from their mommies and daddies.)
It was because I was expecting a baby that I first connected with local consumer hearing loss associations. I was panic-stricken; I was going to be a hard-of-hearing mom and there were no how-to books in the library or bookstores. I swear to heaven that without the moral support and practical advice I received from other people with hearing loss, Joel’s childhood would have been very different and he would probably be in counseling or protective custody right now. As it was, we muddled through and he’s still alive. What’s more, he’s a darn good communicator.
Infancy was actually the easiest part. The flashing light of the baby monitor, combined with the husband’s elbow jabbing me in the ribs, helped me get up to answer my child’s night cries. The monitor also helped during his daytime naps; like any mom, my eyes never strayed far from those escalating red lights indicating whether he was whimpering, crying or caterwauling! My friend Dalene said her aha moment about the reality of living with hearing loss occurred when she walked in my house to find me cuddling the baby monitor to my ear. There were tears on my face, apparently, and I told her this was the only way I could hear my baby’s tiny, beautiful cooing sounds as he lay in his crib.
When Joel was older and called out to me during the night, I couldn’t answer the way his father could, “What do you want, son?” I simply would not have understood his response. So if his dad didn’t get up, I did. As a baby, if he needed feeding or rocking, these were things I could do in the dark. But when he was old enough to articulate his needs, I couldn’t speechread in the gloom. Poor kid, more than once I had to turn on the bedside lamp, an unpleasant shock for both of us.
With hearing loss, we miss the tell-tale sound cues that alert hearing people to potential problems. When Joel was six months old, he was sitting up in the living room, jabbering away to our two uninterested cats. My friend and I stepped into the kitchen, just a few feet away, putting Joel briefly and temporarily out of line of sight. All of a sudden, my friend said, “Whoops!” We rushed back to find Joel who, in reaching out for the cat, had fallen forward and was now talking face down into the carpet, “mmphl-dmf-dmf!!” I hadn’t discerned the change in his speech, and although he looked hilarious, I still feel guilty when I tell that story.
Hearing running water is also difficult for people like me, unless we’re in the bathtub with our hearing aids on. But to this day, I don’t know how my two-year-old darling managed– while I blinked – to turn on the hot water tap in the kitchen. The water ran for so long that it knocked out our phone lines and automatic garage door opener for 12 hours until the moisture dried. Since then I’ve been anal about turning off taps.
The high voices of other people’s children have always stumped me, and in pregnancy I worried that I wouldn’t understand my own child. Luckily, I was blessed with a child who had a voice like a foghorn. Even as a child, Joel liked to be understood, slowing himself down when his mouth got ahead of his brain. “Mommy, what I mean to say…is…” (His brain and mouth now seem to be on the same level, and any parent of a teenage boy will sympathize.)
Joel and I have had a lot of face-to-face time through the years. He learned early that if he wanted something, he needed to get my attention so that I could face him and read his lips. He would often put up his hand and turn my face to his, an effective and somewhat dramatic gesture that melted anyone who saw it.
Oh, isn’t that sweet – what a charming little boy.
Yes, he was charming, so let’s leave it at that. Next week, the kid grows up – and other hard-of-hearing mom challenges.