A hearing parent hears warning sounds that a hard of hearing parent cannot, leading to some Frightening Mommy Moments. And when my son Joel was small and even when looking directly at me – which was one of his early life lessons – it took work to understand him as his speech developed. (Eventually, as a child of a mother with hearing loss, he developed a voice like a small fog horn.)
But those scary moments! When Joel was six months old, and new to sitting up, he was on the living room floor jabbering away to our two cats, who were ignoring him. My friend Carol and I went to the kitchen to refresh our coffee, leaving Joel momentarily out of sight. “Uh-oh,” said Carol. We rushed in to find that Joel, in trying to reach the cat, had keeled forward. His face was buried in the carpet and still babbling, “bldgmmp-dmfdmf!”
I hadn’t heard the change in his speech as Carol had, and although he looked hilarious and was in no real danger, I still think of that incident with a mummy-tummy pang.
My poor sound localization produced more Frightening Mommy Moments because communication between floors was difficult – even as he grew up. I was yelling up the stairs at my teenager to pack his hockey bag, we were late! He wasn’t responding and I was getting madder, until he tapped me on the shoulder from behind. He’d been answering me from downstairs where he was packing his hockey bag! It’s funnier now than it was at the time.
Three year-old Joel was calling me from somewhere in our four-story townhouse. I was standing in the middle of the house, so his voice could have been coming from down the stairs or up the stairs. Our conversation went something like this:
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 madly during this exchange, cursing myself as a bad mommy who should never have been allowed to bear children.
But when I can’t hear my loved ones – I can see and feel the love.
Lips At My Pillow
In the soft grey of not-quite-day
His sweet-sour breath pats my cheek in puffs of soundless words.
Drowsy, I pull his five-year-old mouth to my ear
“Mommy, can I get up now?”
My grunt is taken for a yes, and I feel the vibrations of his feet
Quickly thump-thump-thumping out of the room.
Turning on the pillow I see you, with
Eyes closed, and lips smiling at mother and son.
Your lips move.
Answering, I feel my voice in my throat –
You fall back asleep and I watch you,
Your face, your lips, your deep voice so easy to understand.
As I watch your strong sildent lips
I remember another dawn when I saw them say
“Let’s get married.”
I made you mouth it again and again
To be sure I understood, to give the right answer.
Your lips –
I can read their every nuance, they tell me everything.
When you are about to make a joke
When a kiss is blowing my way
When they tighten in anger
And soften in love.
I can ‘read’ you and our son – this language I know.
But should I lose the last shred of sound
Your voices will remain in my ears.
I will always understand you –
Through your smiles, your eyes, your hands and your arms
I will always have your touch…here…and here…
And every dawn I will have
Your lips at my pillow.