My Son’s Mom’s Hearing Loss

Make your bed.

Do your homework.

Face your mom when you’re talking to her.

Three simple house rules – is that too much to ask of my teenage son? I’m not reaching for the moon, or a spotless room or a 95% average. Just three basic life activities that should not be considered undue hardship.  The first two are meant to train him for life on his own, and the third is to make life easy for me.  If I really wanted to be mean mom, I would go even further – move those lips when speaking, slow down your train wreck-pace of speech, and apply some volume to that mumble, kid!

Oh, where did my little boy go? Where is the toddler whose smile-lit gibberish was somehow understandable? The three-year-old who turned my face towards his if he wanted something? The four-year-old who called my hearing aids “mommy’s hearings”? The five-year-old who, in the early morning gloom, would paddle up to my pillow and speak into my sleeping ear (because he knew I couldn’t hear him otherwise), “Mommy, can I get up now?”

In the boy’s place now stands a tall, handsome young man, almost 17. Once Joel hit the teen years, everything changed. This energetic guy doesn’t always have time for quality interaction, and he often “forgets” the communication fundamentals that he has lived and breathed since he could identify me as his mother in a lineup. (We are unceasingly amazed at how he can receive instructions in the kitchen and promptly forget them by the time he hits the hallway!)

Other parents complain about their eye-rolling teenagers not speaking to them, period. I have an additional problem when he does speak to me.  Joel starts talking, usually only in response to a question, but then quickly loses interest. He turns away mid-sentence, even mid-word, forcing me to follow him in a moving arc, trying to read his lips. This is not easy. My son is a full foot taller than me.

“Face me, please! And what did you say?!”

Major eye-rolling, but he shuffles back into view and repeats himself. To his credit, Joel never replies to this question with a “oh, it was nothing”, because he knows this is the rudest response one can give to person with hearing loss. But if he’s grumpy, he’ll over-enunciate his words, which is something else that ticks me off.

Lately, though, there have been signs that he’s coming out of the tunnel into the light. If he’s watching TV and I join him, sometimes he turns on the captioning without prompting. The other day while we were chatting, I looked away briefly and he waited for me to look back at him before continuing to speak. I thought my heart would jump out of my chest with pride.

In fact, as my son is pondering university and career directions, I had the brilliant idea of his becoming an audiologist! It’s a growing profession with jobs predicted to be plentiful, and an audiologist son could keep me in hearing aids for the rest of my natural life. He’s always been kind of interested in my hearing loss. He likes science. And he has already attended a university Audiology class.

One spring, when I was presenting to Audiology students at the University of Western Ontario, I took Joel, then 7, with me. He sat at the back of the classroom, supposedly drawing. I asked the students, “What do you think is the biggest challenge facing people with hearing loss?” Like a shot came the childish voice from the back, “Uh…um…I think it’s not being able to hear?”

I broached the career idea, but apparently he’s not all that interested in hearing loss, science sucks, and he has other plans for his career.  Alrighty, then; Plan B is that he’s successful enough in his chosen field to keep me in lifelong hearing aids by paying for them.  It’s the perfect gift for ol’ Mom on her birthday or at Christmas. It’s only fitting;  after all, I gave this kid life and haven’t seriously warped him or anything. He owes me.

As I started to write this, I asked Joel how my hearing loss has affected him through the years.  He replied, “Well, always having to repeat myself is kind of irritating sometimes. And then when you yell at me because of something you thought I said, but you actually mis-heard. Oh yeah, and when I’m sitting in the back seat and I almost put my neck out, so you see my lips in the rear view mirror.  Stuff like that.”

But he went on, “If my friends laughed because you misheard me or said something goofy, I told them to shut up, that you were a famous person with hearing loss who has her own DVD.  I’m really proud of you, Mom.  Your hearing loss is dad’s and mine, too.  It’s ok.”

What a kid. Give me a hug, then go mess up your room and forget about homework for the night. But, face me when you’re talking to me!

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

6 Comments

  1. Recently, my son had four other teen guy friends hanging out at our house. As I am walking through one called me by my last name. I turned and said, “Yes”? Then I heard some giggling and I let them know I heard them call me. They were testing me. Later my son said one said something very unkind, which I won’t post the actual comment on a website. I feel my son showed me some maturity when he told me the truth and he said he told the fellow not to say something like that. Yet, it was hurtful. My son did the right thing to stop the bully on target. Love him for that!

  2. Gael,
    As usual, I certainly identified with your article. Family dinners are the worst!
    It reminded me of the first time I heard you speak: you gave me the courage to bang the table and say “What the heck (hell) are we talking about here???”
    Everybody looks startled and then turn their heads in my direction when they’re speaking(for awhile,anyway!)
    Oh that your articles could be read in a regular TO Star, Globe and Mail column!!!!!(especially the “blogs”re the need for more Closed Captioning!)
    Any chance?

  3. Gael, this brings up many memories of parenting. may I add from my perspective, it also is so incredibly important for the other parent to support good communication rules. Without it, there is no respect for the HOH parent’s right to be a fully participating family member in communications.

    I love your blog! keep up the good work!

    1. Carol, I agree with you. The ongoing challenge is the that the other parent is just also likely to break the communication rules on occasion. It’s very hard for ‘hearing’ family members to remember the ‘face me’ rule every second…especially when the person with hearing loss starts conversations from other rooms, looks away, etc. It’s ongoing. Thanks for the kind words!

  4. Lovely article Gael, I really enjoyed it. It certainly reminded me of some of my own less than stellar communications with my growing, and now teen girls. Like Joel, they’ve lived with my hearing loss their whole life and they’ve been wonderful about it, especially those times when I’ve misunderstood or not heard them and get a bit frustrated with them. Now, if only we could get everyone else to be as understanding about our hearing loss as our children, wouldn’t the world be a wonderful place for the hard of hearing? We can always dream! Keep those wonderful blogs coming!

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