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!