|Me and Claire-December 2012.|
Sunday, January 6, 2013
“Look at my mom’s COCH-LE-AR IMPLANT!” chimed my daughter Claire as she reached to the right side of my head. Surrounded by her friends, she was trying to brush my hair away to reveal the sound processor behind my ear.
We were in Claire’s kindergarten classroom where I had just finished volunteering. Forty five minutes earlier, I had sat in front of 25 little faces, their bodies seated criss-cross applesauce on a colorful carpet. Before opening my storybook, I explained I first needed to tell them something.
I had trouble looking at the teacher or the teacher’s assistant as I began my speech, completely aware I was avoiding eye contact with them. Maybe because if I had looked, I would catch a glimmer of sympathy in their eyes, or even a silent small smile-- the “I know this is hard, disabled one, but good for you” acknowledgement that would leave me off-balance and overly emotional because they knew the truth.
It was hard giving this speech.
I was scared a group of five year olds would somehow lessen their respect for me if they knew of my truth. And despite a brave front, I questioned if Claire, seated smack in the middle of the group, would feel any wave of embarrassment, sadness, or shame that her mother was different.
“I have something special about me,” I began. “I used to have trouble hearing so in the spring, I got a surgery to help me hear better. It’s called a cochlear implant.”
I then lifted my hair to show them the processor. “I’m still trying to learn to hear, and there are some things you can do to help me, like speak loud and clearly, and to raise your hands before you speak.”
Right away, several of the kids’ hands popped up.
“And LOOK at you while we’re talking,” chimed in a little pony-tailed angel in the front row.
“And take turns speaking,” added the second child I called on.
“Wow! You guys are smart!” I commended, and I meant it, though I admit that initially, I didn’t give these kids the credit they deserved.
Later, when I spoke with Claire about the day, I asked her if there was a hearing impaired child in her class, figuring someone at some point must have gone over communication strategies with the kids. But Claire assured me she knew of no child who wore a hearing aid (or a big earring as she called it).
She didn’t offer much of an explanation, simply stating, “Even the kids who normally misbehave looked right at you, Mommy. I guess they must have liked you.”
Here were kids, some unable to write their own names or tie their shoes, and yet they knew how to communicate with me better than many adults. There was no unnecessary increase of volume in their voices. No E-NUN-CU-AT-ING EACH SLOOOOOW AND PAIN-FUL SYLL-A-BLE to make sure the deaf lady understood. Within 30 seconds, it seemed the kids made sense of the situation, offered some suggestions so that we’d better understand one another, and that was that. After my speech, I glanced at Claire, wondering if she would smile in my direction or give a small nod of approval. There was none of that, either. Her face carried the same expression as if I had told her the weather condition outside-- an expression that says, “That’s nice, so what are we going to do next?”
The volunteering continued, and after a story, some crayons, and a snack of the Dunkin Donut munchkins I had brought just to make sure I could win the kids over (totally worked, by the way), the class lined up for lunch and I decided to walk down the hallway with them as I left the school. It was then that my daughter looked up at me and smiled, and while most of the kids were too preoccupied to hear her, I did.
In her signature high pitch singsong voice, she exclaimed, “Look at my mom’s COCH-LE-AR IMPLANT!”
And you know what I realized? She’s proud of me.
After years of worrying that my situation would somehow embarrass my kids, Claire looks at my cochlear implant as some kind of badge of honor. In fact, sometimes when I’m not wearing the processor, I catch her by my bedside table, placing the processor behind her right ear and then looking in the mirror, cocking her head from one side to the other as if she’s trying on a headband or experimenting with eye shadow.
In moments like that, my heart smiles… and heals. And when she decided to show me off to her friends, well… my heart just swelled with enormous gratitude that I get to be this little girl’s mother.
Because of Claire, I am learning to wear my “big earring” with pride.