There are these weird not-so-sweet spots you hit as a grownup – the stuff nobody warned you about, like the very real possibility of battling zits and gray hair at the same time. There’s also the peculiar moment when you switch from stressing over how your parents screwed you up to stressing over how you’re screwing up your own kids. It’s the parental version of, “If my boss ever figured out I don’t know what I’m doing, I’d be so fired,” except instead of the boss it’s “my kids” and instead of fired it’s, “Someone’ll call child protective services on me.”
That’s way worse. Once again, I must go back and ask my 25-year-old self: What the heck are you so angsty about? It is gonna get so much worse/better.
“She failed the hearing test”
My personal journey down the rabbit hole of guilt hit its apex (wait, can you hit an apex in a hole?) at my older daughter’s four-year checkup, which happened when she was four-and-a-half because that’s just the kind of punctual parent I am.
“She failed the hearing test,” the nurse said. “She was probably just nervous. We’ll try it again at the end of the appointment.” She flunked it again. And again, a month later. Finally, we were sent to the audiologist, who confirmed that she had moderate to severe deafness in her right ear. “We don’t like to talk percentages,” she said, “but if normal speech is 60 decibels, she needs it to be 90 decibels to hear properly.”
That is a big freakin’ deal. There is research that shows kids with unilateral deafness have higher dropout rates; they have to work harder for the same baseline; and my friend with unilateral deafness SPEAKS ANNOYINGLY LOUD. And for months she had been doing weird stuff like going up to the TV and smashing her right ear against the speaker. “My ear feels stuffy,” she’d say. My husband and I slowly unpacked this over the next few weeks, each of us remembering clues we had missed the first time around.
In our defense, she also sometimes complained that she couldn’t go to school because she was too gooey.
It’s my fault
The guilt, nevertheless, ramped up. I assumed it was my fault because she had been a 10-week-early preemie, and I had failed in my most basic duty as a mother to just KEEP HER IN ME. My husband assumed it was his fault because of this one time when she rolled off his chest as he was trying to sleep with her in the recliner. That, of course, even if that were true, is really my fault, too, because the only reason she was such a fussy sleeper was because she was a preemie. See: Keep her in me.
See how much fun this is? And a good friend – the kind you can joke with this way – burst into horrified laughter when I told her. “I’m sorry to laugh,” she said, pointing at me. “But do you know how many times you’ve yelled, ‘What are you, DEAF?’ at her?” It was a pitch-perfect imitation of my Jersey-Brooklyn bray. Oy to the vey.
I quickly ramped up on the latest information and research on hearing loss. As with any health challenge, the information available to me was often conflicting. It’s a big deal, but don’t freak out. She’ll be totally fine, as long as you do this and this and this and this and THIS AND THIS AND THIS. She can hear great, but doing so exhausts her. She can hear, but she can’t localize the source of sounds. Oh, and by the way, hearing aids aren’t typically covered by health insurance, except maybe Medicaid.
You heard me right. You have to be either dirt-poor or mega-rich if you’re going to have hearing loss, because every four years you’re going to be on the hook for a new $11,000 device.
At best, when I observe my parenting style, I see a very ad-hoc approach to things. With the best of intentions but the worst of organizational skills, I fall down on the job A LOT, and I hope against hope that my goofy golden-retriever sloppy hugs make up for my forgetting to make a dentist appointment until we’re in danger of not being able to start school. This information fit neatly into that worldview.
No ‘Poor Me’
However, I’m a feminist who learned the hard way that self-deprecating self-image is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m also someone who learned quickly, in the hospital, that apologizing for being “lame” or “a wimp” or “a hypochondriac” leads people to ignore your symptoms until your baby falls out. My daughters deserve a better advocate than someone who Morrisseys her way into Cafe Poor-Me every time something isn’t stellar.
There are people willing and happy to help if you stick your head up and ask, “How does this work?” My daughter’s school district has an active, knowledgable staff who made getting an IEP in place for her kindergarten a breeze. They put me in touch with an early-intervention program for deaf kids – coincidentally, I had already met my contact at a support group for another situation faced by one of my stepsons. Nobody is doing this parenting thing for the first time. Simultaneously, everyone is reinventing the wheel. Just like at work. Just like everywhere.
I will just have to ‘do’
I don’t have a neat mantra to put on a nameplate-style necklace, like “this too shall pass” or “just breathe” or “oh, crap.” (Wait, that last one would pretty much sum it up; must look for an Etsy shop later.) What I really want to remind myself is so long, it would require a Game of Thrones breastplate.
So we’ll leave it at this: Every day’s a new chance to screw up my kid less. And: It’s an ear.
That’ll have to do. As will I. I’ll just have to do, too.
Photo used with permission by Amy Keyishian
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