This morning we went to the Audiologist expecting to order a hearing aid. What I didn't expect is for the incredibly thoughtful, kid-friendly doctor to say to me, I can't stand the idea of little kids straining to hear when it can be so easily remedied. So, I will lend you a hearing aid for Kate until her order arrives. We crowded around the tiny little device to admire it, learn how to turn it off and on, and to watch Kate practice putting it into her ear. As we walked to the car we bombarded Kate with questions, wondering what it felt like, if she could tell a difference, what sounds were new to her?
On the drive back to school we rehearsed what she would say to her class. She is thrilled that her teacher invited her to do a little presentation and that she gets to be the hearing aid "expert." I'm thrilled that she has decided to discuss it openly with her peers, rather than waiting for the awkward, What's that weird thing in your ear sort of questions that might come in the lunch line. But as we drove our conversation finally lagged until we pulled up to a red light and Kate suddenly asked from the backseat, Can you hear the pounding noise that that construction machine is making? No, I answered absentmindedly. Well, I can! she said. She could not have sounded more proud if she'd just been elected queen for the day.
We pulled up to her school in high spirits and I walked her to the office. It wasn't until I leaned down to hug her goodbye that I felt those sneaky, worried mommy tears fill my eyes. Everything is going to be fine, I assured us both. Remind your teacher that it's still tricky for you to gauge the volume of your voice. She'll let you know if you're talking too loud! Kate nodded and I straightened and watched her walk away. She didn't look excited anymore, she looked small and scared. Suddenly I wanted to walk her to class. Or better yet, maybe I could hang out in the back of the classroom while she presented her hearing aid to the other students. Instead I left the school and walked back to my illegally parked car that I'd left running with my youngest children strapped inside. As we pulled away I sniffed, determined not to allow those ridiculous tears to spill over the edge.
Until I hugged Kate goodbye I hadn't felt one iota of drama or blubbery emotion over a silly little hearing aid. As I told her a million times this week, Your dad's eyes need a little help and he wears those big googly glasses everyday of his life. My arches need a little help so I have orthotics in my running shoes. Big deal? Everybody needs a little help here and there with something! And it's true. During the hard moments over the past few weeks when I had Kate sobbing in my lap I gently reminded her that we should feel grateful she has one good ear, and that we have the technology available to help out the other one!
But these kind of reassurances have a brief shelf life. I can build her up and build her up, but I know all too well how passing comments, thoughtless remarks, and casual cruelties can bring the walls tumbling down and then the building must begin all over again. This is what parents do. In my heart I know that what I'm feeling today isn't at all specific to Kate's situation. This is what parents do. We smooth the waves. We explain the hard things. We show love when our child is left feeling unloved. We drop our kids off at school and close our eyes for a moment before we pull away, silently entreating the other children to be kind. To tread softly. To be curious, but to notice and remark on other people's differences without weighing and criticizing. Please don't snicker if she is talking too loud. Please don't stare or make her feel less than she is. Please allow this change in my child to be accepted and deemed, 'Well, that's pretty cool' by the other children.
This afternoon I feel a quiet camaraderie with all the parents out there who are flinching, hoping that it isn't going to hurt, whatever their "it" might be. The little kid hurts that aren't easily repaired or explained away can be so lasting and damaging. It's as if I'm suddenly hyper aware that all around me are other parents gripping the steering wheel of their car until their palms ache so that they don't holler out the window, My child struggles with math! My child is shy and doesn't make friends easily! My child has eight cowlicks...we try our best to comb her hair each morning, but it always sticks up again! My child doesn't have the same advantages and resources...we can't afford the expensive sneakers and private lessons. My child is awkward and uncoordinated. My child is enduring unthinkable changes in our home life. My child can't hear you. My child is struggling. Do you understand what I'm saying?
In the end we're all saying the same thing. Please, please be kind to my child.