When Henry was a baby, he had the most beautiful copper colored curls and there didn’t seem to be a person that walked by that didn’t comment on them. They would gawk at him, and it didn’t hurt that he was as cute as a button, either! He had enormous blue eyes, and he was a round little cherub. I could hear them as we walked by, “Oh would you look at that hair. What I’d pay to have that hair!” and “Oh what beautiful hair.” It never failed. And they would start conversations with me, wondering where he got his hair color…”your husband must have red hair” or “Did you have red hair when you were younger?” Complete strangers connected for a few minutes by a little redheaded baby boy.
And then when Henry was two years old, he was diagnosed with a severe hearing impairment bilaterally (both ears). I sat there in the booth with Henry, as the audiologist played the various tones that he was supposed to respond to. My heart sank in my chest as I watched him completely ignore the majority of them; he hadn’t heard them. I came out of the booth, and tried to listen as she gave me the diagnosis. I don’t think I heard a lot of what she was saying because I was trying so hard not to cry in front of her. I’ll never forget the audiologist (who also had a hearing impairment), said these exact words when she diagnosed him “It’s not the end of the world. He’ll wear hearing aids, and he’ll be fine. No big deal.” No big deal? Really? Cause I’m not feelin’ that part of it.
When you first think that your child is not “perfect,” it is crushing. It is crushing in a way that you can’t explain. I was afraid and angry, SO angry, and alone. More than anything though, I was so very sad for Henry. I was sad that all this time he had been trying to live in this hearing world, without hearing very much at all. He had never heard the birds, or the rain, or the wind in the trees. He didn’t know what Woody and Buzz sounded like though he had watched Toy Story 100 times. He hadn’t heard the Christmas music we were playing, or the fire crackle, and he probably never heard the words of the lullabies I sang to him at night. Had he ever heard our voices? Did he ever hear me tell him “I love you, Henry?” Did he know what it sounded like when popcorn popped or when the garage door opened for Daddy to come home?
A couple of weeks after his diagnosis, we got Henry his hearing aids. And he liked them. Because he could hear us. He could hear the birds, and the phone ring, and the washing machine and the microwave. For the first time in his life, he would sit and listen to a book, because he could hear it. And he loved it. His speech took off and we were thrilled with how well he was doing.
And the comments about Henry’s hair kept on coming. But they changed. A stranger would see him from afar, and say something about his hair, and as they came closer you could see the realization wash over them–that he wasn’t perfect. That he had something wrong with his ears. And rather than linger to chat about his hair, they would press on with their business. Oh how I wanted them to ask me about him. I wanted to share how proud I was of him and how much he is learning! And that it is okay that he has hearing aids. And that he IS perfect. He is Henry.
It has taken a long time for children to begin to notice the hearing aids. But as Henry gets older and becomes more interested in other children socially, they ask about them. “What are those things on his ears?” And I explain to the child that he needs those to help him hear. And that is just fine with them and they keep right on playing. It is the parents that always act nervously about it. I remember being at a party when a little boy asked his mother why Henry had “those things on his ears.” And his mother shushed him and said not to talk about it and then moved away from us. I wondered why she didn’t just explain that they were hearing aids, and that they help people to hear better. It broke my heart to see my little boy standing there, watching them walk away from him. And it made me angry. I wanted to shout out loud that there is nothing wrong with him. And that I would love to tell you about my boy, who I am so very proud of. And “Why don’t you just ask me?!”
They are missing who he is, because they see a piece of blue plastic around his ear. They are missing his freckles, and the beautiful blue-green color his eyes are turning, and the way the sun glints in his hair. They are missing his enthusiasm, and his sweet demeanor. They are missing his curiosity, and how he always wants to help you with what you are doing. They don’t hear his incredible laugh, the kind that makes you laugh in response, because they are focused on what is “wrong” with him. They don’t see that he is just like their little boy, perfect.
If you want to read more about Henry (who wouldn’t?!):
or click on “Henry” in the sidebar categories.