Texas Toddler Goes Natural
I have the most charming little red headed boy in the world, or at least in our tiny town of Comfort. Of course most mothers do tend to be biased. Just eighteen months, his short life has been full of belly blowing raspberries and tickle fights, but also audiological testing, hearing evaluations and loads of anxiety. I know we still have a long road ahead of us, but after last night something melted; something slipped away, some weight lifted off of me. As I sobbed and watched him bounce, I knew in my heart he was going to be okay.
I had given Whitten a bath while cooking dinner when the oven timer went off. I dried him quickly, wrapped him in his ducky towel, and left him playing with his busy box in the crib while I made a mad dash to the kitchen to save the lasagna before the smoke alarm went off. Sixty seconds later, when I came back to wrangle him into his diaper and pajamas, his towel was flung across the room, and he was holding the top rail bouncing, getting some serious air time. I signed “What are you doing?” He spoke clearly: “Jumping naked!” I sat on the floor and cried. Jumping naked!
Whitten failed his newborn hearing screen at three days of age, one hour before we were discharged to go home from the hospital. He was tested by auditory brainstem response at three weeks and fitted with his first hearing aid when he was nine weeks old. You would have thought we, of all parents would have been prepared. I am late deafened, having lost my hearing over the last fifteen years. Our middle daughter had a mild hearing loss that started at age six. I am well educated on technology and advocacy issues and had even lobbied for the newborn hearing screen, but I had never considered that my child might be born with hearing loss. I was in complete denial.
To make matters worse, we immediately entered the muddy waters of a volatile politically charged “what to do with your kid” debate. This was new territory for me. As a late deafened adult, I had always done whatever worked, a little American Sign Language, a lot of captions, lip reading, hearing aids, pen and paper, a texting pager…
I soon found that educators and professionals, most of whom (ironically!) are hearing, were very much like politicians. They want you to declare a party affiliation immediately.
This Method, or This?
So my husband and I did what we thought was natural for us as a family - we talked, we signed and we tried to ignore all external voices loudly telling us how badly we were screwing our son up, how confused he would be. He was about five months old when he began signing “milk.” At nine months he said “dada”, but still we second-guessed our every decision. Were we amplifying him too much or too little? Was the oral parent-infant program we had him enrolled inappropriate? Was the auditory-verbal philosophy too over the top for our laid back bilingual household? Were we exposing him to enough music? Was he getting enough ASL? Too much? Were we in a good enough school district? He had given us many signs, and now Whitten had spoken for himself, a real sentence, well sort of.
When the rest of the family came to find me, cribside, for they’d gotten hungry, there I was sitting cross legged, bawling on the floor while Whitten continued his nude gymnastics, grinning from ear to ear. He seemed to understand that Mom was crying happy tears. All I could get out between sobs was, “Whitten’s jumping naked.” The daily decisions and anxiety we faced had seemed endless until his little bare butt put it all into perspective.
Daily trials? It is not easy. Today for example, Whitten had an audiologist appointment that took three hours. I had to hold him on my lap in the sound booth while he was probed, prodded and beeped at. His hearing has changed in his right hear and he needs more testing. They want to put him under sedation next time. More parental anxiety, oh boy. Just like any other family, we still had grocery shopping and carpool duty afterwards. In line at the elementary school, I glanced in the rear view mirror just in time to see him crunch down on his newly programmed hearing aid. As I jumped out of the driver’s seat and did the world’s fastest finger sweep, instead of bursting into tears or letting loose a stream of not-so-nice words, a vision flashed through my head. It was not a vision of the dollar amount the gooey mass of plastic earmold and circuitry was going to cost to replace or of the long stretch of highway we’d just trekked down and back and now would be making once again. Instead, in my mind’s eye, I saw a perfect happy baby giggling and…jumping naked.
That’s my new motto. Lighten up - jump naked.