Permission to be Sad When
“It Could Be Worse”
By Amy Pettit, Iowa Hands & Voices
Like many of you, this summer my family and I spent a lot of time at the swimming pool. Summer time fun at the pool conjures up some really fun images – beach balls, rafts, sugary treats, and freckly noses. This sunny season, however, was a bit cloudy for me.
We have two sons, and our oldest has moderate to mild hearing loss. He is eight years old, and his little brother is six. Our eight year old, Max, has never been outgoing; he would prefer to read or put together a Lego project. I often wonder if this is a personality thing or a hard of hearing thing. What has been sad is observing my two sons at the pool. When Max takes his hearing aids out at the pool (one time we lost an ear mold there), he becomes more detached than usual. He tries to pal around with his six year old brother who is having fun playing with the other kids. However, Max usually swims away and dives for a diving stick by himself. Max is at the age where it is appropriate for him to be a bit more independent and social at the pool; however, he misses the rules to games, funny sidebars, and the other important ingredients that make up friendships or at least make a fun afternoon at the pool.
I felt sadder than usual at Max’s first swimming meet. I saw the parents and grandparents with their cameras, the lawn chairs in neat rows, and the colorful triangles on a string that arched over the middle of the pool. However, my son could not hear the coach announce who was up next. He carefully watched the other swimmers who were lined up on the blocks to know when to dive in. All throughout the meet, he was anxious because he was worried he was missing important instructions. (Is this a first-born thing or a hard of hearing thing?)
Tears secretly rolled beneath my baseball cap and sunglasses. Later in the meet, an acquaintance asked me why I was so quiet. After telling her just a bit, she said the words that I have begun to loathe: “It could be worse. “
Although I believe her words were said with good intentions, this phrase drives me nuts. I deeply appreciate that Max is a healthy, mobile, and intelligent kid. Really, I do. However, there are times when the thought of my child wearing hearing aids for the rest of his life gets me down. I worry about how he will react when he gets teased for wearing those things in his ears. I worry that it will break his already quiet spirit. I get sad when people treat him differently at times – especially when they limit him. Other times I get sad when he is treated no differently than anybody else. (I had a problem with this when he was given an oral one-on-one standardized test with ten other students in the room who were also being tested in the same way.)
So, do I feel sorry for myself that my kid, who isn’t sick and is mobile and is smart, wears hearing aids? I guess sometimes I do. And as long as I don’t pity him or hold him to lower standards, I think it is okay to be real sometimes and be sad. I’ve tried stuffing my feelings before, and that always catches up with me – it many times makes things worse. So, I believe it is best to acknowledge your feelings of sadness and deal with them.
So, how do I deal with my feelings? I believe that leaning on people who have similar stories helps tremendously. Friends that I have met through Hands & Voices or Guide By Your Side – these are the people who understand and can listen and empathize. Thus, the power of families who have deaf or hard of hearing children is strong for me. Their support is invaluable. I hope that you too have experienced the power of talking to someone in our special group. It’s a privilege to be able to help and be helped by Hands & Voices friends. We owe it to each other. Come to a social event. Contact any Board member to get connected. Go to the website. Get involved with legislation that will help our kids. Sign up for a class. Get connected!
Yes, things could be worse, I know. But some days, it is okay to be teary too. Remember to reach out for help and get connected. Now, if someone would just invent waterproof hearing aids.