What Did You Say?

By

“Mom, Nan called while you were gone,” I relayed to my mother.

“What? Your daddy went out to the farm?” she asked.

I repeated the message, and my sister, dad and I laughed. We were getting used to her misunderstanding us. It was an everyday occurrence, and it made for humorous discussion.

“Did you put the clothes in the dryer?” I asked her.

“What’s on fire?” she responded.

Our conversations were like this for years. We made statements, and she heard them incorrectly. We laughed, repeated ourselves and laughed some more. But it really wasn’t funny.

My mother was losing her hearing. She was only forty years old and was wearing a hearing aid. And to make matters worse, it wasn’t even working well. Mom went to her audiologist semi-annually to have the device adjusted. And each time she got it to where voices were audible, background sounds became deafening. When her hearing aid allowed her to discern conversation, it also made the washing machine sound like Niagara Falls. There was no happy medium. And at each visit, her audiologist told her that her hearing was getting worse.

Mom would leave her appointments feeling depressed and hopeless. She was being sucked into this new, unfamiliar place, a world void of her favorite sounds. Musical notes and children’s laughter swirled past her like dust particles in a vacuum. She knew they were there; but, she couldn’t hear them.

It wasn’t long before her hearing started impacting her job as a teacher. High school students are difficult enough when one’s senses are at their best. But they are even harder to deal with when one is hearing impaired. And while some students were patient and understanding, others were sarcastic and hateful. They refused to repeat themselves and often uttered rude comments under their breath because they knew she wouldn’t hear them. But hearing loss does not equate to stupidity; and though she may not have heard them, she could tell they were making fun of her.

One day, one of my mom’s better students raised her hand.

“Do you know what a hot mama is?” the girl asked.

My mom wasn’t quite sure how to respond to this one.

“Honey, if you don’t know what a hot mama is, I don’t know how to tell you,” my mom said.

“No Mrs. Seeley. A heart murmur. Do you know what a heart murmur is?”

The entire ninth grade English class was in absolute hysterics. The students were laughing their heads off, and my mom was too. She always laughed at herself. She did an excellent job of trying to keep a good sense of humor about her hearing loss.

But a couple of years ago, my mom resigned from teaching. Keeping up with classroom conversation had become too difficult. She also had a hard time understanding the dialogue at faculty meetings and parent conferences. She felt it was time to bow out gracefully.

My mom stayed at home for a year and contemplated her next move. She traveled a bit, spent a lot of time with my father and grandmother, and read a few books. She started to get bored with being at home, but she didn’t know what else to do. Teaching was the only career she had ever had. It was what she had wanted to do since she was a child.

“Have you considered applying for disability?” my aunt asked her. “If you are unable to do the job for which you have been trained, you could be eligible.”

Mom contacted the social security office. She requested the necessary paperwork, filled it out and mailed it in. A few weeks later, they called her and asked her to set up an appointment with one of their audiologists. She did. She went. And a few more weeks later, she was found ineligible. Because she was still able to work other jobs, she was unable to receive benefits. “Please feel free to apply again if your condition worsens,” the letter read.

Though she was saddened by the news, mom immediately put out her feelers and began looking for work. “I want to find something to do,” she said. “I miss feeling needed. I would like to find a job where my hearing won’t matter as much.”

About a month later, my mom’s friend called and told her there was an opening at the adult activity center. It was a part-time teaching position. She would be teaching handicapped adults, with various disabilities, for forty hours each month. She also would be afforded the freedom to teach whatever she wanted.

My mom has been working with her disabled clients now for a little over a year. She enjoys being with them, and they really seem to love her.

“You’re my teacher,” Leon will say as he flicks the light switch on and off repeatedly.

“I’m your student,” Mary mutters, while systematically tearing pages out of magazines and stacking them beside her.

She has found her niche working with these special individuals. This type of job requires a great deal of patience, something she has gained from dealing with her own disability. But her job does not require perfect hearing. Some of her students are completely non-verbal. They moan, grunt and point when they need something.

The ones who are able to talk ask my mom the same questions each day she comes to work.

“Mrs. Seeley, do you sleep on plastic sheets?”

“Do you have seizures?”

“Are you taking any prescription medications?”

“Will we catch Swine Flu?”

When she hears their questions, she answers them. When she doesn’t, they simply ask until she responds. They don’t mind repeating themselves. That’s what they do. And kindly and patiently, my mom keeps teaching. That’s what she does. She is great at it. And I am proud of her.

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  • “Mom, Nan called while you were gone,” I relayed to my mother.

    “What? Your daddy went out to the farm?” she asked.

    I repeated the message, and my sister, dad and I laughed. We were getting used to her misunderstanding us. It was an everyday occurrence, and it made for humorous discussion.

    “Did you put the clothes in the dryer?” I asked her.

    “What’s on fire?” she responded.

    Our conversations were like this for years. We made statements, and she heard them incorrectly. We laughed, repeated ourselves and laughed some more. But it really wasn’t funny.

    My mother was losing her hearing. She was only forty years old and was wearing a hearing aid. And to make matters worse, it wasn’t even working well. Mom went to her audiologist semi-annually to have the device adjusted. And each time she got it to where voices were audible, background sounds became deafening. When her hearing aid allowed her to discern conversation, it also made the washing machine sound like Niagara Falls. There was no happy medium. And at each visit, her audiologist told her that her hearing was getting worse.

    Mom would leave her appointments feeling depressed and hopeless. She was being sucked into this new, unfamiliar place, a world void of her favorite sounds. Musical notes and children’s laughter swirled past her like dust particles in a vacuum. She knew they were there; but, she couldn’t hear them.

    It wasn’t long before her hearing started impacting her job as a teacher. High school students are difficult enough when one’s senses are at their best. But they are even harder to deal with when one is hearing impaired. And while some students were patient and understanding, others were sarcastic and hateful. They refused to repeat themselves and often uttered rude comments under their breath because they knew she wouldn’t hear them. But hearing loss does not equate to stupidity; and though she may not have heard them, she could tell they were making fun of her.

    One day, one of my mom’s better students raised her hand.

    “Do you know what a hot mama is?” the girl asked.

    My mom wasn’t quite sure how to respond to this one.

    “Honey, if you don’t know what a hot mama is, I don’t know how to tell you,” my mom said.

    “No Mrs. Seeley. A heart murmur. Do you know what a heart murmur is?”

    The entire ninth grade English class was in absolute hysterics. The students were laughing their heads off, and my mom was too. She always laughed at herself. She did an excellent job of trying to keep a good sense of humor about her hearing loss.

    But a couple of years ago, my mom resigned from teaching. Keeping up with classroom conversation had become too difficult. She also had a hard time understanding the dialogue at faculty meetings and parent conferences. She felt it was time to bow out gracefully.

    My mom stayed at home for a year and contemplated her next move. She traveled a bit, spent a lot of time with my father and grandmother, and read a few books. She started to get bored with being at home, but she didn’t know what else to do. Teaching was the only career she had ever had. It was what she had wanted to do since she was a child.

    “Have you considered applying for disability?” my aunt asked her. “If you are unable to do the job for which you have been trained, you could be eligible.”

    Mom contacted the social security office. She requested the necessary paperwork, filled it out and mailed it in. A few weeks later, they called her and asked her to set up an appointment with one of their audiologists. She did. She went. And a few more weeks later, she was found ineligible. Because she was still able to work other jobs, she was unable to receive benefits. “Please feel free to apply again if your condition worsens,” the letter read.

    Though she was saddened by the news, mom immediately put out her feelers and began looking for work. “I want to find something to do,” she said. “I miss feeling needed. I would like to find a job where my hearing won’t matter as much.”

    About a month later, my mom’s friend called and told her there was an opening at the adult activity center. It was a part-time teaching position. She would be teaching handicapped adults, with various disabilities, for forty hours each month. She also would be afforded the freedom to teach whatever she wanted.

    My mom has been working with her disabled clients now for a little over a year. She enjoys being with them, and they really seem to love her.

    “You’re my teacher,” Leon will say as he flicks the light switch on and off repeatedly.

    “I’m your student,” Mary mutters, while systematically tearing pages out of magazines and stacking them beside her.

    She has found her niche working with these special individuals. This type of job requires a great deal of patience, something she has gained from dealing with her own disability. But her job does not require perfect hearing. Some of her students are completely non-verbal. They moan, grunt and point when they need something.

    The ones who are able to talk ask my mom the same questions each day she comes to work.

    “Mrs. Seeley, do you sleep on plastic sheets?”

    “Do you have seizures?”

    “Are you taking any prescription medications?”

    “Will we catch Swine Flu?”

    When she hears their questions, she answers them. When she doesn’t, they simply ask until she responds. They don’t mind repeating themselves. That’s what they do. And kindly and patiently, my mom keeps teaching. That’s what she does. She is great at it. And I am proud of her.

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