One of the best lessons I learned during my social work internship at Michigan hospital system was from a Mother of a sick child. She described how she used to think that families with sick kids were stronger people, that she would never be able to handle it if one of her kids got sick. “But now,” and I’m paraphrasing her here, “I know the truth. We’re not stronger than anyone, we are just doing what we have to do.”
Her words have stuck with me all through my parenting. That there is no immunity from illness and, as a parent, anything can happen.
Being a parent of two healthy children, I am so selfishly ignorant of thinking about their health. I don’t worry about them because I know that they are healthy kids. And when I see kids without the same opportunities for health: whether it is because they are limited in access to quality food and water, or to adequate medicines, or do not have the right identification to be allowed medical care — and I feel anger and shame and sadness for the screwed up ways of the world, my thoughts go to the parents. Who are, more often than not, just regular people trying to do what they have to do.
So it’s not that I don’t believe that my kids can be sick. It’s just that, unless they are bleeding or turning blue, I have a hard time believing that what is happening is any other than completely normal. They are healthy kids who have everything they need. Besides, I’m the Mom. I’d notice if something were really, really wrong. Right?
Um, well, maybe not.
We had the kids’ second parent-teacher conferences last night. Will, the child who a few months ago was proclaimed “amazing,” had a mixed report card. He is very quiet. He is often in his own little world. When he speaks French, it’s often difficult to understand. To ‘test’ them for their reports this week, the teacher played a tape of a story they had heard many times before. Then they were asked to repeat back parts of the story with cards that they organized in the stages of that story. Will knew the story, could describe it, but was unable to repeat back the phrases from the tape. Instead, he gave mumbled responses that were difficult to hear and understand, or, he repeated back phrases that had similar sounds but totally different meanings — like similarly sounding phrases from other songs or stories. The bottom line:
“Do you think that maybe he is having trouble hearing?”
If you heard the giant GONG sound that rung through New Orleans late yesterday afternoon, it was the sound of the mammoth cymbal in my head, calling my attention to the obvious. Oh my goodness. Weren’t Paul and I just wondering about Will’s hearing a few days ago?
I explored it when we were alone, driving to Kate’s appointment. “Will, do things ever sound funny to you?”
“Yeah, a lot of times, I hear two things.”
“Yeah, like two voices.”
GONG. Um, maybe like an echo, Mom?
And then, Kate’s teacher, whose son has had chronic ear problems for almost a decade, “we didn’t realize my son was having problems because he was reading lips.”
GONG. GONG. GONG. HELLO?? ARE YOU REALLY THIS CLUELESS?
A list formed in my head….Couldn’t repeat back lines from a tape. Can’t understand my directions unless I make him look at my face. Irritable for no reason. Complains that there is too much wax in his ear. History of fluid build up with no fever.
And still, I hesitate. Am I being alarmist to think that there is a hearing loss issue here? Sometimes, kids don’t listen. That is normal. Maybe he’s just over school or listening or whatever. Maybe he’s just being surly. Surely, I couldn’t miss something like hearing loss in my child FOR MONTHS? Could I…?
Well, I guess we’ll find out tomorrow. He’s being seen by the pediatrician for a hearing test… during the same appointment Kate has for getting her ears checked. Am I the least observant Mother on the planet? Or the most hardened? Or am I just clueless?