Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Whisper Down the…wait, what’d you say?

ABC Family premiered a new show last week called Switched at Birth.  It’s about two teenage girls who were, wait for it…switched at birth.  But here’s where it gets interesting – the girl who was supposed to go home with the family who lives in a big house and made their fortune from a chain of car washes but who instead ended up with the single mom who raised her in the not so nice part of Kansas City (I’ve been in Kansas City, I know where those not so nice parts are) – that girl, she got meningitis when she was three and now she’s deaf and wears a hearing aid.  So, now the rich family has to grapple with the fact that 1) the daughter who they thought was theirs…isn’t and 2) their biological daughter is deaf.  Interesting wrinkle, don’t you think?
It got me thinking.   Mainly because I haven’t really seen many deaf/hearing impaired people in central roles on television and movies.  Sure, there was Children of a Lesser God but that was like a gabillion years ago although Marlee Matlin did do quite well in this season of Celebrity Apprentice.  Now, there’s this show and there’s this character who wears a hearing aid and who signs and who goes to a school for the deaf (until this week’s episode when she transfers to the “mainstream” school) and everything’s out in the open and she’s a-okay with it all.  It got me thinking some more. 
Digital D...the 2009 model
What’s this?  A hearing aid.  You might’ve seen one before – maybe your coworker wears one, or your grandma, or the crazy cat lady on the corner.  What makes this one special?  Well, it’s mine.  And why’s that special?  Because it’s something that I very rarely share.  You might get a glimpse of it if I tuck my hair behind my ear.  If you’re curious, you might even ask me about it – that question always begins with “Can I ask you a personal question?”  I always panic a little when that happens because those questions can go quite a few different ways, if you know what I’m sayin’. 
I’m gonna go off on a quick tangent.  I don’t know what the difference is between being deaf, being hearing impaired, or being hard of hearing.  There might be a legal or medical definition but as I said before, I never pay attention to those things.  My family and I have always referred to my brother and me as “hearing impaired.”  Whatever term you wanna call it, at the end of the day, when we turn off our hearing aids – we can’t hear.
My first hearing aid.  My mom used to 
sew fabric pouches to hold the battery
case that I wore under my shirt. 
Clearly, this was my Valentine's Day pouch.
Wearing a hearing aid requires some adjustments to one’s life.  A girl always has to be prepared – so I carry a pack of batteries with me wherever I go.  Except when I forget.  Then there are the cascading waterfalls that I have to avoid…hearing aids and water don’t mix.  (I’ve actually run this scenario through my head…what if I am somewhere where there is a cascading waterfall and I want to dive in…do I holler, wait, I just have to take my hearing aid out?  It’s a bit of a mood killer, I think.)  When I ride roller coasters, I always take it out because when you’re going on the Double Loop O’Terror, you definitely don’t want to worry about your hearing aid falling out and hitting someone in the head…oh yeah, then you have to try to find it!  And I really, really stink at the game “Whisper Down the Lane.”  Trust me, I will screw it up.  There are some benefits though.  I can turn myself off whenever I want…but generally I limit that to when I run the vacuum or when I’m trying to ignore my mom.  So, not that often.  Because it’s not really fair to all of you hearing folks   
I have an interesting relationship with my hearing aid.  I need it to function and operate in the world.  But it’s also something that I’ve always been embarrassed about…it’s something that I felt like I needed to keep secret.  It wasn’t always like that.  I have a vivid memory of being at my cubby in kindergarten with my friends changing my hearing aid battery – it was the neat thing to do.  But as I got older, and all the voices inside of me screamed “you’re different!” over and over, I hid the one visible thing that I had the power to hide – my hearing aid.  I never wore my hair up (to this day, my hair dresser has a standing order – don’t show the ears).  I figured - if no one saw it, they wouldn’t know my big secret. 
Here’s the thing with secrets.  Everyone usually figures it out sooner or later.  Without fail, the few friends whom I felt safe enough to tell that I wear a hearing aid, have looked at me and said “yeah, I know….and so does she and so does he.  And I think the guy down the hall knows too.  Where are we going for lunch?” 
Everyone knows.  They’re a-okay with it.  You know what?  So am I.    
But I am bummed about all those French braids that I missed out on all those years when I apparently wasn’t hiding anything!

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