Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Parking Lot Revelations

Our community loves parades. It must because twice per year more than half of us march down the street throwing candy at the few people that aren't in the event themselves. Julia also loves a parade. More than anything, she loves being in the parade.

In mid-September we marched in our third parade since living here. It takes a long time prepping for one of these deals. You must arrive an hour before it starts. You must stand in the parking lot, shifting from foot to foot, conversing with the other mothers, directing your child not to eat the candy that they're so excited to throw in the street. You must love your child. You would not choose to do this for any other reason.

This year, Julia's second grade class (taught by Mrs. L) has three girls that are also in her Brownie troop. It provided a bit more fodder for the pre-parade conversation. We talked about which boys our daughters mention and what they play at recess.

Then the other mom, we'll call her Inquisitive Mom, asked, "So Mrs. L wears that thing around her neck. What's that thing she wears around her neck?"

"Oh, she has a sound field in her classroom. It amplifies her voice using the four speakers in the classroom," I say.

"But Julia doesn't need that, does she? Is it for Julia?" probes the Inquisitive Mom.

Suddenly, I feel defensive and weird. "The sound field isn't specifically for Julia," I sputter. "Mrs. L has always used it. It's hooked up so that Julia's FM works with it. Mrs. L wears one microphone and it goes into the speakers and Julia's hearing aids."

"But she doesn't need that does she? I mean you wouldn't even know there's anything... with her. You can't tell," says Inquisitive Mom.

"She could probably get by without it," I say.
Why did I just say that?
"What it does for her is it reduces the listening distance,"  I'm still talking.
This woman has no idea what I'm saying and all she's going to remember is that we make the teacher wear an unnecessary microphone because it gives us pleasure to make people do our bidding.
"Instead of being ten feet away from Julia, the FM makes it like the teacher is right next to her talking. It helps a lot when they're learning new vocabulary and when Julia needs to discriminate between similar sounds."
I used way too many big words.

Another mom joins the conversation, agreeing that Julia shows no signs of needing any special accommodations. It's a backhanded compliment. I nod and say, "yes, she does very well."

I mention that Julia's first grade teacher always used a sound field, even before Julia was in her class. I tell them that both teachers find that it really helps all of the kids. The students have better behavior and attend well to their lessons. I tell them that Julia did better when using the sound field and the FM as opposed to personal FM only. The moms agree. "You gotta do what works."

The conversation turns and eventually the parade blissfully ends.

A week later, Julia came home from school filled with facts about the classroom butterflies that had just emerged from their cocoons.

"Do you know what a butterfly mouth is called, Mommy?"
"It's a KAboscis!"
"Wow," I laugh. "That's a funny word."

For an entire weekend, Mom, Dad, and Julia made KAboscis jokes. "Shut your KAboscis," was used more than once. Julia got a new stuffed animal and named it Twinkle KAboscis.

Eventually, a paper came home from school with a diagram of butterfly parts. A butterfly mouth is called a proboscis.

She needs the FM. Even with it, strange new words are challenging.

I'm glad that my daughter has wonderful speech and holds up her end of a conversation. I'm glad random parking lot moms can't tell how much she needs her hearing aids and classroom accommodations. But I'd advise society as a whole to be careful when making judgements about what children need. There's often more too it than meets the eye.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The luckiest girl in the world

Let's Hear It For Almigal was a surprise in yesterday's mail. I'd forgotten it was coming which makes my life a bit like multiple Christmas mornings. I quickly remembered that I could have been anticipating a present in the mail and flipped the book open to read the story of a little girl with "cotton-candy pink" cochlear implants.

The story starts with the girl using pink hearing aids. I'm confused.

Several pages later, Almigal can't hear well with her hearing aids. I am reading my nightmare. Her doctor suggests cochlear implants.

I snap the book shut. This is too much like our ENT, Dr. C.'s, terrifying reassurance that my daughter would be a good candidate for cochlear implants if her hearing loss progresses. It's something I don't like to think about.

I spent a good bit of time yesterday avoiding the book, but it is beautifully illustrated and cotton candy pink. Julia wanted to read it together after school.

"Hi, my name is Almigal," it begins.

"That's a funny name," says Julia.

"Yeah," I say.

"And I am absolutely, positively the luckiest girl in the world," the book continues.

"No she's not," Julia interjects. "I am."

We read the whole book, Julia arguing that she is the "luckiest girl in the world" even though Almigal seems to think the same thing. Julia agreeing that "sign language is supremely awesome." Julia identifying with Almigal to a point.

I was a bit relieved to read that Almigal thought the cochlear implant surgery was "a piece of cake."

Let's Hear It For Almigal is a lovely story, well written and beautifully illustrated. It made me feel calm (for a moment) thinking about something that usually fills me with anxiety. And it reinforced my hypothesis that these books are just as useful for parents as they are for kids.

We all need a gentle, brightly illustrated reminder to embrace each others differences. In fact, I might start carrying a few of these books around with me. These authors do a better job explaining hearing loss than what I come up with when put on the spot by another Mom. Imagine the convenience of having Oliver and Almigal doing all of the explaining!