The sillies start school this week. Yes, it’s a cause for adult celebration. However, it’s a new school for them both. As an accomplished “new kid,” I can empathize with Jimmy’s first day jitters. I went to 9 different schools so I had a LOT of first days, sometimes after school had already began. That was super fun. But it always turned out fine. The first week was the worst; not knowing your way around, watching all the other kids pal around since they already knew each other, dreading lunchtime because you have no one to sit with, hearing for the millionth time how tall you are. Okay, that last part might pertain to just me and my oldest sister. But Jimmy has an extra layer to his worries that I will never understand, try as I might. His hearing loss.
He’s worn hearing aids since the age of four. Jake couldn’t care less about his brother’s accessories. As far as Jake is concerned, that’s how Jimmy was assembled. But Jimmy remembers a time before. And he remembers how much it bothered him when all his old classmates asked him (coming from a place of pure curiosity, mind you) what was in his ears and why he had them. I get it. It’s annoying. It’s isolating. It’s frustrating to have to repeat the same story ad nauseam. It’s, unfortunately, embarrassing to him. That’s the part that slays me and Josh.
My mother grew up with hearing loss and was taught (not implicitly but rather because of the time and lack of information) to hide her hearing aids and that she was “less than” because of her disability. Anyone who has met my mother knows that she is a force to be reckoned with; a hurricane of energy, compassion, strong opinions, and incomprehensible generosity. But she has suffered so deeply because of her hearing loss. No one save others with the same condition will ever understand what that’s like. My dad, my sisters, and I certainly try. And she’s always just been Linda and Mom and Superwoman to all of us. I’ve seen her her confident and I’ve seen her wounded. I’ve tried (as much as a selfish daughter can) to be supportive and encouraging to her. I think she’s incredible just the way she is. I thought that my experience with my mother would make understanding and helping my son easier.
Turns out you can’t stop your heart from breaking over and over again when someone you love is in pain from a foe you’re not equipped to vanquish. Damn you, hearing loss. I know you’re not the worst thing in the world. But you sure come close sometimes when you are hurting the people I love the most. For instance, this ordinary day I will never forget – I was nestled between the crazies in the backseat of a car, trying to get one to stop licking me and the other to stop tickling me, when the tickler peered wistfully out of the window and dropped this truth bomb on me: “Sometimes I feel like the only person in the world who has to wear these.” Time stood still. The floodgates behind my eyes threatened to burst open. My heart kicked into overdrive. Somehow my brain got its *&^% together and gave my emotional responses a stern warning about losing control in front of the person who needed me to be strong in that moment. I blame Josh for making me a “better” person. I took Jimmy’s hand and told him that I understood and that I was sorry. We talked about how he knows that there are countless others with the same condition, many worse than his, but also acknowledged how that doesn’t change the way it feels. Ugh.
My baby. My sweet, sweet, complicated, adorable, headstrong, emotional, typical in most ways little boy. I’ll never forget that moment. It’s tattooed on my brain. So I worry about him a little more than the other. I know that Jake is going to be fine. He seems to attract buddies like wine attracts me. I, of course, am concerned that he likes his teacher and vice versa, and I’ll miss him like crazy, but he’s stronger than Jimmy socially. It’s just how it is. Jimmy is very likable and will no doubt be absolutely fine – he’ll probably have a new best friend by the end of the month. But these first few days are tough on him and exhausting in way that most of us can’t understand. This kicks my anxiety into overdrive which is delightful for everyone around me. Thank God for pharmaceuticals and meditation apps and a kickass husband.