Another blessing of being middle-aged – hearing loss. I’m simultaneously being sarcastic, and serious. Most of the time I find it annoying, since people who inherently speak in lower tones will be speaking to the deaf if they’re talking to me. Here’s how you can tell when I’m not hearing you: I lean in slowly and I smile and nod a lot. Those I’m familiar with I’m happy to say, what? Those I don’t know well, I take the road silently traveled and pretend to hear every word. This is bad. I know it’s bad, the same way retrospect reminds me how bad it was to ignore what I didn’t understand in 9th grade algebra and never asked any questions.
At home, it’s become a growing problem that ultimately pisses me off. My kids will say something to me, and I’ll respond with a hmmm? or a what? And then they say – nevermind. This is a problem, because they’re frustrated that I can’t hear them, and I’m frustrated because I’m afraid I’ll miss something important they’re sharing with me like, the house is on fire or …that I’m on fire. I don’t want to stop the dialogue, especially when my 15-year-old son is sharing with me. It’s the crumb I will jump at like a squirrel on a birdfeeder.
This morning Todd was working on programming and so I settled into my chair with my laptop and a cup of coffee, content to read Facebook and emails quietly and not interrupt him. But he got up and wandered into the kitchen, presumably to refill his own coffee, and then he started talking. I listened intently, as often I’m trying to determine whether he’s texting someone, thinking aloud, or actually talking to me. It’s anybody’s guess. This time, he was talking to me. But then he’s wandering around the kitchen, and ultimately into the dining room where he mutters something unintelligible.
I said, what?
Nevermind, he said, sighing heavily with what I interpreted as frustration.
Now it’s my turn to be frustrated. I can’t help that I can’t hear, and everyone in this house just gets mad at me when I ask them, ‘what?’!
Apparently if I say, “I didn’t hear that,” it instantly translates to, I didn’t hear that. Which, apparently, is less offensive than saying, “what?” because apparently “what” translates as, I wasn’t listening. Which apparently IS offensive.
I need a rule book on communicating with hearing loss. Perhaps I should write it.
The first rule is to tell everyone – I don’t hear well. Which I already do, most of the time, especially when I’m having to ask someone to repeat something – like how they want their filet prepared (this is life and death, people!) – or when I’m getting instructions on writing a specific grant application. Details! Details! Very critical.
The family already knows I don’t hear well, but apparently they have memory problems. Which creates one big angry circle of words lost in the Bermuda triangle between my ears and their lips. Perhaps a sign? I could wear a sign around my neck.
The silver lining to the hearing loss is not hearing the bitching that accompanies growing adolescents. A whining voice (which I can decipher) I can meet with a “what?” and when they choose to not repeat it? WIN.