Pssst…can you hear me now?

get-attachment.aspxI have a secret.  One I’ve had since I was a young girl.

I don’t like talking about this secret, but circumstances of late have forced me to come out of the closet so to speak.  The theory is as a young child my siblings and I had the hard measles.  Our house was quarantined, and my mom went about soothing itchy red bumps with sticky pink lotion, and bringing down temps with cool rags on feverish foreheads.

My mom checked my temperature and found it to be over 104 degrees and she swooped me up and put me in a bath of cool water to bring it down.  I don’t remember it at all, it’s just the story I’ve heard.  I’ve heard it a bunch of times, told the same way, ending with tiny me shivering in a cold bath and my temp returning to normal.

Thing is, my hearing never did.

That high temp damaged the nerves in my ears, and from then on, the nerve damage in my ears has steadily worsened. Or so the theory goes.

No one knew that, not my mom or dad, or siblings or friends, and later my husband, children or coworkers.  The loss at first wasn’t so bad, I guess.  I just appeared to not pay attention, to be a dreamer (well, that’s still true) and to be in my own little world (sorta still true, too).  I was a bit of a frustration to the people around me because I was not following directions like I should.  Here’s the thing that I didn’t get, to this day I don’t know a single person who pays attention better than me.  I just felt like I was dumb, and soon learned that accepting that would make my life easier.  Dreamer, silly, and then later, ditsy blond.  Monikers that suited me.

In high school I learned why.  They started checking hearing at school, and I failed my first test.  I was so shocked and embarrassed that when the school nurse asked me if I had a cold, I lied and said I did.  I was to get rechecked, but soon fell through the cracks.  I had two more tests my final years in high school, and I got smart and watched how she flipped switches under a box and as other kids’ hands went up accordingly.  So, I did the same, watching intently raising my hands according to her movements, and not so much the beeps in my ears.  Not such a dumb blonde after all, huh?

When I began working at the hospital I carpooled with a lady from our town who’s known me since I was a young child, and I told her about an incident where I didn’t hear something.  I was just about to tell her that I had hearing loss, confess you know, when she said, and I remember the exact place we were driving when she said it.  “It’s not that you didn’t hear her, it’s that you didn’t pay attention.”

And I sat there still as could be watching the cold winter road ahead.  I had not found a safe place to share my secret after all.

This is all a bit dramatic sounding, I know, but I’ve never told the story quite like this, out in the world.  But the story needs telling, because my hearing loss is as much about me as my hair color and eye color, and the sound of my voice and my pointy chin and nose.

I love when people say that I’m the best listener they’ve ever known.  I hear that a lot, ironic, eh?  But, I do listen well, I do care to hear everything, to know the stories and to understand, because so much of what I know comes from body language, and I can assess how someone feels better than most people can hear the words they say about it.  And that matters to me.  My hearing loss isn’t about my compassion for others, it’s about how I know how others feel and I don’t have to have perfect hearing to know.

When I was 30 we were watching Rain Man.  You know the film, Dustin Hoffman has autism, and mumbles, and Tom Cruise is his brother.  Well, we watched that film and I sat mere feet away from the television to try and hear Dustin Hoffman’s dialogue and couldn’t make out most of it.  Hubby sat across the room and heard every single word. My heart sunk so deeply into my gut and that’s when I knew I had to do something, so I confessed my hearing loss to my husband, and even he had to admit there was something wrong.

And Richard Dawson’s voice?  “And the survey says”… yah, forget about it.

There’s no rhyme or reason as to why my hearing is getting worse, and why it got suddenly worse after the births of my children.  When I told one of the ENT (Ears Nose and Throat) docs at the hospital that I needed to come in and get tested for my hearing, he wasn’t buying that I had hearing loss at all.  I was pretty darned convincing my whole life, but being convincing that I can hear doesn’t mean that I can.

So, I got my first aids and they were big inside my ear — tiny hearing aids were for the vain said my audiologist, and I asked, “Oh, do you have hearing loss?”  And he said, “no.”  And I said, “I thought not, because you have no idea what it feels like to have hearing aids sticking out of your ears, especially when carrying your tiny child in your arms.”

Jerk.  I moved on, a little compassion at the first would have gone a long way, let me tell you.

Which, I guess is why I write about this.  There’s such a stigma about hearing loss, and I see so many people with it.  Definitely a sign that we Baby Boomers stood in front of the speakers at Rush concerts where the sound was so loud it blew your hair back.

And all you people that grew up after us?  Yah, those earbuds are awesome, but the decibels on those suckers are wreaking havoc on the nerves of your ears.

Plus, I can tell when you can’t hear, because I nod the same way when I’m not hearing and am tired of asking someone to repeat themselves..again.  It sucks but, why if you are given the choice to hear, say to wear hearing aids, wouldn’t you opt for hearing? So many of my generation don’t.

Darn stigma.

These aids I wear now are a far cry from the aids I wore as a young mom when my 5 year old son was so excited and wondered when he’d be able to get his own pair of hearing aids.   He thought all moms wore hearing aids, it wasn’t until he was in fourth grade when he came home from a buddy’s house shocked that Mark’s mom didn’t wear hearing aids that he understood that I was different.

Two years ago, I had a sudden hearing loss in my left ear.  Bam!  Doctors prescribed rounds of antibiotics that made me sick as a dog and yet hopeful that they were right, the sharp drop in my hearing in that ear was caused by a sinus infection.  Sigh.  Not to be.

So, I headed to the Hearing Institute of Chicago, and with a twang of a tuning fork behind my ear (to determine bone conduction hearing loss, which is sometimes surgically repaired) it was declared that my hearing loss was sensorineural (nerve damage), permanent, and my hearing future uncertain.  No cure, no treatment, no anything.  (You can read about that day here.)

Then last February, my left hearing aid went on the fritz.  It was Valentine’s Day week, and for a manager of a chocolate shop, it’s one intense week, so I dropped the aid off at my audiologist’s and asked that they send it in for repair.  Later, my audiologist called to say that the aid was working perfectly.  It wasn’t my aid that wasn’t working, it was my ear.  Deep sad sigh.

I was devastated.

The secret was really out now, not that it wasn’t “out there” more and more since the first horrendous loss the year before.  I had to work harder than ever to hear, and let me tell you, it’s exhausting.  I felt the pity of people around me, which is totally the worst part of it all, I hate it. I hate when people talk REAL LOUD to me, because I’m not used to it and it makes it harder for me to hear because I’m caught off guard. Embarrassed.

I retreated inside myself trying to figure this whole thing out while trying to maintain some normalcy with increasingly abnormal hearing. I peppered myself with questions, and maybe I questioned God, too.  Why my hearing, will I hear my someday-hopefully-to-be grandchildren’s cries?  Would I go completely deaf?  Would I lose my ability to hear my beloved music, and my husband’s laughter?  Would I be able to enjoy a meal at a restaurant with friends? Would I need lights to indicate my phone ringing, and someone at the door?  Would I have to learn sign language?  Would I not be able to do my job? What was the purpose for all of this? I was utterly distraught and sad.

I’m a faithful woman, you all know it, but I also felt that I had some control over my life, but this?  I had no control.  I could not protect my hearing any more than I was, I could not do anything within my power to preserve the hearing I had.  I began to understand that it’s not my lack of hearing that I needed to concentrate on, it was what I could hear.

What a revelation, seriously, since that young 16 year old girl in the library room raising her hands to real and perceived beeps in her ears I have worried all day long about what I couldn’t hear, and more importantly, how I would protect my secret. I didn’t want to be different, not ever, not even in a good way, but I was and I am.

All of a sudden, just like that, “snap” it was what I could hear that I began to focus on, and it’s sweet.  I love it all.  I’m thrilled to death when I hear my twin sister sing at church, and when I hear the cat purr, or my husband’s soft snores and the birds and the wind and the rain against the windows.  I loved hearing my little great nephews and niece talk to me as they spent Thanksgiving week with us.  Deeply and profoundly, I am grateful.

I had surrendered.

Scary word, surrender. I know a whole bunch of people who think it’s the scariest word in the English language.  Surrendering to a life uncertain should not be such a big deal, because, life is uncertain.

So, will this story end sadly. I don’t like sad endings, I really don’t.  I want to walk away and think there’s hope left to a story. I know I write the truth about life and sometimes it’s sad, and I also know that there will be many who read this and know me who have no idea that I have hearing loss.  That I am hearing impaired, and they will be reading this, and maybe a light will go on and they will remember when I didn’t seem to catch something, or they will say like that ENT so many years ago, “No way.”  But, it doesn’t change that my hearing loss is real and it’s something that makes me who I am, and no less of a gorgeous middle-aged highly capable woman (smile).

So, the sad ending, right?  This past Tuesday I had to have my hearing checked.  My hearing aid warranty was due and we didn’t want to insure the left aid if it really was just a glorified and expensive ear plug as it seemed to be nowadays. While the surrendering I’d been doing the past nine months had brought tremendous peace, I am still no fan of the hearing test.  First of all, I have to do everything I can to not cheat.  I’m so used to cheating on hearing tests, that I automatically want to cheat again.  Thankfully, the tests of today are much more sophisticated than the ones in the library in high school.  It’s much harder for me to cheat.  I also try to remember to ask my audiologist to fool me, don’t do the expected.  Another way to not cheat.  Seriously, the cheating thing is INGRAINED in me when it comes to hearing tests.

Second, I hate failing, and no matter how hard I try, I will fail a hearing test.

The test began, right ear first…beep, beep, beep…hand raising, trying not to cheat, whistles and toots and honks, hand raising at each beautiful sound that reached my ear.  Because, remember, for the first time ever, it wasn’t what I couldn’t hear, it was about what I could.

Then the left ear.  I said, “This shouldn’t take long,” and smiled despite my tears.  Beep, toot, honk…hand raising, some tentatively, some confidently, and then my audiologist came on the intercom sounding completely perplexed.  “Bonnie!  There is no change from the test two years ago!”  We both looked at each other for a time.

Turns out the left aid had just changed its setting, how we don’t know.  It literally was like an earplug.  When she reprogrammed it, all those sweet sounds I’d been missing came through loud and clear.  We were amazed.

So, what was that?  What were the past nine months about?  I think it was God’s way of showing me that everything has a purpose, to look at my hearing loss in a new way.  Maybe, to share it like I am now (in the longest blog I’ve ever written) and come out of hiding.  I don’t know.  I just believe it’s a little miracle, and I am so grateful that I heard it.

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You Can’t Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought…

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My whole life I’ve been a negative person.  On the outside it might not seem like that, but negativity is what drives me.  It really came out in me in my teens, and my high school sweetheart’s dad used to tell me that I needed a PMA (positive mental attitude) all the rage back in the 70s.  I didn’t feel worthy of that, and the more entrenched I became in negativity, the less I liked myself, and the less I liked myself the less I felt worthy of anything positive.

Though, positive things still happened despite myself,  I would feel shocked and unworthy.   I learned that when something good would come for me, it could also hurt another person, like winning a spot on the cheerleading squad and my two best friends didn’t.

I stole the title here from a book I read many years ago of the same name.  Actually, it’s one of many that I’ve read over the years to try and overcome this negative self-image, and negative thought process.  (The most healing book that I have read several times is The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale.)

Even still, I will always secretly consider the negatives before I openly seek and embrace the positive.  When I look in the mirror, I will see the flaws first, and then force myself to see the beauty.

Still. I. Do. This. And. Can’t. Stop.

As a preacher’s kid, we showed outwardly what people wanted to see, it was all a big secret, you know?  In the case of my high school sweetheart’s folks, well, my guard was down after a time, and they were able to actually help me see a better me, and that was one of the most pivotal relationships I had at that age.  So, a big shout out to Mr and Mrs B for helping shape a woman who would eventually embrace and personify PMA. YAY!

While I think we are wired to be a certain way, there are ways through meditation, personal relationships like the brief one I had with Mr and Mrs B, nature and most certainly God to find that hope that is also innate in all of us, but gets lost in the pain, loss, or whatever fuels the negativity.

Through the years, my feelings of unworthiness have inspired an amazing gratitude in me.  Because of feeling unworthy, every good thing that happened caught me off guard and deepened my appreciation for things as fleeting as the Great Blue Heron on the river, or as simple as my husband’s soft snores in the middle of the night.  I tell you, there is no one more hopeful than I for my hubby, the business, my children, even our world as scary as it is right now.  I am a believer, because I consider the negatives first.

It’s all an oxymoron now isn’t it?  My life.  It seems like one thing on the outside but absolutely starts as a seed of negativity on the inside.

Some people will not see the depth of my persona, and instead will see the smiling Pollyanna who believes in all people, who can see the strengths in those around me, and guess what, unlike the smiling young girl who faced a town of people expecting that smile, this Pollyanna in me is real.  I give glory to God for that gift.  Even if it starts with negativity in my mind, through prayer, meditation, and hope, I feel worthy, and absolutely believe in the worthiness of everyone around me.

Thing is, you can afford the luxury of a negative thought, if that thought leads you to hope.  Believe me.  I know.

Mommy? Are you magic?

10004005_10201573454161420_1255530973_nThe thing about motherhood is the amazing insight our children show us.  We look anew at the tiny particles of the world as our babies lie on the floor, arms and feet flailing, gurgle baby laughter, and drippy toothless grins.  And how everything we know is thrown away as we kiss those wet mouths, and make faces to make them laugh.  It’s truly a level of conscientiousness that is innate. It’s inside us like our spirits, it’s fully developed without proper instruction.  It’s instinctual, utter encompassing love.  It steals our hearts and it heightens every sense.  Motherhood.

When Ricky was born, he was of course the most beautiful baby ever to be born.  He was stubborn about birth, in transverse position and coming out face up instead of face down after 29 1/2 hours of labor.  The single most best morning of our lives, on the coldest day in the decade, was the first time we laid eyes on Richard Kelly.

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Ricky was curious from the moment he was born.  He rarely slept during the day unless he was in the swing, and then we’d slowly tick, tick, tick wind it back up and prop up his tiny head and let him snooze away.  Twinsie and I could not get enough of this tiny being borne from me.  She was four months pregnant with her child as we doted endlessly on mine.

When I rocked him, which was all the time, he would snuggle a bit, but then have to sit facing forward, nestled into my chest, so he could watch his world, reaching up to grab my hair and pull it to his face.

He was so attentive to every detail.  And the endless, “What’s that?”s. Everything fascinated him, and he was a Houdini, he could open up locked doors, and figure out how to get the baby gates open.  And you can only imagine the escapades of such a tiny Houdini — one morning when my mom was visiting my twin she called and asked, “Has Ricky had breakfast yet?  I can feed him with Jayni.” And I sat upright in bed, having been nursing his baby sister, and flew into the kitchen to find the kitchen chair pushed to the door and the bolted lock turned, and off my little 3 1/2 year old child went into the scary world to walk five doors down to my sister’s.  I wanted to kill him, hug him, and then high five him.

Ricky loved to snack.   One dark early morning I found him on the floor in the kitchen with a gallon of ice cream between his legs eating it with a big, huge spoon, and covered with chocolate ice cream.  He had a mind of his own, but at the same time, he was very compassionate and sensitive.  He wanted to know about people, “Why is that boy crying?” “Why is that man sad?”  “Why is that little girl so happy?” And he would work out the reasons why.  “Maybe he’s crying because his mommy said he couldn’t have M&Ms, or maybe his mommy said he couldn’t have a dog?”  “Mommy, do you think that old man’s tummy hurts?”  “I bet that little girl is going to the movies!”

And on and on he’d be observing and I’d be listening and talking and we’d share ideas, and it was amusing, interesting, and heartbreaking all at the same time.  My little boy had eyes to see what most the world couldn’t.

When his little sister came, Ricky would stand by her cradle and gently rock her saying, “How’s my little gootchie gootch.”  He stood there watching over her for a much longer time than you’d expect from a child so young.  He was endlessly curious about how she got out of my tummy without a “cut”.  (The very interesting “poopie hole and baby hole” conversation ensued.)

And what I loved best, was when Ricky couldn’t figure something out, then he would proclaim it was magic.  He loved magic, he loved not only what he could figure out and understand, but what he couldn’t.

When I was nursing Bethani, and supper was simmering on the stove, Little Ricky came in from playing in the yard, and walked into the kitchen.  I heard a thump (which was Ricky hoisting himself up on the counter to get the M&M jar) and I called out. “Ricky, no M&Ms, we will be eating soon” and then I heard a “thump” as he dropped to the floor.  Then I heard the refrigerator open, and called out, “Ricky, no pop or juice, it will ruin your appetite.” and swish went the refrigerator door as it closed.

Then he was standing beside me, his 3 1/2 year old eyes full of wonder.  “Mommy?” he whispered, looking deeply into my eyes, while his dirty hand absently stroked his baby sister’s head.  “Can you read my mind?” And I tried so hard not to laugh, when he whispered in awe, “Are you magic?”

And I told him that yes, mommies, could sort of be magic and maybe even sort of be able to read our babies minds.  But, mostly we just love our babies and want them to grow strong and eat their supper.

I reached superstar status with Ricky that evening as I heard him tell his friend from down the street as they played in the breezeway that his mommy was magic, and could read his mind.  And he strutted in his little red shorts and striped shirt as his little buddy looked at him in awe and said, “Wow.”

My Father. Myself. My Dream.

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My dad turns 91 today, November 4.  Election Day.  (Pssst.  Go Vote right after you get done reading this!)

I love my dad.  I love him for all the reasons one would think I should.  He’s been a minister for a long, long time, still preaches and gives communion to the “old folks”.  He’s literally grown the Kingdom of the Lord by countless souls.  Only God knows how many, and one day, when my father enters into heaven, he will, too.  He will be greeted on the streets of gold by those who came before him, especially his twin brother, Uncle Rudy.  I love him for this and I honor him for his dedication to his faith. I love how he loves his Bible.

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I love him for the father he is to me and my sibs.  I love how I can sit with him for hours and still find things to talk about, and laugh about, and yes, cry about.  We were apart for about 20 years as I wrote in my blog called Daddy.

Once during that time, I had a dream.  We were in this big place, and I had to climb a long winding staircase to reach his room.  He was lying in the bed by himself, and the thin silver light from the moon shone through the window.  I sat down on the bed, but he didn’t stir.  I felt peaceful as I sat there watching him sleep and reached over to cover his hand with mine.

My dad has the most loving hands.  Tools of the trade — hands that hold the sick, embrace those who need comforting, shake the hands of everyone who worships on every Sunday, holds the chalice as they commune.

They are hands of a loving dad, gently brushing away the hair from our eyes, or putting his two thumb nails together to try to squeeze a white head on our chins.  He never used his hands in an angry way, only loving, unless you, of course, figure in the ultimate torture of those nails seeking out that white head on that innocent chin. But that is the worst of it, and always has been.

So, in my dream, I’m sitting there watching his pale face sleep — deeply peaceful.  I start talking to him, because at the time, I hadn’t had much time to talk just the two of us.  I told him about the kids, how Ricky hit the ball finally and how he is the star pitcher.  I told him about Bethani, and her love for swimming, my little tadpole.  I could tell in my dream that he heard me, a smile played around his mouth.

I began to cry a bit as I sat there remembering the many times he gave us his last dollar to treat the neighbor kids at the Dairy Mart, or when he held me in his arms after a heartbreaking break up with my first love, or when I was chosen to be a cheerleader over a beloved friend.  I remember walking to the grocery in our small town and him hoisting a HUGE box of Kotex on his shoulder with me following at least six feet behind him trying to hide my embarrassment.  I mean he didn’t need those Kotex, now did he?  So who did?  Yah.  So embarrassing.

I smiled in the thin light of my dream as he tucked my hand in the crook of his arm and walked me down the aisle to my handsome groom.

And even though so many years and miles separated us, I leaned over and whispered the most honest thing a daughter could whisper in her father’s ear.  “Dad, if I am only a fraction of the mother to my children, as you were the father to me,  they will be truly blessed.” And big fat tears began to fall, and then it began to rain in my dream, soft light rain on me, on my sleeping father.  It was like a cleansing that I’d never known before.  I bent down to kiss my father’s sleeping cheek, and saw tears rolling slowly down his face.

Sometimes dreams tell a truth that our hearts just don’t know how to say.

Since that dream, my kids have grown up, gotten a Master’s Degree, Bachelor’s, and are good, beautiful people, that I think I didn’t mess up too badly.  Dad and twinsie and I spend long hours together on the Jersey Shore where we visit him and his 92-year-old bride.  And there is the thick fog of dementia crowding his bride’s mind, and this week he will be moving her to a place that can care for her in ways he no longer can.  And I wish we could be there with him through this, but he taught us long ago that love knows no space or miles, only the murmurs of our hearts. We will get him through, and we will get our sweet Hedy through. And soon we will be together again.

Happy Birthday, Daddio.

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Good Morning, Sweet November

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In your arms you cradled my father born almost 91 years ago on the 4th.

You hold our fate as we walk into the polls to vote for presidents and senators and congressmen and judges…

You are full of promise as you gather loved ones from sea to shining sea and you beseech us to give thanks, even when times are tough, give thanks; even when we are estranged, give thanks; even when we are in pain, give thanks.  And finally give hugs, give kisses, give the gift of time, give generously to those in need, give love, offer forgiveness, and give glory!

Oh, Sweet November.  The promise of your days and the gifts you give us, with the last being one more hour of sleep.

I love you.

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