She was a big baby, nine pounds two and one half ounces. Her mama weighed only one hundred pounds so the nurses thought she belonged to the other woman in the semi-private hospital room. There was laughter and unmitigated pride that the child was so beautiful and healthy save for a broken clavicle that resulted during the final moments of birth. The little one wore a sling and the doctor assured the young mother that the girl would heal in a week or two which is exactly what happened.
She was a happy child who loved to sing and dance and run outside in the grass, but she always seemed to have a runny nose and ear infections. There were many visits to the pediatrician who soothed the mother with assurances that such things were normal for a little one. Still the worries increased when the tiny girl stopped singing and had uncharacteristic bouts of frustration and anger. The fevers and ear infections continued and on many long nights the mother held her child close to ease the pain that her baby was experiencing. Each time they visited the doctor he chided the mom for worrying so much, and even hinted that she was being neurotic with her concerns.
Time passed. The toddler years were gone and in a blink it was time for the child to go to school. She was terrified and clung to her mother with all of her might. The kindergarten teacher suggested that the girl was a bit slow and unsocial. She recommended counseling and perhaps even testing for special education. The mother did not know what to do. She knew that her little one was very bright, but exceedingly shy and quiet. The defiant mom insisted that they wait and see how things worked out once the child had adjusted to the demands of school. After all, it had been a tumultuous time for the whole family with deaths of loved ones and a string of serious illnesses that afflicted both parents. Somehow the mother believed that things would ultimately work out for the better.
First grade came for the little girl. She had a sweet and observant teacher who took great pains to get to know each of her students. The educator noticed that the child was carefully watching the lips of anyone who spoke. Her level of concentration for this task was intense. The thoughtful educator had an idea, and sent her student to the school nurse for a hearing test. Just as she had expected the results indicated a forty percent hearing loss. The child was not slow, quite the contrary. She was having to learn with an extreme handicap and still doing very well.
When the mother got the news about her beautiful little girl she cried. Everything suddenly made sense, the times when the child was surly, the frustrating moments when the girl appeared to be ignoring her, the sudden end of the singing. That beautiful baby could not hear.
A visit to a specialist supported the findings of the school nurse. The good news was that the condition was being caused by a build up of fluid in the ear canal. The doctor assured the mother that with a bit of surgery, the insertion of tubes and the removal of the tonsils and adenoids the child would soon be hearing quite well. A date was set for the procedures.
The mom’s heart beat quickly as she walked beside her daughter’s hospital bed that was being wheeled into the operating room. The wait for news felt like an eternity, but in a time much shorter than it seemed the prognosis was wonderful. All had gone well. The child’s future would be so much brighter.
As the mother and father drove their little girl home they were stunned by what happened next. The child’s eyes widened and she gasped while putting her hands near her ears. “What is that?” she exclaimed. “What is all that noise?”
The parents realized that their child was hearing normally for the first time in a very long time. They smiled and cried at the same time. They understood at that moment just how difficult it had been for their baby to navigate in a world full of voices that she could not hear.
Life did indeed change for the little girl. She proved to be an outstanding student, a bright girl who would achieve many great things. She began to sing and dance again and enjoy the sounds of the world that make life so much more pleasurable. The mother would always feel a special gratitude for the teacher who had so lovingly advocated for the little one rather than judging her to be slow and awkward. That educator had changed a life in a very special way.
The girl grew up, earned a college degree from a prestigious university, married and had a great big family of her own. She still had problems now again with her hearing, especially in big crowds or when listening on a phone. The wonderful world of texting has been a boon for her and she has learned to cope with the moments when she doesn’t quite catch what is being said. She still loves music as much as she did when she was barely walking when she would move her tiny feet to the beat while attempting to hum along. Thanks to her first grade teacher her life was enriched in a multitude of ways. Everyone knows that she is bright and capable and accomplished.
Today is that child’s birthday. Her name is Maryellen and she is my baby all grown up. I will be eternally grateful to the wonderful woman who took the time to unravel the paradox of Maryellen’s behavior. Today Maryellen is the incredible woman that she was meant to be. But for the intervention of her teacher things might have been very different. Because of that woman we were all able to hear the sound of love.
I wish Maryellen a very happy birthday on this morning, remembering what a beautiful infant she was, and feeling so thankful for the amazing woman she has become.