It’s been a whirlwind! We’ve been back to school for over a month. It was the first time in a long time and the first time for all three to board the bus. And with back to school comes the excitement of meeting new teachers, administrators, parents, school friends, neighbors, and bus drivers. We needed to shop for school supplies and prepare our gear. With a year spent at home, we needed shoes, haircuts, and a basic reacquaintance with the world of school.
And all of these interactions and errands happened while masked. Masks set off anxiety; I wrote about masks and lip reading in the spring. And my Mom and I talked about this same social anxiety many years ago.
Then there are the people that you come in contact with who you have to communicate with—strangers, teachers, cashiers, waitresses, and doctors—extremely stressful undertakings with limited hearing. I wanted to function as a mother and do what I needed to do. But I either had to try and get through a conversation as best I could, usually missing details and information, or explain to people that I couldn’t hear. Some people would understand and I could tell that others would think of me as a pain in the neck. Some don’t even notice; they’re so focused on their words that it’s not until they get to a question that my hearing matters. When I had almost no hearing, I would tend to not want to deal with strangers because I didn’t want to have to explain everything.
So early fall was a test. What would these interactions feel like with my new technology?
In late August, we attended a welcome back reorientation event at our school. I was nervous—all masks, outside, essential information about the new protocols and programs. How would I navigate this? Would I be able to hold conversations with people I hadn’t seen in-person in almost 18 months?
The event began with a brief presentation from our beloved principal and a question-and-answer session to follow. In my limited interactions with other parents, I was keeping up, actually hearing speech through masks without lip reading. I kept thinking: I heard that! I got that! During the presentation, I could see folks straining to hear. The principal’s voice competed with the rumbles and thuds of construction happening on the playground. Astoundingly, I could hear most of the presentation.
Now what competed for my attention was the realization that I was actually hearing speech and information in a less than perfect acoustic setting. So many times before, in a setting like this, the disappointment and stress of not hearing would have distracted me. Alternatively, at this moment, I was overcome with the excitement that I could hear. And hear things out of context and unexpected, like that all students would receive free lunch this year. What?! No more packing lunch?! (This is a story for another time.)
Filled with an I-can-do-this energy, when the crowd dispersed, I decided to approach a few people and say hello (something I would have previously avoided). I found the principal first. He kindly remembered my surgery and asked how I was doing. I told him that today was one of the first times I had attended a school event and would walk away knowing the critical information: It’s one of the first times I’ve understood you! I found parent friends, and we chatted about teacher assignments, the upcoming soccer season, and of course the lunch news! Feeling accomplished, I decided we were going for an ice cream celebration.
There is no comparison to my previous school and social experiences, masked or unmasked. With my CI, I can understand speech exponentially better. While this is helpful, critical even to parenting school-aged kids, it’s the increase in confidence and agency that I value most.