I have a 20 month old son who doesn’t speak (yes it’s true, he does have a flaw). At least not a language that I can understand. He’ll say “HI!” to anyone and anything that he sees (including potted plants, wheelchairs, and popsicles) and happily points out every “Ball!” that he sees (whether it’s an actual ball or an orange, grape, Tiddlywink or anything else that happens to be round) but really, he doesn’t speak. He gets his point across by pointing, making hand motions, strange mouth shapes and a variety of grunts, but for the most part, I have NO idea what he’s trying to say. I’m assuming the majority of the time he’s either saying, “Put me the fuck down, I’m tired of being carried, I just want to RUN!” based on the fact that he’s at his happiest when he is able to just run around wildly (Anyone know where I can buy a leash?), or “Can you PLEASE get me another beverage already?” since he slurps down quarts of juice, water, milk or any other liquid in nanoseconds. But there are other times that he is standing in front of me, waving his arms, “Buh, Buh, Buh”ing and I’m pointing at everything in sight saying, “You want your truck? You want the phone? You want your toothbrush? You’d like to dance?” and we both end up just exasperated. It’s like when you’re playing Pictionary and your partner isn’t guessing what your stick figure is supposed to be doing so you just keep making it darker and darker and drawing it again and again and pointing at it harder and harder… it’s so frustrating, it’s so OBVIOUS in your own head! Why can’t they figure it out? I know that’s how poor Luke feels. He shouts his word louder and louder. He stares more intently with each shout, “BUH!”, and I Still Can’t Get It. It’s horrendous. To be the mom and not know what your child needs.
Mind you, he totally understands absolutely everything said to him (except colors… we’re working on colors). Thank. God. Since he doesn’t have any words, it always surprises me when I say something like, “Luke sit down, take off your boots and socks and go put them in your hamper.” and he does just that. It’s like a silly magic trick. Tonight at dinner with my whole extended family I said, “Hey everyone, watch this… Luke, see how many pieces of pasta you can balance on your spoon.” and he went and stacked 4 bowtie pastas on his spoon and said “YEAH!”. Ok, so I didn’t get the standing ovation for my son that I hoped for – I guess I just wanted everyone to know that my nonspeaking son has TALENT dammit. Real Talent. And, although he’s like a prisoner in his own head, unable to speak, he is definitely a part of the conversation. He can relate. He can respond. And his non-biased mom, thinks that’s a huge relief.
On the opposite end of the spectrum and on the opposite end of the life cycle, is my 96 year old grandmother. Nana. Nana can barely hear anymore. She “assumes” what people are saying to her based on what is going on around her but really, she has no idea what’s being said. It’s terrible. She feels secluded. She feels left out. She sees that people are laughing but has no idea why. She sees that people are looking to her for a response, but all she can do is smile and nod for fear that she’ll respond inappropriately. She’s tired of saying, “What?”. She’s tired of asking everyone to speak up or speak slower. She feels like an outsider. She’s no longer a part of the conversation.
But she can speak. She still has all of her words. She certainly gets what she wants and if she doesn’t, you’ll hear about it! She loves to talk. Get her going, and she won’t stop. She’ll tell you about every morsel that she ate for breakfast, lunch, dinner and every snack in between. She’ll tell you all of the gossip going on inside her assisted living home. She’ll talk about her younger years, my mom, her dogs and her love for fashion. She’ll rattle off the headlines from the news and the reviews of movies in the movie theater that she’ll never see. Because she can’t hear. She loves to talk. It’s how she can communicate. It’s how she can still feel a part of life. Like Luke, she’s also stuck inside her own head. The world around her is listening and responding. But she’s able to only be on one side. Talking.
Two different issues. One at the beginning of life. One at the end. Unable to speak. Unable to hear. Both frustrated, but both getting by. One with so much to look forward to. One missing how it once was. I have shed tears for both predicaments. I feel helpless with both of them. Wanting to help them but not having the power to really help. I wonder which is worse. Who feels more engaged? Who can interact better? I know, one doesn’t know any better. He’s too young to really know what he’s missing. But his little mind aches with frustration just the same. His big tears, stomping feet and pounding fists tell me so. And my Nana is too tired to make a big deal out of her deafness but I know she hates missing out. I catch her shaking her head with sadness when she’s missing out on the joy surrounding her.
So I give hugs. Big hugs. Because unlike most forms of communication, hugs don’t require words or ears. And that makes us all feel better.