I Just Love Having a Deaf Mother--I Never Know What
You'll Come up With!

by Tina Blue
August 30, 2000

          Some people who suffer from a significant hearing impairment withdraw into themselves and make little effort to understand what other people are saying. After many years of trying, they lose heart, because their attempts to engage in conversation with people who can hear normally are so often met by rudeness, impatience, and rejection. But some, like deaf little Energizer bunnies, keep trying and trying.

          I am one of those deaf Energizer bunnies. I work so hard at understanding what other people say that most people don't really believe I am deaf. They doubt it even after I've shown them the hearing aids in both ears and explained that with hearing aids I can only understand about 40% of what I hear, unless I rely on other information, such as what I glean from lipreading, body language, and general contextual cues. I am alert and intense, so I pick up a lot that way, but I still never get above about 70% comprehension, unless I am with someone who is also working to help me understand his or her words.

          Many years ago Carol Burnett had a variety show. One of my favorite recurring bits on that show had her, Harvey Korman, Vicky Lawrence, and Tim Conway playing elderly residents in a nursing home. All of their characters had serious hearing problems, so when they carried on a conversation, no one really understood what anyone else was saying.

          Burnett's character would say something, and then Lawrence's character would respond to what she thought she had heard. The joke was that she had completely misunderstood what Burnett had said, so her response had nothing to do with the first comment. Then Korman would respond to Lawrence's remark, again in an entirely off-the-wall manner, because he had no idea what either Lawrence or Burnett had said. Soon Conway would chime in with yet another completely anomalous response, and so it would go. The conversation would get more and more lively, but nothing anyone said had anything to do with anything anyone else had said.

          That happens to me a lot. One of the ways that people finally come to believe in my deafness is when they say something to me and my response is so bizarre that it is evident that I have no clue as to what they really said. Once when I was in Spain with my then husband (a Spanish professor) and a group of study-abroad students, a girl from our group asked me if I "Blahblahblahblahblah."

          I took a shot. "Sure," I said, "But you don't need to worry about it. Just throw it on the table and I'll take care of it for you."

          She was quite taken aback, because what she had asked me was, "Do you have any iodine I could use?"

          What I had heard was, "Do you have an iron for my clothes?" In my maternal little way, I was going to do the ironing for her!

          Another time, as a friend and I exited my car in a distant parking lot, to attend a play at the university theater, she asked me, or so I thought, "Should I lock the door?"

          "No," I said, "I almost never do."

          We got to the theater, only to discover that we had no tickets. They were in my purse, which I'd left on the floor in the front passenger side of the car. Patricia's question actually was "Do you want your purse?" And, not understanding that I was responding no to the idea of locking the car doors, she had locked her door! Fortunately, I had not locked mine, so we were able to get into the car anyway, after a twenty-minute hike back to the parking lot. Needless to say, we missed part of the opening scene. Oh, well--I wouldn't have understood most of the words anyway.

     Several years ago there was a popular song entitled "Voices Carry."  For the longest time, when the refrain would come on, what I thought I was hearing was "Prices vary!"  I couldn't understand any other words in the song, so I had no idea how that phrase might fit in, and of course I realized that I was probably mishearing it, but that really is what it sounded like to me.

     One hearing-impaired person I know says we live our lives in rhyme, because we are always thinking we've heard rhyming variations of what was actually said.

          Once, when my then eight-year-old daughter was at the grocery store with me, she asked me something--who knows what. I responded, as I always do, to what I thought I had heard. She dissolved into little tee-hee-hee giggles, saying, "I just love having a deaf mother! I never know what you'll come up with!" (My daughter has a great sense of humor, and was very cool about my deafness.)

          "Oh, yeah?" I replied. "Just think how much fun you could have with me if I were in a wheelchair!"

          Her response was more of that tee-hee-heeing.

          Sure, it's hard being deaf. But sometimes it's funny, too. No one ever knows what I'll come up with--least of all me!

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