Saturday, January 16, 2010

why they stare

It's getting easier, but it still often makes me want to cry. Anytime we go into public with Lucas, we get lots of stares. I've come to my own personal conclusion about these stares. People look and stare for various reasons. First, because they're curious. I'll admit that I'm guilty of this sometimes too. Second, because they don't know what the heck it is that they see on his head, and they want to know. Most people have never heard of a cochlear implant, let alone seen one. They're trying to figure out what it is, what it does, and why it's there. I understand that this is not unique to Lucas or hearing loss, but to anyone who looks a little different.

The hard part is when kids ask questions and their parents just shush them. The adults don't have an answer, because they themselves just don't know. For instance, if you see a person in a wheelchair, you can explain that he can't walk. If you see a person with glasses, you can explain that she can't see. And although people probably assume that a CI has something to do with hearing, they just don't know. Here are a couple of encounters we've had...

1. One time, Oma and I were out to breakfast with Lucas, and the server came up to him and asked him whether he was making contact with outer space with that "thing". If I hadn't been so utterly shocked, I might have been able to devise a great comeback.

2. When we visited Dutch Wonderland over Thanksgiving break, Lucas was playing with some other kids in an area with big blocks that were supposed to resemble ice cubes. One little boy kept coming up to Lucas and asking "what's wrong with your ear?" Lucas just looked at him, because he was too young to answer. The way that question was worded was just heartbreaking. It wasn't just a curiosity about what it was, but the fact that he identified it as there being something "wrong".

3. On Christmas Eve, one of the kids here, who was 4, walked up to Lucas and carefully examined his ear. Then he pulled the coil off and put it back on, to figure out how it worked. Lucas didn't seem bothered. He kept asking "what's that on your ear?" in a polite and curious way. Then he ran off to his mom and told her it was cool and that he wanted one. If he only really knew what that would entail, he might not find it to be so cool anymore. But this encounter was so sweet and innocent!

4. At Sesame Street Live last week, the little girl in front of us kept pointing and asking her grandmother what it was, and why it was blinking. (The blinking was especially obvious in the dark.) She just shushed her, to be "polite", and they turned around again.

I realize that these are examples of times when I should have spoken up, but I just couldn't figure out the right thing to say until 5 minutes too late. If I intentionally meet a person for the first time, I can easily talk about it. I can write to my heart's content on this blog. I can talk to a family member, a friend or an acquaintance about it for hours. But during casual encounters, I just kind of freeze and smile.

I look forward to when Lucas can answer for himself, just like Gage and Brook do oh sooooo well. For now, I will just smile back. I hope someday to find that voice.


Sean said...

I know exactly what you mean by all the stares, both kind and unkind. I had an event in Costco that just about brought me to tears! What I find is the easiest & shortest explanation is to say (especially to little kiddos), "You know how some people wear glasses to see? Well, Thomas can't hear. So, he wears these on his ears to help him hear. It is kind of like glasses, just for ears and not eyes." Most of the time they get it...sometimes however, the stares just continue.

God has given our boys the difficult task of being physically different. All we can do as moms is to build up their confidence levels high enough to where they take it in stride. It is our husbands' jobs to teach them how to physically protect themselves in case a bully decides to mess with their technology!

Thank you for writing so honestly about these kind of interactions. They can be hard to manage & navigate through. Your words meant a lot to me today.

Finally, I remember reading your blog about the swim lessons. You inspired me to find an instructor willing to teach Thomas. We will be starting private lessons in the next couple of weeks. Like Lucus, Thomas has LVAS and I'm hoping that the lessons will also help him with his stability.

Keep writing...we need your words more often than you know!

PinkLAM said...

That's tough. It's so frustrating, because it's just due to a lack of education.

I've rarely had this happen to me. Part of it is because my long hair is down half the time, so my processors are hidden. When it's up, people probably roll their eyes thinking I'm just another teen who's addicted to technology..

I'd recommend coming up with (and practicing) a 30 second response. Maybe a few different ones (a genuinely curious one, a little kid one, and an ignorant-and-rude one).I know it's not as easy as it sounds, but maybe if you feel more prepared you won't get quite as shocked.

Remember, Lucas is always watching and listening to what you do. He will follow your example, so do what you'd want him to do when he's older. Good luck, I wish you didn't have to deal with this at all.

Landry said...

My approach is similar to Sean's about likening them to glasses when little kids ask. I always tell the parents that I'm glad that their kids are mature enough to be curious about Landry's ears and praise them for asking politely!

Melanie said...

Trust me, I get it. When you have twins AND one with something "different", you practically stop traffic.

I find that kids are easier to explain it to than parents. They are generally very direct and I just say "they help him hear like people who wear glasses to help them see." Parents always have that pity look in their eyes which drives me crazy. :)