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I may not have any of my own (couldn’t eat a whole one as the cliché goes), but I’ve never minded hanging out with children.
Babysitting assistance is dutifully offered where required, although I do fear for what would happen if I ever had to phone emergency services or the parents if anything went wrong.
I like to think of myself as an above-average auntie who has never knowingly forgotten a niece or nephew’s birthday. When it comes to the offspring of friends, I never take less than a keen interest.
No, as far as I’m concerned, the kids are all right. And, in many ways, I consider myself lucky to be able to enjoy some of the fun parts of spending time with youngsters without having to worry about any of the tougher aspects of parenting.
There’s just one problem. Hearing them. With their fluty little voices, not to mention the fact that tinies won’t (can’t) always give you a fully-formed sentence, communication can often be strained.
And it seems as if all the usual problems, of lighting, background noise, not having your attention and so on, are compounded when you’re trying to have a conversation with a child.
Then, of course, there’s the fact that children aren’t always on your level. Literally, I mean. You have to crouch down to hear them at the best of times, never mind when there’s a hearing loss involved as well.
It makes me sad that an adult often has to stand in as my ‘ears’, patiently relaying the child’s words to me, not least because it makes the communication more distant and adds another barrier, while also slowing the conversation down.
Many’s the time I’ve struggled when playing with my Lego-obsessed nephew. I ask him to talk me through what he’s building, but then struggle to catch the reply. So I smile and watch without really getting stuck in. (He’s into the technical stuff anyway, so it would probably a bit too hard for me…)
A hearing loss also means that questions about school, from favourite subjects to the names of teachers and best friends, stuff I really need to know as far as my nephew and niece are concerned, are rarely heard accurately. And there are only so many times you can ask for the information to be repeated.
The other Christmas I was staying with a friend whose young niece and nephew were also visiting. I’m a bit of an Adele fan, having heard her music so often and read the lyrics so many times that I can generally follow her. The friend’s mum had given me an Adele CD as a festive gift.
When the singer came on the radio, the kids were shrieking to tell me this, wanting me to hear the star I so admired. But I simply couldn’t understand what they were saying – or even hear Adele herself.
“Oh,” I sighed when I eventually got it. (And by this time Someone Like You had all but finished.) “You should have said.”
They collapsed into giggles, of exasperation as much as anything else. But jokes, while relieving the frustration to an extent, can only take you so far. Children, like adults, aren’t blessed with infinite patience, and shouldn’t have to repeat things indefinitely.
Then there’s the having to explain to kids why you don’t hear everything first time. I tend to say that ‘My ears are broken’ or ‘Don’t work very well’, but there are no doubt better explanations.
Children and communication are precious. All of which makes me realise just how much the relationship would be affected if I did have children of my own.
Photo by Vladimir Pustovit via Flickr Creative Commons.
The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.
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