Anna has two days left of not hearing before we activate her cochlear implants. We have five days left before we move out of our house for the start of fishing season. As I sort through toys and make piles of what should go to charity and what should come with us and what should go in the basement and what should stay available to our renters’ two-year-old, I find I am also sorting everything into what makes sound and what doesn’t. In fact, this is how my brain has been sorting our existence since we found out Anna was deaf.
In the “save” pile, I’ve set aside the toys that became annoying in Zaley’s baby years, and have been turned to OFF for the last 10 months. (As soon as Anna failed her hearing test when she was one day old, I didn’t want to hear any of them). Now, I’m testing them all, switching them to ON, and finding I could still sing the tunes on just about every electronic walker, baby cell phone, and music box buried in our bins. I wonder now, with new appreciation for any kind of aural emission, which songs are pretty. Which ones would even a baby find redundant and tinny?
It’s an odd question, what will Anna actually like to hear? Will she have auditory preferences? What will be soothing to her and what will be noise? Because I don’t know what sound sounds like through a cochlear implant, I am hesitant. I don’t want to bombard her with rasp. I’m thinking we will focus more on organic sounds–conversations, stirring and pouring, the gentle, hungry clucks of our chickens. There are the animal books we’ve been showing her that snort at the push of a fuzzy pig’s ear. The guitar dog who howls Elvis tunes. I found a wooden recorder in my parents’ basement that Zaley used to drive me nuts with, but that I now see as OPPORTUNITY.
My dad has an old folk instrument called a Kalimba that, months ago, I liked to lay Anna against so she could feel the vibrations. I can’t wait for her to hear it now. It sounds like an island, like a light-footed summer ditty plucked out by someone small and happy. Luke plays the banjo. I have an old guitar that never took. There are so many sounds for her to bathe in, I am afraid that my natural tendency to overdo everything will also over-stimulate this sense she wasn’t necessarily ever supposed to have.
I feel a kind of protectiveness over Anna’s deafness this week. Her silence is something sacred, and though it’s something that she can return to without devices, on Friday morning, at 8 AM, we are forever departing from the Anna who never heard. I wonder if some of the adults in the Youtube videos of cochlears being activated are also crying for the life they have lost, now that they have sound. With any big gain, there is the loss of the prior era. That is what I’m feeling. Anna’s era of total deafness will be something she does not remember. I am trying my hardest to document these days so I can tell her about them…
How Zaley comes blasting into the room where Anna’s asleep to tell me “I AM PUTTING ON ACCESSORIES FOR A WEDDING!!!” and how Anna doesn’t move. How I can call down to Luke at the top of my lungs to PLEASE BRING ME SOME WATER while Anna is nursing to sleep on my chest and the only recognition she gives is the smallest nibbling twitch. How Zaley’s maniacal laughter makes Anna burst into short, fast giggles even though all she can see is Zaley bouncing and grinning and shaking her blonde too-long bangs like a rabid dog. Anna likes Zaley the best. As soon as she sees Zaley coming, Anna’s hands turn to fists shaking in excitement. Zaley can fling a shirt around like a lasso or wag her tongue or pat Anna’s chest 30 times in a way that you would think is too hard or too annoying, and Anna laughs till she squeals and has to take a breath.
It is a marvel and a joy for me to witness that a sense of humor has nothing to do with hearing. One of the things I am looking most forward to is Anna hearing her own laugh.
As we get ready to say goodbye to our house and goodbye to this first year of Anna’s silence, we do the requisite late April accommodations for other people to come live here. If I were a better person–if my generosity rivaled my husband’s–I would see this as a perfect exercise in sacrificial love. Instead, I look at our golf course-green yard that Luke has spent hours pruning and fertilizing and de-twigging, and I think, why are we leaving this lovely place that is just unfurling into full color? We planted the hearty stuff that should stick around till September: cauliflower, kale, radishes, carrots. We hung a hammock under our pergola and Luke fixed a rope swing knotted around a little green seat. The neighbor’s cat was trapped in our basement crawlspace for two days, but we rescued it, and built shelves and filled totes and threw away the 17 lidless sippy cups. As I write, I hear the metal-on-wood banging of the sliding bathroom door, which comes off the rail any time an unsuspecting victim goes in to relieve themselves. Luke is fixing everything so it is perfect before we leave it.
That’s how I feel about Anna’s quietude these last few days: I want to leave it perfect, leave it intact. I don’t really need to do anything different to honor or change her silence–it is; it just is. But I am acutely aware of her realm of quiet now, just before we say goodbye to her hour-by-hour soundlessness. It is so much a part of her as a baby that I feel I will miss Anna’s baby months even more than with any baby because these months represent something that seems almost mystical–an acceptable reticence we shared through eye contact and gesture, movement and stillness. We knew that our communication must be different than the default, vocal language of hearing mother to hearing child. And Anna seemed to always be focusing, even before her eyes could focus. From her very beginning (the just-born baby who did not cry) the peace of her mental, soundless state seemed embodied in her serene, low-key demeanor.
Who knows how this will change. Who knows how sound will alter the dynamic. It is like our house. Who knows how the rugs will smell when we return, what the garden will look like, what we will still be able to eat.
The other night at dinner, Zaley covered the whole scope of what I should be thinking, when she prayed, “Thank you, God, for giving us pizza and cochlear implants. Thank you God for giving us the garden. Thank you, God, for giving us…everything.”