I have noticed myself getting a little smothery at bedtime lately. A little desperate in my snuggling, as I sniff deeply the smell of Kali’s hair, or hug Grace a little too tightly before I leave their rooms. I try not to think too often about how quickly these girls – now nearly ten and just turned twelve – have sprouted. How relatively few years remain before they fly out of the house. But no doubt this is what is contributing to my maternal clinginess before I say goodnight. Last night, I said to Grace, “I love you, I’m so proud of you.”
“Why?” she asked, a smile in her voice in the dark. I read once that you have to give a reason attached to the statement “I’m proud of you” when you say that to your kid. Actually, I read somewhere else that saying “I’m proud of you” is like taking credit for your child’s accomplishments or something, so you’re not supposed to say it at all. Ah, well. Whatever.
“Oh,” I said, “The way you work so hard, and take the initiative to do what you need to do. The way you seem to always find a way to mediate in difficult situations, find the right words to calm a potential storm.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
I recounted what she’d done at dinnertime earlier. It has been a typically crazy week of activity-filled evenings, and I was trying to put a nice family dinner on the table. Well, in all honesty, the roasted chicken was a Safeway special, and the salad roughly thrown together, but at least it all looked appetizing sitting there on the table. But it was now nearly eight pm. Everyone was starving. Everything was ready except the mac- and cheese. All three people in the house other than me sat down at the table, while I simultaneously unloaded the dishwasher, threw the pasta in the pot, put the silverware on the table, and got the desperate-for-a-walk dog’s leash so I could take him for a five minute spin up and down the street while the noodles boiled. No one asked if dinner was ready. If I needed help. They just sat there and waited, though it seemed obvious to me that we were not at the digging in stage.
“Dinner’s not ready,” I said, and, “I know you’re hungry, but it’s going to be another ten minutes”… I heard the venom in my voice, as did everyone sitting at the table. Kali said she was hungry. Jason said something that was supposed to be appeasing but made me madder.
“Come on guys,” said Grace. “Let’s go watch something for a few minutes until dinner’s ready. Modern Family?”
The rapidly expanding angry-mom balloon got a soft, sweet little pin in it, and the ugly air deflated.
That was what I meant.
“Oh,” said Grace. And then she said, “I got Learner of the Month at school.”
Her middle school, where she started this year, is an IB school. One of the philosophical operating systems IB – International Baccalaureate – schools use is Learner Profiles. There are ten of them. They describe the characteristics of an ideal IB student, and include being inquirers, reflective, principled, and balanced…. Each month at Grace’s school, one boy and one girl from each team is selected as the learner of the month, for whatever IB learner profile is featured.
“What was the learner profile this month?” I ask her.
Here is how the IB model defines communicators:
“They understand and express ideas and information confidently and creatively in more than one language and in a variety of modes of communication. They work effectively and willingly in collaboration with others. IB students regularly deliver stimulating presentations and drive excellence in group assignments.”
I think this news would have made any parent proud.
Here is why this news is rather remarkable: Grace is deaf. She was born with a profound bilateral hearing loss in both ears, and for the first year of her life, she heard no sound at all. There was a time when I wondered how anyone in the hearing world would know her – language, communication, words, are such an immense aspect of how we engage, how people learn who we are, how we connect to each other. When I learned she was deaf, I was shaken by the sadness of the thought that she would never easily engage with our extended family. I couldn’t begin to imagine how she would make friends in the hearing world. I feared she would struggle with isolation. And in the beginning, I struggled with feeling isolated from her.
But with cochlear implant technology, Grace not only hears, she has developed such remarkable spoken language and communication skills that she has been recognized as a leader in this regard among a large cohort of her sixth grade peers. And rightly so. I have seen her leadership role in verbal negotiations in our family. I have marveled at her ability to engage in complex discussions with her friends and mine, with grandparents, teachers, and neighbors. I have witnessed her charm and ease when she speaks at conferences about her experience as a CI user.
There is no crystal ball. We cannot see what marvels, and wonder, and struggles, these children will experience and reflect back when they grow beyond babyhood. Those seemingly insurmountable setbacks we fear will hinder our child’s wellbeing, their happy future, - they rock us to our core and leave us sobbing and isolated on the couch late at night. There were so many tears, in those weeks and months after I learned Grace was deaf. If only I had known.
Grace doesn't like when I make too much of things, so as I sit on her bed in the dark, I try to hold my body calm and just hug the girl a little longer.