Sunday, August 7, 2011

I don't want to hear.

Okay, I should be getting some solid work done during this short period of time at my disposal, but I have a lot on my mind, so I will use you folks as my mind dumping ground.

So Ben has been Very Very Three lately.  Technically he's closer to four than three, but I'm referring to the developmental stage, not the chronological period.  Like any kid, he goes through challenging phases every now and then, when everything seems to be a battle for control and he takes extra delight in pushing our buttons.  This is healthy and normal, I keep telling myself through gritted teeth.  I would be more worried if he didn't do stuff like this, I mutter, reaching for another handful of chocolate chips.

A number of things I've read over the last year have helped.  Y'all know my thoughts on Amy Chua's Tiger Mother book -- I was inspired by her adherence to core values, but I'm neither able nor willing to adopt her parenting strategies as such.  Just for a little contrast and balance, I then read Alfie Kohn's Punished by Rewards, and I started his book Unconditional Parenting, but got diverted by other things.  And now I'm reading a very interesting book about Buddhism, Pay Attention, For Goodness' Sake, by Sylvia Boorstein.  What I'm taking away from all of this is the value of trusting Ben's reasonableness, his emerging ability to respond reasonably, sympathetically, and respectfully to discussion and explanation, rather than always relying on force, reward, and punishment to get through the moment.  From Boorstein I'm learning the value of responding to challenge with compassion.  Yes, he's being a Right Proper Little Stinker, but maybe what he really needs is a hug.  That might be the last thing I feel like giving him right now, but especially at a moment of crisis, his needs are more important than mine.

A skeptic would say, Yah, he's only three, good luck with that.  At any rate, that was my initial reaction.  There's an old-school parenting voice in my head that still insists on the critical importance of my being In Total Control of My Child At All Times, meaning that if I say jump, he says how high, and that any deviation from this state of affairs is to some extent a parenting failure on my part.  Then I ask myself, so how's that working out?  Not so good, not so good.  Okay, let's give this whole wacko "reasonable explanation" thing a whirl, see how it goes.  Hmmm.  Well, that worked better than I expected; must be a fluke.  But y'know, it actually works very well almost all the time.  It doesn't work immediate miracles; sometimes we don't get through the moment as well as I'd like.  But it certainly doesn't seem to be less effective than force, reward, and punishment, and I feel a hell of a lot better about it.

But here's the thing.  In order for it to work, you need to be able to have a discussion with your child.  Often a complicated, nuanced discussion.  Since my signing skills are primitive at best, this means that I need for my child to be able to hear me.

This morning he announced, "I don't want to hear today."  Okay, sometimes he wants a little time without the equipment.  Must be nice to be able to enjoy more or less total silence at will.  We don't want for the equipment to become the focal point of a power battle, so we roll with it.  Okay, it's after breakfast and it's still no go with the equipment.  We're making our way through the morning, doing fine, but increasingly worried.  What if he does this on a school day?  After some negotiating, we decide that it's okay to go to the grocery store sans sound.  All this time I'm mentally cooking up some kick-butt Reasonable Explanations for why it's important to wear his equipment during the day, and I'm sure he'd come around and agree with me, if only he could hear me.  A perfect catch-22.

But I'm stuck.  The parent of a deaf child, and completely incapable of communicating with him under the circumstances, beyond pathetically simple phrases like, "Need potty?  Some bananas, yellow.  No, stop, soon.  Where Daddy?"  All accompanied by overly emotive facial expressions that would make William Shatner blush.

And whose fault is this?  Mine, I guess.  Maybe we put too much stock in the technology.  We're always telling people, No, cochlear implants don't "cure" deafness.  He's still deaf.  Okay, yes, whenever you're around him, he functions like a hearing child, and most of the time that I spend with him he's functionally hearing, too.  But there's a fundamental, crucial, stark difference:  You can always talk to your hearing child.  Always.  He might not listen as well as you'd like, but he can't completely ignore you, either.  When my child isn't wearing his friggin miraculous cure-all equipment, he can completely ignore me.  Completely.  And there's not a damned thing I can do about it.

I can hear the chorus of Deaf criticism in my ear:  See?  Told ya.  You thought the CI was going to make him into a hearing child, and fix everything.  But it didn't.  Yup, he's still deaf.  Shoulda learned sign like we told you.  Bad hearing parent of deaf child.  You had a responsibility to teach your son sign, the natural language of the deaf, and you abdicated that responsibility in favor of a quick tech fix.

Well, it's not quite that simple, either.  Okay, yeah, so I didn't take a year off from my life to learn a whole new language.  I've learned a little, a pathetic smattering, and I keep offering it up to him.  We bought the Signing Time DVDs, as well as a gazillion other DVDs and tapes.  We got the books, the dictionaries, the posters.  I keep trying, but, I have to admit, not very hard.  And honestly, he never sees 90% of what I sign to him.  He looks away.  Hey, English is his primary language, and he's quite good at it.  He doesn't need to learn sign.  I'm the one who needs a mode of communication that works even when he's offline, not him.  It's an incentive thing.  And even when he's offline, it works at best 10% of the time.

So it's been a very tough day.  Some difficult parenting moments, a lot of frustration, feelings of inadequacy and self-recrimination.  We managed to get the equipment on him after Quiet Time, and I was finally able to deliver a fairly respectable Reasonable Explanation, during which he squirmed a lot and paid at best half-attention, but it had an impact.  After that we cuddled together on the sofa and read books while listening to Simon and Garfunkel.  Things are looking up.


Kathy said...

Ben (The Most Amazing Nephew in the Whole Wide World) might able to ignore you but he doesn't. I'll guaranty his Mom-dar is functioning all the time. He is well aware of what he is doing and what he should be doing, the little snot! Your niece was exactly the same way. Yes, I could yell at her and blast the windows three blocks away. Didn't do much good. Only advice I will give is that firm and clear authority is important. Which is not to say abusive, constant total control. For you and Neil, it is all the more important that Ben have the security of knowing who he is responsible too. This might well mean that he will have "less freedom" in certain areas than a fully hearing child of his age. Every child is different and there are never two identical paths through the independence mine fields. Now stop over-thinking and go paint something - like your kid!
Love, Sleazebag

leah said...

The lack of communication can definitely cause more difficulties than many people can imagine. We have VERY rudimentary sign, but I am sure the neighbors think we are the loudest house on the block - it might appear that I am yelling at Nolan, but usually I am simply trying to communicate with him sans hearing aids.

This age must be very common for power struggles - Nolan pulls of his hearing aids and glasses in the first part of any tantrum. And Three is big for tantrums. It is a tough age - not still a baby and not yet a big boy - a world in between babyhood and childhood.

If nothing else, we've learned that the tactic used has to change with each specific situation. Sometimes we simply need to take charge - other times we need to have a discussion. Sometimes he really does need a hug, but other times what he really needs is a time-out. The hard part of parenting is figuring out which solution fits each individual problem.

Melanie said...

I had to laugh because Alfie Kohn and the Tiger Mother are about as opposite as you can get! :)

Noah has said this to me at times too. And I am 100% sure it is a control thing. I will give him a few minutes of quiet and then say to him (we don't know ANY sign, so I guess we are the worst parents of all) that he has 5 more minutes until the ears go on. It's like brushing his teeth, taking a bath and eating healthy food. Hearing is not negotiable in our home.

Hang in there, 4 is much better!!!

krlr said...

Thoughts given my extensive experience raising ONE boy to the ripe ol' age of 6: that push/pull for independence and crawling back into mommy's lap doesn't end. Good luck.

Right Proper Little Stinker is now my favorite line.

I'd love to share all my thoughts on the "you should ask how high I want you to jump" school, having been raised by a firm believer therein but I would need a case of wine first. So I was a solid citizen of the "reasonable explanation" and "you have choices" camp. Only to learn that 3 yr olds aren't always the most logical of creatures. And then there's the hot stove/parking lot/safety issue. Walking that line is HARD. Good luck!