When our daughter Molly was born, her 2½-year-old brother Isaac held her on his lap and said, “You’re gonna grow up and play music!” It was a cute moment, captured on video. Several months later we recognized the statement was more poignant than cute when we learned Molly couldn’t hear music at all. She was deaf.
And so began the panicked weeks of seeing every pediatric hearing specialist in town and learning our options. We wanted her to be Part of our Hearing World, so we got her cochlear implants (CIs). I can joke about it now, but back than it was all pretty scary. Over the ensuing months, we learned about these astonishing devices and began Molly’s journey to hearing with the help of terrific audiologists and auditory verbal therapists. And while Molly advanced through her Ling sounds and her annunciation, we knew music would likely remain a challenge. Cochlear implants are made for speech. Music—despite my assertion that it’s quite healthy for most people—is often noisy and bothersome for CI recipients.
Still, when she was about seven, Molly took an interest in pop music (especially Taylor Swift). It didn’t seem too noisy for her, but she often had trouble with the lyrics. Now, let’s face it, pop and rock lyrics are often tough to decipher even for people with excellent hearing. (Did the Beatles really sing, “The girl with colitis goes by …”? Was John Fogerty alluding to a prostate problem when he seemed to croon, “There’s a bathroom on the right”?) But the task was especially tough for Molly. I’d try to annunciate the words for her, but she didn’t have the time in the middle of a song for corrections from her old man.
Her reading was improving around this time, though, so I came up with a new plan. I showed her the liner notes from her favorite Swift CD, complete with song lyrics! (And—bonus tip!—I made copies of the little booklet, knowing full well she’d quickly destroy the original with homemade slime or a melted popsicle in her car seat.) And though the days of those little booklets (and CDs themselves) may have come to an end, song lyrics are readily available online. Molly sometimes even lets me go over them with her now, learning new vocabulary and increasing understanding of idioms and song themes. And though Swift remains a favorite, Molly’s catalog of printed lyrics has rapidly expanded to include other pop songs, country music, movie soundtracks and Broadway showtunes.
Molly has even become a theatrical performer herself. She joined an after-school theater group a year ago and enjoyed performing in a variety show, in which she acted in sketches, sang songs from “The Greatest Showman” with her castmates and sang “Tomorrow” from “Annie” as a solo number. Her drama teachers praised her singing ability, saying her pitch was remarkably good, even better than many people without cochlear implants! The next semester the instructors announced the group would be performing “The Little Mermaid.” Molly auditioned for the part of Ariel … and got it! It was an exciting moment for a girl who had grown up adoring Disney princesses. And the irony of her playing Ariel wasn’t lost on any of us. Yes, the deaf girl whose parents wanted her to be Part of the Hearing World would play the role of the mermaid who wants to be Part of the Human World. Molly herself recognized that she–the girl whose world started out silent–would portray the mermaid who becomes silenced.
Molly did great. She learned her lines. She sang “Part of Your World” beautifully. The local news even covered her story. And she’s ready for more. She’s taking piano lessons (and of course chose a Taylor Swift song for her recital) and beginning to write her own songs. And as her reading continues to improve, the role of written lyrics continues to expand. She loves karaoke, and the words scrolling on the screen allow her to understand the lyrics that otherwise sound garbled. I have closed captioning activated on all our TV sets, too, which is another great tool to fill in the gaps of what she doesn’t hear correctly.
So, Isaac was right after all. Molly did indeed “grow up and play music!” She’s fully Part of Our World! And we couldn’t be happier about it. In fact, we’re overjoyed! In fact, with a bunch of strangers working on their laptops in this coffee shop, I gotta grab somebody and celebrate! With Jimi Hendrix blaring in my headphones, “Excuse me while I kiss this guy!”
The Healthy Humorist®—Brad Nieder, MD—is a funny doctor, keynote speaker and clean comedian who believes laughter is the best medicine ... unless you have giggle bladder incontinence. Dr. Brad dispenses healthcare humor with wellness advice and an uplifting message to audiences across the country. (HealthyHumorist.com, (303) 364-9061, facebook.com/healthyhumorist, linkedin.com/in/bradnieder/, @HealthyHumorist)