Parents who care for young children all have those moments of longing to be alone for just an hour, half an hour, fifteen minutes, five... What no one told me was that once the fledglings flee the nest the longing reverses, and the five minutes, a quarter hour, half an hour, whole becomes the parent's hope.

Having spent my first ever Christmas with my children away, but here in town with my parents, this struck home -- first on December 25 Christmas, which was alway the Big Day, but also last week, during Orthodox Christmas (I have few vestiges of Syrian Orthodoxy in me, but the holiday calendar is one...) when I used to ask the children to set out the luminarias with me (even after they'd left home). In later years I know that the thought of mom's homemade Lebanese food was a bigger draw than the promise of playing with fire and a little gift.

I spent a while trying to figure what to give my parents for Christmas this year. I have a tradition of giving everyone on my list books (with the help of the amazing Amanda Sutton at Bookworks) and another gift. This year, a New Mexico Philharmonic concert at the National Hispanic Cultural Center caught my eye. I dithered over whether it would be too presumptuous to purchase a ticket for myself in addition to theirs, but remembered the gift of time with one's grown children (see above) and made it a threesome.

If you haven't checked out the  Sunday Afternoon concerts at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Barelas, you really should consider spending a Sunday afternoon listening to some of New Mexico's finest classical musicians -- it was a real treat to hear them. David Felberg was superb, as always. 

Longtime readers of my Barelas Babe blog might be pausing here, saying "wait a minute, I thought you were deaf?!" And that's an appropriate thought to have.

Let me take some time to clear up a few misconceptions:

First, the word "deaf" has many meanings. Most laypeople who do not interact with deaf people, and especially not with members of the signing Deaf community, think that to be deaf is to have no hearing at all. (Old sayings such as one being 'deaf as a post' reflect this.) But there is 'deaf' on the audiogram, and there's how one functions when technology augments or bypasses what is recorded on the audiogram. There's also being Deaf, as in a member of the sociolinguistic community that uses a signed language, which contrary to popular opinion, doesn't map on neatly to audiogram categories. It just isn't as simple as posts and doorknobs. 

Second, function is highly variable. Two people with similar audiograms might function very differently with the same hearing aids. I've been wearing hearing aids since I was five years old -- that's a lot of decades for my brain to adjust to what the world sounds like through my hearing aids. I was also young enough that I really don't have an idea of what things should sound like unmediated by technology. Compare this experience with someone who starts to notice hearing loss at age 65. The years of adjusting to hearing loss, the memory of what things ought to sound like, and the limitations of technology produce a very different experience for that person.

Third, deaf people do appreciate music! I bump up against this misconception a lot. Many people think of music appreciation as encompassing the ability to hear the full range of notes being produced -- if you cannot comprehend the melody, then what's the point? Having spent a lifetime of listening to with only partial grasp of musical melody, I have a very different take on what music appreciation includes. (Other deaf people will concur.) Watching music being produced, listening to (and feeling) rhythms as they shift, enjoying the sounds of what one can hear, filling in unheard but not unknown notes with one's brain (this is especially true for those who are late-deafened) -- all of this is part of what it means for a deaf person to appreciate music. And yet, as with hearing people, there are deaf people who don't care for music.

Last summer I bought some spiffy hearing aids with all the whistles and bells. Since I've been using hearing aids for over four decades, I have a pretty good idea of what I want my hearing aids to do. Digital hearing aids typically come with different programs, e.g. for listening in noisy environments, for listening to music, for talking on the telephone. I asked my audiologist to add two programs that suit my  -- one for listening to birdsong in nature, and one for listening to classical music. Classical music lovers know that the dynamic change in sound from pp pianisimmo to ff fortisimmo is one of the joys of the genre; hearing aid users and audiologists know that this range is one of the banes of our existence.

What I discovered yesterday, while listening to the strains of Astor Piazzolla's "The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires," was that the classical music program on my hearing aids, which we had tweaked to account for the very soft and very loud range, is a success!

Now, does this mean I experienced what the person with species-typical hearing heard at the concert?

Most assuredly not!

Does this mean that it was a pleasurable experience for me?


Having grown up wearing hearing aids that are dinosaurs in terms of what these devices can do today, my descriptive vocabulary for sound is more academic than experiential. Each generation of hearing aids that I've acquired has given me new information, even as my hearing loss has shifted over the years. My current hearing aids are the first to give me the ability to hear frequencies in the higher register -- it just wasn't technologically possible to amplify these sounds given the size constraints of the behind the ear hearing aids (BTEs) I've been wearing since I entered junior high school. As a result, with each new set of hearing aids, I am still matching sounds to causes, and figuring out what it means, say, for something to sound rich rather than tinny.

Yesterday I spent a fair amount of time toggling between the default (my fingers first typed deafault, which is both telling and funny) and the music program, plus the nature program, just for comparison. I think I know understand what it means for music to have a rich, full sound.

The richness of yesterday's auditory experience doesn't begin to compare with the richness of sitting down to listen to the symphony with my parents, just as I had all those times as a little girl watching the orchestra players move and trying to figure out how the sounds produced by their instruments matched what I was "hearing" through my boxy Zenith hearing aid.

It doesn't compare to the wash of nostalgia I experienced watching my mother remember her days of playing in school orchestras and the thrill of moving up from second violin to first, or the familiarity of my parent's long-standing back and forth over who was better, Mozart or Beethoven. (For the record, I'm with my dad on Beethoven, though yesterday we both wondered if having hearing loss, just as the Master did, might play some part in this -- do people with certain kinds of audiograms prefer some composers over others?)

Two links have been making the social media rounds as of late -- one is about the value of giving experiences rather than things, and the other about the amount of time one has left with loved ones. When I opted to spend my sabbatical leave in Barelas, in part because of wanting to be near those loved ones, I knew that my choice would be viewed by some in my profession as flawed because I did not prioritize a prestigious fellowship above all. (Of course, there are no guarantees I would have received one, had I actively pursued several of these opportunities.)

The thing is, even deaf people can feel the rhythm of drums in the soles of our feet. And even we don't have to follow that dominant rhythm if something else (another drummer?) beckons.



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Comment by Adelita on January 11, 2016 at 6:28pm

This is great! And I am on the cusp of being n empty nest-er.  Waaaaaah!

Comment by Krista on January 13, 2016 at 4:49pm

beautiful.  I'm at the longing for time alone stage, so if you're missing little ones...  ;)

all joking aside, I think it's so wonderful that you got to spend more time with your folks last semester.  They are quite exceptional people.


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