Turn Off the Radio and Listen

Today’s drive started like so many others. Alexandra, my deaf/HOH daughter and I were riding side by side. Alex has been my co-pilot for hundreds of hours and thousands of miles, whether around town or traversing the United States.

The air was cool, the sun was shining, we were cruising with the windows down and the radio playing my favorite country station. I started singing (if you can call it that) and Alex looked at me. She saw that I was singing and returned to looking out the window.

Seems natural right? She was embarrassed by my singing. No. In fact, I was wrong — it was wrong. You see, I was kicked back, hair blowing in the wind, listening to music and Alex was sitting in silence next to me unable to hear the lyrics over the wind.

Even with her bi-lateral cochlear implants she wasn’t able to connect to the music or the lyrics for two reasons:

1. We had the windows down and the sound of the wind distorts the music.

2. Alex didn’t have any clue which song was playing so there was no chance of her being able to sing along with me.

When she turned and looked away, I got this pit in my stomach, and I felt sad and not because she couldn’t hear the music and sing along with me. It was because I was missing a huge opportunity to turn off the darn radio and spend uninterrupted time with her, in her world. Trust me, this is not the first or the hundredth time I have had this ah-ha moment.

But it was the first time I became sad and angry at myself for not turning off the radio as soon as I got in the car with her. Here’s the gig — Alex is 24 years old and has been living with me for the past 9 months — ever since she graduated from the University of Louisville. She has ridden in my car hundreds of times and I can count on both hands how many times I have turned off the radio and entered into Alex’s world.

Alex in front of the Louisville Cardinal sign just before her graduation.And here’s the kicker — Alex was leaving the next day to move back to Louisville. I suddenly realized that I was missing out on a moment to connect with Alex and just “be” in each other’s space. There she was sitting next to me staring out the window, looking at who knows what, hearing who knows what, and thinking about who knows what, while I selfishly sat listening to the radio in my little world. How messed up was that? I was not only missing out on that moment, but I had missed out on so many opportunities over the past years. Why, because I was busy. I was busy working, I was busy talking on the phone, too busy to notice she was quietly sitting next to me, alone in her thoughts.

Now I am sure you know what I did next… I turned OFF the darn radio. I tapped her on the arm to ask her a question and have a conversation. We talked back and forth for 5–10 minutes laughing and carrying on. We then fell silent again looking out of the windshield, arms out the window feeling the brisk air on our skin. As we drove along, I took notice of all of the things she was seeing, I was hearing what she was hearing with her cochlear implant not being rocked by country music. WE heard the wind blowing through the car, the seatbelts in the backseat flapping, the water bottles rolling around in the back of my car, the cup jiggling loudly in the cup holder, the ping of our phones, yet neither of us reached to respond. (All of this reminded me of the scene in August Rush when August was standing on the streets of Chicago in all of the chaos and all he heard was the music the chaos created.)

In that beautiful few minutes we shared, Alex felt important, interesting, included, and she felt happy. All because I chose to turn off the radio and listen.

I want to clarify — over the past 24 years there have been thousands of times I have “turned off the radio and listened”. However, this time was different. You see my girl is gone and I am grieving. I miss her riding next to me with windows down and taking in the world together.

My personal advice? Whether you are a parent to a hearing or non-hearing child, hear me when I say, turn off the radio, put down your phone and listen (really listen) to your child when they talk. Ask questions, show interest and let them know they are important and interesting. Drive down the road, share the silence, see the same things and feel the presence of the little one sitting next to you. Because one day they will go off on their own and you will wish you had taken the time to:

Turn off the Radio and Listen. Really, Truly Listen.

One more thing, if you do have a deaf/HOH child and you are all listening to music in the car or at home, download an application on your phone that identifies the song being played and the lyrics. Include your child in the experience, you would be amazed how incredible it is to have all of your children with smiles on their faces, singing at the top of their lungs, and dancing like nobody’s business. And if they’re all singing, they can’t hear me ;-)

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