When the Best Thing and the Hard Thing are the Same

Liam has two ears again.  His implant was activated last week with little fanfare and stress.  He did great at the audiologist, cooperating fully with the mapping and all the things that went along with it.  He seemed proud of his new ears, showing them off to friends and family.  He asked to call Aunt Ry that first day so that she could “see new ears!”  I was so proud of my little man, breathing a little easier with that hurdle cleared.

And then the hard part came.

Part of his activation process is to spend some time each day using only the implant.  His hearing aid must be turned off for one hour each day to allow his brain to get acclimated with the implant.  Initially the cochlear implant makes everything sound strange.  The best explanation I’ve been given is that everything sounds kind of squeaky, like Minnie Mouse and differentiation between voices or different types of noises is all but impossible at first.  Over time his brain will be retrained to understand the electronic impulses but at first everything sounds like the inside of Minnie Mouse’ head.  Liam does not like this one little bit.

The first day I turned his hearing aid off while he was outside playing.  Immediately agitated, Liam kept crying, “turn back on, turn back on” while reaching for both devices trying desperately to return his hearing to normal.  My mom distracted him with a lollypop and he calmed down.  He asked for his aid to be turned back on intermittently throughout the next 40 minutes but overall he acquiesced to hearing with just his implant.  Unfortunately he did not appear to understand anything that was said during that first hour.   It was unsettling: the blank looks whenever we asked him a question.  Eventually we turned the hearing aid back on and let the tension of those 40 minutes settle, assuming it would be easier tomorrow.

It wasn’t.

Day two I put both devices into his ears after naps but never turned the hearing aid on in the first place.  It was an epic failure on my part.  I did it this way because I thought it would be smoother, rather than taking away the comfort of his “regular hearing” I thought it would be easier to not introduce it at all after naps.  In retrospect I think he thought this mode of hearing was permanent and everything had changed forever.  

At any rate he cried and cried devastated tears.  This time he didn’t even ask for his hearing aid to be turned on.  He just grieved.  I held my boy as he sobbed knowing he was being thrown unto an uncomfortable situation where he felt little control, knowing he was unhappy and frustrated and didn’t have the language to communicate or understand why.  Knowing he must be scared and confused and more than a little freaked by how different everything sounded.  I wanted desperately to take it all away, but I didn’t.

I don’t know what was harder, watching him cry and mourn and wrestle with these big feelings or knowing there was an easy fix and choosing not to use it.

Because that’s the crux of it, isn’t it?  I could have turned his hearing aid on, problem solved.  It would have made everything better, lightened the load for my sweet boy who has already borne so much this year.  It was all I wanted to do really.  Just turn the damn hearing aid back on and make it better.

But, though it may have been better, it wasn’t best.  I’m realizing that parenting requires a lot of “doing difficult things.”  Some of these hard things are flung upon us, matters in which we have no choice but to put our head down and one foot in front of the next, each step more unbearable then the last because there are no easier options.  Those situations are hard, but in a way the lack of choice helps.  There is only one way to go, difficult as it may be, and so you go.

Sometimes though as parents we must choose to do the hard things even in the face of easier options.  Because the hard thing is the best thing.  It is the thing that will shape our kids, define their character, enable them to survive on their own.  Painful and torturous as it may be to send our kids into the fire alone, it is there where they are refined.  Keeping them safe is more dangerous in the long run.

And I remember my Jesus who chose the hard path time and again.  Who could turn water into wine and fish into more fish but chose to fast in the wilderness for forty days because it was the right, hard thing to do.  And I think of his Father who sent him into the world fully human to suffer not just death, but a life where he would be misunderstood and mistreated.  He chose to put Jesus into a life of hard things because that was the best thing.

And I realize Liam and I, we’re in good company.