With Ears Wide Open

With Ears Wide Open

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

With Ears Wide Open

One good mother is worth a hundred schoolmasters.
~George Herbert

At my ophthalmologist’s appointment, the doctor stood across the dimly lit room. A powerful overhead bulb illuminated the eye chart.

“Carol, please tell me the letters on this line,” the physician said. Suddenly, my stomach felt queasy. Since I viewed objects like a person looking down a gun barrel, I tilted my head to find the best position. My head began to ache from frustration. The tedious eye exam became more uncomfortable. Over and over again, the doctor flashed light into one eye and then the other. My anxious parents sat quietly nearby.

“Hold still,” the doctor said, as he looked into my eyes with an instrument. I watched him as he rubbed his chin. He seemed to be thinking hard. Then I leaned so close to hear what the doctor told my parents that I almost slipped off the leather seat. Mom reached out and pushed me back on the examining chair. Her helping hand was always there.

The doctor cleared his throat and sighed. “One day, Carol’s sight may get worse,” he told my parents. “The disease in her retina can lead to blindness.”

“Does everyone in this room think I am invisible?” I thought. “They’re talking about me like I’m not here.”

On the way home, no one said a word. In the back seat of our 1960 Buick, I pulled off my expensive cat-eye glasses. I had pleaded with my parents to buy them so I’d look cool. Now, I played with them like they were a toy since my hands would not keep still. I squeezed my eyes closed and turned my head toward the window. One day, would I only imagine the scenery beyond the glass rather than see it?

That September, I entered middle school. Most nights I had homework that included chapters to read. This wasn’t elementary school where the sight-saving class that I attended protected me like a cocoon. I wanted to be the butterfly spreading my wings, but these teachers might not understand my limitations. Could I keep up with the other kids? The armful of books I lugged home made my shoulders sag.

Still, a good report card brought plenty of praise at home. Determined to read, and with my nose a couple of inches from the page, I tired easily. When I read a chapter on my own, the words slipped off the page into inky pools. My head throbbed. Teardrops fell on each page, blurring the words even more.

Studying alone seemed more grown up, but then I did not have audio books and electronic devices like kids do now. Instead, Mom volunteered to read out loud. I sat on my bed frowning, with my arms folded over my chest. Mom sat across from me. She ignored my “sour puss” and kept reading. Who wants their parent to read to them at thirteen?

I bit my lip as I wondered what Mom would rather be doing. She worked part-time, cleaned the house, cooked and spent time with Grandma. In spite of being so busy, she showed up in my room like clockwork, “Let’s hit the books.” I knew that Mom would have to rush to get ready for work that evening. Before I could make an excuse, a smile spread over her face as she sat next to me. She put on her reading glasses. Mom always thought those glasses made her look old. To me, she looked like a teacher.

As Mom turned the page of my textbook, I heard the beat of music coming from my brother’s room. Loud rhythms and pounding drums shook the walls. I sighed. The weird music meant that David had finished his homework. In my room, Mom’s voice competed with the ticking of the clock. We spent the next couple of hours working on my assignment.

Then, Mom’s voice picked up a rhythm as she read aloud. My mind focused on the description of the story. Reading about people, places and descriptions of other times in history took me out of my funk. Instead of brooding about my failing sight, empathy for others seeped into my soul. English and history books made me curious about other people’s challenges and how they coped.

My mother asked, “Carol, do you know the meaning of resolute?” My head jerked up.

“I think it means not to give up, but we’d better check.” The fat dictionary sat nearby.

“Having a brand new dictionary should help us with our reading,” Mom smiled.

Suddenly, the “reading bug” bit us, so we read on. To me, even though I could not use my eyes to fix on each passage, my mind lit up with every new book.

Being forced to concentrate on listening, I found a way to keep my marks up and compete with the other kids. When the teacher asked a question, I raised my hand with confidence. I learned that my ears were as powerful as the eyes of a person with perfect vision. Teachers praised me for having a good memory.

Most of all, friends often shared their problems with me. My talent for listening made me popular. Teenage “sleepovers” had a different twist. My friends and I had “read overs” with freshly baked cookies supplied by Mom. Of course, the gossip we read about Hollywood movie stars in fan magazines couldn’t have been the literature Mom had in mind.

The dread of losing my sight has become a reality. Now that I’ve lost all of my vision, I realize that Mom’s reading created a world with 360 degrees of sound. Thanks to Mom, my sense of hearing now allows me to see. Hope has replaced my helpless feelings. This was the most precious gift from mother to child.

~Carol Chiodo Fleischman

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