Man of the Ear

ear“Are you really sure about this?” I asked Nugget one last time as we spun through the hospital’s revolving door for the third time. (Revolving doors never get old in our family.)

“Yeth. I am thure. I’m ready Mom.” The idea of letting a six-year-old make his own medical decisions seemed nuts but in the end, it’s his body. After spending the summer jumping through more hoops than a participant in the Westminster Dog Show, Nugget will be heading into surgery tomorrow to get an abutment implanted in his skull that will eventually hold his hearing aid and while he can’t wait, I’m ‘bout to lose my damn mind.

Six years ago this chunky Nugget came roaring in and while he was as big as a small toddler, weighing in only an ounce shy of 10 pounds, he had more issues to contend with than his thunder thighs. He had a kidney that didn’t quite work taking up his entire abdomen. He had a divot in his throat that we hoped had closed better on the inside than it had on the out and as a cherry on the top, he had one ear. The other spot was filled in with a tiny nub that kind of resembled a mini-ear but with no opening or inner workings. After failing the newborn hearing test and a few kidney scans we spent his first couple years splitting our time between children’s hospitals and doctors until we finally got the diagnosis that put it all together – Branchio-oto-renal syndrome. Branchio-the divot in his throat, oto- that missing ear and renal, the  hot mess kidney. With an official answer, we were on our way to getting a handle on things.

The first three years of his life were filled with procedures, surgeries, early interventionists, audiologists and a mother that played detective better than Cagney and Lacey combined. Eventually we hit a good groove and things became manageable. A speech impediment and anxiety issues are far easier to deal with than internal organ issues but there was still one surgery left and that one is happening tomorrow.

Because he doesn’t have an ear, there is no place to put the hearing aid and no tube to send the sound through so he wears a BAHA (Bone Anchored Hearing Aid). He’s worn it on a headband up until now that holds the aid close to his bone and transmits soundwaves through his skull. But being the one-eared guy wearing a Bjorn Borg head-band all day as well as a transmitter around his neck connected to one around the teacher’s neck has taken a toll on his self-esteem. (And I thought being the chubby kid was rough!)

Last year a little asshead from a neighboring class did mock him but the perpetrator was quickly reported by the class narc and received a harsh punishment. I asked Nugget if he was upset about the incident, “Nah. It didn’t bother me because I didn’t hear him.” Note to the asshat, if you’re going to mock the one-eared guy, you’ll need to do it on the side he actually has an ear or your efforts are fruitless. This is a prime example of how Nugget handles all this. In his six years he’s gained more self-acceptance than most adults. Last week he came home from school with  a self-portrait complete with one ear, “Dats who I am Mom. I’m just keepin’ it real.” It worked for Van Gough, so why not Nugget?

Six is the magical age when a kid can break free of the headband and get an abutment implanted so the hearing aid just snaps on, streamlining the process and turning him into “a man” as Nugget explained. “When I get my BAHA implant, I’m going to be big, like a man. No more little kid.” He has been counting down to this manhood for years. This summer we got the approval and now it’s time. It’s all great for him but the thought of wheeling my baby into surgery one more time gives me more anxiety than the current political climate. And if I’m bad, my husband The Turk, AKA Captain Anxiety, is about to blow. 

“Baba is thrething me out Mom.” Nugget confided in me last night in bed.

“Right??!? He stresses me out too!” I confirmed.

“Can we leave him home?”

“Sorry Nugs but no. We can send him for coffee a lot though and if we take him he can drive and we can snuggle in the backseat.”

“Thounds good to me Mom.”

So send some good vibes our way for tomorrow, Nugget becomes a man, or at least his ear does and while that happens I’ll be twitching and pacing and The Turk will be getting coffee….again…and again.



A Baller He Is Not


vintage basketball ballers“Other way!!!! Run the other way!!” Screamed a gym full of parents and grandparents from the bleachers. Nugget, oblivious to the words coming at him because he won’t wear his hearing aid in a noisy gym, offered a smile and wave before he continued dribbling down the court to the opponents’ basket. Fortunately, he stopped short of shooting into their basket. Finding himself suddenly alone with no one guarding him, he decided to shoot at the nearest basket instead. Unfortunately, the basket he chose was the practice basket on the side of the gym. That did not deter the 5 year-old baller though. He took about five shots resulting in five air balls before finally losing the rebound to an unusually tall 7 year-old that had made his way down the court.  Nugget was proud of his possession and the bleachers shook with the bladder busting laughter often found at sporting events of the under 7 crowd. It was a win of a different sort.

Nugget had a similar showing during this past flag football season. During one play, his objective was to grab the handoff, pivot and take it the 10 remaining yards over the goal line. Excited by the opportunity to be the runner, Nugget took off, forgetting the part of the play when he needed to pivot. He tucked the ball under his arm and ran. He ran and ran and ran. Again, the sidelines full of parents tried to help him out “Other way! Not that way!” and again Nugget sans hearing aid assumed that was just a cheering section and offered a thank you wave. When it was clear he wasn’t going to stop, the fans changed course, “Run little guy! Run!!!” And that he did, all the way into the neighboring soccer field. 

Initially, I thought maybe his sporting difficulty was simply because he couldn’t hear. As a guy with one ear, it is hard to always catch the play when a team of kids is excitedly squeaking in the only ear you have. After the football run, my husband, The Turk, and I considered the idea that football might be a too much for Nugget because it required more hearing and concentration than my hard of hearing, attention deficit child could muster. We decided he’d have better luck at basketball because ultimately, the process was pretty basic. Dribble, run, shoot. We were wrong.

In addition to the dribbling drills, Nugget added some dance moves, spinning and swaying his way up the lane. When they practiced guarding, his moves took on a disco slant and during shooting, he struck a victory pose after every missed ball. During games he ran in circles waving his arms and usually panicked and forgot dribbling was a requirement if the ball landed in his hands. As I watched my flailing Nugget I was reminded of an adorable middle schooler I taught years ago. In addition to teaching Danny, I was also his tennis coach. Tennis and Danny were not a winning combo. In every doubles match I had to remind Danny that there was a time and place for tap dancing and it wasn’t on the tennis court. When not using his racquet as a dance prop, he used it to wage epic sword fights with an invisible nemesis and like my Nugget, he could spin and shimmy like a champ. Though coaching Danny was craz-inducing, I loved that boy and he turned into a fabulous man. (Word is he’s still dancing.) 

Remembering Danny did comfort me on Nugget´s future but still I was concerned with his immediate performance. His brother is a natural athlete, only hindered by his height. Number 1 has stood about a foot shorter than most players on both his football and basketball teams this year but he has still managed to kick butt. Nugget adores his brother and tries desperately to emulate him but his performance in the sports area is slowing showing that might not be possible. While Number 1 seemed to directly inherit the genes of his father and former professional athlete grandfather, Nugget appears to have inherited the genes of his mother, the benchwarmer. 

My career in sports looks like this______________________________nothing. I did spend one season on the girls tennis team back in 10th grade but spent most of that season on the bench. I was athletically challenged as a child. I had a minimal interest in football and I was rather skilled in 4-Square at Jefferson Elementary but that is about where I maxed out. As an adult I took up running and while I love it, I suck. I’m slow and wheezy and don’t have a lot more than a couple miles in me at my best. But watching Nugget’s sashay form while playing guard did give me hope. The kid does have solid dance skills and a flare for the dramatic like his mother. He has no interest in the artsy fartsy way of life yet, but in time he might find his way. 

I realized that playing sports was not my jam but I am damn good at sports momdom. No one is louder or more overprotective than this mom. I’m the first to take on a washed-up football coach twice my size if he is disrespecting one of my babies (true story and that fat bastard is still scared of me.) and if you bench my kid in favor of your talentless turd of a child just because you’re the coach, you will feel my wrath. Hopefully, like his mother, Nugget will someday find his place but for now, I think we might forgo soccer season and look into a modern dance class. From what I’ve seen on the basketball court, he might be a natural.

I’ve Got Me A Three-Foot Rambo

Having a kid with health problems inevitably turns you into a nut job. For reals. I mean, I was a little on the nutty side before that adorable little one-eared, bum-kidneyed, mute Nugget sprang forth from my loins, but he’s only made it worse. In the past two years I could personally give Sybil (You know, from the classic 1977 Sally Field movie-for you young whippersnappers.) a run for her money. While I’ve Sybiled out on every aspect of Nugget’s care- let’s do it, let’s not do it, let’s do it, let’s not – my most regular flips have been in the realm of hearing or To Aid or Not to Aid- The Hearing Aid Debate of The Millennium, as we like to call it at Casa de Turk.

The Nugget has one ear that works like a charm, but his little nub of an ear is totally closed off and they won’t do a CAT scan to see if there are any working parts in there until he’s older. So for the past two years we’ve just let him adapt like the one-eared wonder he is. Fortunately for him, his mother is very loud. Sure, you can totally screw with him by sneaking up on his right side since he can’t hear you coming, but over all, he’s done well hearing with just one ear.

But here’s where it gets tricky, research shows that most kids with one working ear have no delays until they get into a classroom setting. There is also research that shows pathways in the brain that go unused, as in the case of unilateral hearing, can become paralyzed and a hearing aid can wake those pathways up again. You can ask six ear doctors and three will say “Aid that one-eared wonder” and three will say, “Nah, let him be.” It’s been a tough call but since my sidekick has remained the Teller to my Penn, still adorably mute with the exception of humming show tunes, we decided his pathways may need a wake-up call.

His ear doctor was one of those that had suggested a hearing aid from the start but we decided to wait and see what happened. He could hear well enough and, as can happen when you are the child of an Irish Catholic mother and a Turkish father, we wanted to toughen him up and make sure he could function without help. Additionally, I also wanted to be certain he was prepared for the zombie apocalypse when hearing aid batteries would be sparse and Nugget would need to be able to sense the undead coming at him on his deaf side. He’ll thank me later.

I realize now this is utterly stupid. (The toughening up part, not the zombie survival part – that’s totally legit. I grew up in a funeral home. I’ve seen things. Trust me, it’s coming.) I am wholly dependent upon my glasses to do the most mundane things. Would I expect myself to toughen up and squint, consistently waving to strangers or making sex kitten-like gestures to any dark-haired individual who looked like the Turk from a distance? Obviously this would become problematic rather quickly. I have a weakness and I have used glasses to aid that most of my life. Why wouldn’t I do the same for my kid?

So a few weeks ago, deep into the year of “Fixing the Nugget,” we decided to start the hearing aid process. Last Friday we went for our fitting and it was far more stressful than I’d ever anticipated. From his throw-down in the exam room as they checked his ear to his major meltdown in the testing booth, (PS – I’m pretty sure that those sound proof testing booths are exactly what the Death Star feels like – cold, dark and void of all noise. If an audiologist ever did some deep breathing over the microphone, I’m pretty sure I’d crap my pants.) to his colossal screamfest as the woman programed his trial aid, I was sure this was going to be a battle.

Because his ear is closed and thus there is no way for sound to enter, Nugget has to have a what’s called a BAHA, bone anchored hearing aid. When he’s older they can implant a snap or magnet into his skull behind his ear and just snap the aid on but as a little guy he wears it on a headband. The BAHA vibrates and sends sound waves in to the nerves. (Full disclosure: previously I had vanity issues with putting a protruding box on my baby’s otherwise adorable, yet very, very large, head. Ridiculous, I know, but I had to work through it. Of course that was obviously before I realized he would look like a three-foot Rambo. Who would pass on that?)

As we neared the fitting portion of our appointment, I was prepared to execute WWF moves to keep that thing on his head. I know my Nugget and if he doesn’t want to comply, nothing will make him. (Again, I blame that on the Turk.) But the minute that band was slipped on his head, everything stopped. He looked at me, a little confused, and then he flashed a big grin. Somebody finally turned on the other side. Of course I melted, right there in that maroon naugahyde chair. It was the greatest thing I’d ever seen.

Since then, he’s only taken that quarter-sized device that costs only slightly less than the national debt, off his head twice and both times I didn’t have it turned on correctly. He hasn’t tried to hide it and most importantly, he hasn’t tried to flush it-which is a favorite pass time of his. I think we may just be on to something. It took Sybil long enough but finally I think we made the right choice. So far, not one person has asked about Little Rambo’s headband – maybe if you see a kid wearing a headband, using sign language with a box above his ear, even a moron can figure out the deal. Or maybe he just looks so badass that  nobody wants to mess with my three-foot John Rambo. I am still concerned about keeping him in top form for zombie fighting, but he’s a solid little dude and if his skills at jacking his big brother transfer to zombies, he’s be just fine.

Rambo Nugget