That’s what I thought the cashier at Lidl said to me as I was packing up my bags. Most likely not, but my life has been rather confusing lately. I’ve had to battle on without my hearing aids, you see. And without them… it seems that I’m a rather crappy lipreader.
This comes as a competence shock, because I used to be excellent at it. Once upon a time, I could decipher the drunken mutterings of South Africans in dark corners at parties—even when they were elecutionally handicapped by slices of pizza.
But since Wednesday, it seems like all my skills have gone into hiding. Either that, or I’ve been dropped into a parallel universe in which everyone else suffers a particularly dire form of aphasia. It’s possible, I suppose; it could be global brain trauma caused by the loudness of my voice when I don’t have as much control over it. I don’t have an ‘inside voice’ at the best of times (unless ‘inside a rock venue’ counts).
The shock started on Thursday morning when I asked my son what he wanted for breakfast, and he assured me that all would be fine after the passing of the lime penguin.
I fetched him some Coco Pops, which appeared to come as a surprise, but was thankfully satisfactory nonetheless. He was very good about my silence in the car (only a seven-minute drive in the car) and as I waved him off, he partly fondly with “elephant juice, bum.”
“I love you too,” I hazarded, and headed off to the co-op to sit in my car with my book until the traffic had calmed enough to drive home. There’s something extremely unsettling about driving with absolutely no noise. Anyway, I passed the day aid-free and problem-free, since I work from home. Picking little man up from school was a further challenge. I greeted him cheerfully as he exploded towards me from the rear door of his class as if fired from a cannon. He went from sprinting to stepping back rapidly. He wiggled his finger in his ear.
“Still no hearing aids, mummy?”
“’Fraid not.” I grimaced apologetically. “Sorry. Am I being loud, again?”
“A teeny-weeny bit,” he admitted. “If you could bring it down a little bit…”
I uttered my next words more normally.
“Well done, mummy. That’s less like the noise of a plane landing.”
“You sound less like a plane landing now,” he reassured me, slowly and clearly, with a helpfully-angled forearm in graceful descent.
“Yes…. That’s what I hoped you hadn’t said,” I muttered. Then I noted that he was wearing a sticker saying ‘Musical mention’, which was lovely and surprising, since he doesn’t play an instrument. “What did you get that for?” I asked.
“I dusted monkeys in the shadows of the cliffs.” He looked so proud.
I encouraged him to talk all the way back to the car, hoping that something he said would add context to those mysterious syllables, thus enabling me to unravel the true facts of the matter. I just got more and more lost as lions hopscotched up the curtains to the sound of violins. His story involved lots of arm-waving and not many gaps between words, and our journey to the parking of the Skoda was enlivened by my detour into a tree. This happens when you’re lip-reading. I still have a tender patch above my right eyebrow.
“…and we followed caterpillars into the valley of the damned just before lunch,” he concluded, stepping into the car.
I’m going to blame that last bit of lipreading ineptitude on my ash tree headbutt.
A couple of days on, my skills are coming back to life. Bas’ breakfast request was Marmite on toast, which was far more normal. But frankly, re-learning to lipread with no contextual sound at all is a bit like learning a new language by being dropped into the culture. I’m working out that to lipread successfully, I need to be aidless for at least four days, which is a rather long time to put up with the situation.
I think… the time has come to start thinking about learning sign-language properly, and getting my husband and son to do it with me. I can’t spend this much of my life following the caterpillars into the valley of the damned.
And no, I still have no clue what he’d actually said… though I did get a better gist of the story when he repeated it for his daddy.