Breakfast time. A mediocre hotel. The continental buffet features food that is only a few notches above prison-camp food.
A youth soccer team forms a line at the buffet. They are filling paper plates with dry bacon and shoe-rubber eggs. I am standing behind them, waiting for my gruel.
I didn’t sleep well last night because of minor back pain.
Long ago, my mother used to say that each naughty thing I ever did would come back to haunt me in the form of back pain. I never believed her as a child. Now I do.
I find an empty table. I am eating breakfast in peace when an old woman asks if she can sit beside me.
And all of a sudden, I’m eating with a stranger.
We are quiet for a few minutes. What should strangers say over breakfast? Conversations about the weather would be shallow. And I don’t feel like discussing politics.
“I’m having a hard time waking up,” she finally says. This starts the conversational ball rolling.
“When you’re my age,” she goes on, “you don’t sleep good, you’re lucky if you get a few hours. How about you?”
“I had back pain last night.” Then I tell her what my mother used to say about divine back punishment.
She laughs.“You musta been an ornery child.”
“I had moments.”
We are joined by a boy in a soccer uniform who sits beside the woman. She uses sign language to speak to him. He moves his hands in response.
“This is Aaron,” says the woman. “He’s my grandson.”
A girl makes her way toward us. She is older than the boy, tall, lean, with blonde braids. She carries a full plate. I count four biscuits.
If I ate four biscuits, I’d nap like a bear that’s just been shot with a tranquilizer dart.
“This is his sister, Emily,” says the old woman.
Emily shakes my hand.
Pretty soon, I cease to exist. The three-person family is speaking with their hands. And it looks like they’re having an argument, too. The old woman moves her hands in an animated manner.
“Do as I say!” she finally shouts to the boy.
Her face is stern, and I know that look. I don’t speak American Sign Language, but I am fluent in Parental Body Language. She’s scolding him.
The boy leaves the table. He hangs his head. His sister follows.
“Everything okay?” I ask the woman.
“I don’t know what we’re gonna do with him,” she says. “We joined this soccer team so he could make friends, but he keeps hanging on to me, and depending on his sister to translate everything, that’s never gonna help. She can’t be with him forever.”
Granny is actually their mother, even though she is elderly. She’s raising the boy and his sister because their mother is out of the picture.
Doctors discovered Aaron’s hearing disability a few months after his birth. Since then, Granny has moved heaven and earth to make his life successful.
And so has his sister.
The boy and girl sit at a table in the corner. The other soccer players become quiet when the boy is near.
None of his teammates seem to know how to act around him. A few get up to leave. In a few minutes, the table is empty, and it is only the boy and his sister
But his sister keeps him good company. She knows how to make him laugh, and she does this a lot—while simultaneously eating four biscuits. Anyone could see that these two are a tight unit.
The woman beside me is watching them, but saying nothing. She only wears the face all mothers, grandmothers, and guardians wear. Concern.
“I just don’t know,” she goes on. “He’s so smart, but I worry, it’s not easy in the real world.”
She says nothing more during our breakfast. All she does is worry. And I am wondering who worries for Granny.
We bid goodbye to each other. The elderly woman disappears. Then, I make my way to the elevators. I press the button and wait.
I hear footsteps. It’s the boy and his sister. They are waiting for the elevator beside me.
The girl hugs her brother, she kisses his cheek. She wraps her arms around his shoulders and kisses his hair.
“I love you, Aaron,” his sister says aloud, signing her words.
The boy makes a hand gesture.
“Nope,” she says. “Doesn’t count, you have to say it like we practiced.”
“I love you, too!” the boy says in a loud, awkward voice. “You know I love you, Emily!”
I don’t know much about life, and I know even less about children. But something tells me Granny doesn’t have a thing to worry about.
Just watch out for back pain, kid.
Karen - February 20, 2019 11:20 am
I have a cousin who is deaf. When we were growing up, it was more difficult for her to form relationships. She has now had a cochlear implant that corrected her hearing. There are two little twin girls in our local school who also had cochlear implants as infants. I hope this young man has the same opportunity, at some point. He is blessed to have such a wonderful grandmother and sister.
Susie - February 20, 2019 1:04 pm
I have been a Teacher of the Deaf for 35 years. I’ve seen this scenario more times than I care to recall. What I find sad though is that anyone would think the solution is that this boy should get a cochlear implant instead of the soccer team members simply learning sign language! Even with an implant, this boy will still be deaf, and could very well still need to use sign language to access communication around him. I am not opposed to cochlear implants, but they are not always successful. Sign language has a 100% success rate!!
Karen - February 21, 2019 2:02 pm
The little twins had cochlear implants at birth, and it changed their lives. They hear and speak normally, and have many friendships.
My cousin did not have her implants until she was older, but they were successful.
Naomi - February 20, 2019 11:45 am
My cousin’s first-born son was premature and was given too much oxygen in the incubator, leaving him blind for life. This destroyed his family. They were very wealthy and thought all of their money could somehow cure this child but they couldn’t. However, in spite of his parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles, this child thrived. He never knew what it was like to see so he acted like a “normal” child. He went to elementary school, high school and college. He became a stock broker, eventually married a young lady who didn’t care that he was blind and had children who loved him and also didn’t care that their father was blind. He is now in his 50s and, although he has made a success out of his life, his extended family never were able to cope with his “disability”.
Johnny Parker - February 20, 2019 11:50 am
OMG! So that’s why I have back pain. Mama never told me.
Edna B. - February 20, 2019 12:10 pm
Wow, my Mama never told me about this too. I must have been a lot naughtier than I remember. Thank you for this lovely story. Sean, you have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.
Sherry - February 20, 2019 12:53 pm
Jack Darnell - February 20, 2019 1:59 pm
Susie above is smart. I could hear for 60 years. Now I am stone deaf BUT my Cochlear implants work(fair). I would recommend sacrificing one ear, just to see if it would work for him. I am smiling, he might like it, everyone sounds like Donald Duck, but at least I hear.. Until someone has lived in complete silence they have no idea the feeling of seeing lips move, feeling vibrations but hearing nothing.
BUT no noise keeps me awake. Just a note Sean, so you will know I was a GOOD kid, at 80 my back doesn’t hurt! Just sayin’.
Jan - February 20, 2019 5:16 pm
What a beautiful story about families and love. Aaron is very fortunate to have two such dedicated women in his life who love him and will fight for what is best for him. Something tells me he will be okay!
Shelton A. - February 21, 2019 12:31 am
You feel for Grandma and the kids-especially the boy. But he will learn even if it’s tough, he’ll learn. God bless you for telling a small piece of their story and God bless all 3 of them.
Mary DeBell - February 21, 2019 3:12 am
Jerry R Perkins - February 21, 2019 3:43 am
God be with them and help them in Jesus name we pray Amen
Stuart - February 21, 2019 4:57 am
He’ll be fine. Most handicapped children will find their place and thrive, with Love and Support, which it appears he has. I know from experience.
Remember these children in prayer.
Donna - March 20, 2019 1:59 pm
Love fixes just about everything in life—if we just let it. How blessed those kids are to have had someone to show them how to love.
Faye Pickering - March 20, 2019 3:50 pm
Can’t wait to tell my brotherinlaw why he had to have surgery on his back. This will put me waaay ahead on the gotchas.