The ocean waves crashed noisily around me. The wind was buzzing in my ears and whistling in my hearing aids. The sun was shining and the birds were flying overhead, occasionally squawking before plunging into the sea to catch a fish. I was seated in the back of a two person kayak — and I couldn’t hear a thing. My son was in front of me, my husband and daughter in a second kayak. We spent most of the trip yelling “What?” into the wind. It was a perfect storm of frustration and hearing loss.
Conditions were not good for communication, even with perfect hearing, but the rest of my family seemed to manage much better than I did. I felt badly for my son as we tried repeatedly to match our paddling to the same rhythm with limited success. It only worked when I matched my strokes to his since I could see him ahead of me. That is what I did, except when I needed to steer us in a new direction. This would annoy him terribly and he would yell out of frustration, and maybe fear.
We were perfectly safe — relatively close to shore, wearing life jackets — and we can all swim. But the unfamiliar experience of being in the ocean with the bouncing waves and the whistling wind added an element of self-preservation and adrenalin to the proceedings. While I understand that it was frustrating for everyone that I couldn’t hear, I had hoped for a bit more understanding, especially under those conditions.
Maybe they had just had enough. Whatever the reason, I vowed never to kayak with them again and told them as much. Clearly, this was an overreaction on my part, but our inability as a family to laugh at the circumstances and all pitch in to help left me feeling sad and alone. I count on them when I cannot hear and I felt abandoned. What if we really had been in danger?
This experience bothered me so much that I have spent time thinking about how I could have handled things differently.
Perhaps my own fear of capsizing into the water — I was wearing my water resistant in-the-ear hearing aids — was the problem. If I had left my hearing aids on shore, the stakes would have been lower making the communication foibles funny rather than potentially catastrophic. Leaving my hearing aids behind would also have lowered everyone’s expectations for my ability to hear, which might have prevented some of the frustration.
A different seating plan might have helped. Expecting a child to partner with me in an unfamiliar setting was probably unfair. Next time (if there is one!), I would share a kayak with my husband who could handle the kayak alone if the need arose.
Discussing the possible pitfalls ahead of time would also have been a good idea. With hindsight, it is easy to see all the ways my hearing loss would complicate this experience. A little forward planning would have avoided the element of surprise.
Readers, have you had a similar experience with your family?