My daughter-in-law sent me an e-mail that included a complaint about my son Joe. She made reference to photos he was supposed to have sent me that she wasn't sure he had sent yet.
"Regarding the photos," she wrote, "Joe has them and he is in another world these days. He doesn't hear me when I talk. I told him to mail the pictures to you and I thought he processed my words, but I'm not sure. He doesn't hear anything I say anymore. In fact, come to think of it, I'm not sure he ever has. If my words don't involve dentistry or sports, he's stone deaf... lol."
The poor girl sounded despondent, so I responded immediately:
I understand, Nanci. The problem you have described is rampant among couples married more than two minutes. Even my loving husband, Mighty Marc, often displays the exact symptoms you have described, and this concerns me, because until recently I actually believed he was different from other men. How's that for naiveté?
I've done some research, and what you describe is a malady called Selective Hearing Syndrome. It is not deadly and, remarkably, side effects only affect wives, whose symptoms include loud, frustrated screams and an uncontrollable urge to ram Q-Tips in their husband's ears. From all I have read, it seems the only cure, albeit temporary, is for the wife to leave home for several days. Of course she will inform her husband that she is leaving, but since he won't be listening, it will come as a surprise when, several days later, he finds himself sitting alone at the dinner table, waiting to be served, but no one is there to do that. He will have a gnawing suspicion that something isn't right when he trips over a growing pyramid of wet towels on the bathroom floor, or rolls over in bed and falls out, because you are not there to block his fall.
When you return home, Joe will notice your presence, be receptive to your words and give you his full attention. It will be an ideal time to repeat everything he hasn't heard you say to him over the past years... before he zones out again. And he will.
I had been harping on Mighty Marc about this exact issue. At his age, I'm sure he has some hearing loss, but he refuses to admit it. On this particular day, I was in the bedroom and he was in the kitchen. I shouted, "What time is your doctor appointment?"
He didn't respond so I shouted a little louder. "What time is your doctor appointment?"
After a moment he yelled back, "Wow! That's great."
I stood there, baffled. "What's great?" I shouted back. "I asked you when your doctor appointment is."
He left the kitchen and came up to me looking somewhat sheepish. Then he giggled. I had never heard him giggle.
"Well... I never actually heard what you were saying," he confessed, "but I thought 'Wow! That's great,' was a safe generic response that would cover whatever it was you had said. I guess I was wrong."
He continued having hearing problems, and the fact that we work on different levels of the house didn't make it easier. He works in his basement studio, where he designs and handcrafts magnificent violins. I work at my desk on the main level of the house. Shouting is not an option, so we went to Radio Shack and bought a number of small plug-in intercoms.
Last week, I sat at my desk working while the cleaning girl vacuumed all around me. I share my office with Molly, our parrot, who hates the vacuum. Mighty Marc was thoughtful enough to take Molly downstairs with him because she had become obnoxiously loud and I was unable to concentrate on my work.
Barely three minutes had passed when I heard the intercom's beep, followed by "Blah, blah, gurgle, gurgle," mingled with what sounded like Molly's squawks.
I responded by pushing my intercom button and shouting, "I CAN'T UNDERSTAND YOU. NIKKI IS STILL VACUUMING MY OFFICE."
His response was more of the same. "Gurgle, blah, blah, gurgle, gurgle."
Again I yelled, "I CAN'T HEAR YOU. NIKKI IS VACUUMING. IF YOU WANT TO TELL ME SOMETHING YOU'LL HAVE TO SPEAK CLEARER AND LOUDER."
He called back. "I SAID, IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO ME I WON'T HEAR YOU. MOLLY'S SCREAMING, SO I'VE GOT EAR PLUGS IN MY EARS."
Nikki laughed and said, "I should be paying you every week. You two are better than watching a reality show."
Why don't I find that humorous?
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