“Co-o-o-m-b-b-b,” Eunice said slowly and carefully as she pronounced the word ‘combined.’ Her mother seated beside her on the train smiled indulgently. The 12-year-old looked up at her and with a smile, her mother nodded at her to continue. “Co-o-m-b-i-i-n-e-d.” She finally pronounced it. She laughed with glee and nodded her head. She made a thumbs-up sign and her mum smiled with delight.
“Read the next word,” she prodded gently.
There was a tic in OB’s jaw as he stared at the duo. For the past 2 hours, he had had to bear the excruciating pain of listening to what seemed to be a 10-year-old struggling to pronounce words 4-year-olds could say with ease. What annoyed him was how the mother saw it as some feat to celebrate. The best way to teach kids to read is to pronounce the words for them to repeat after you so why was this woman making this child struggle so much.
“Beautiful?” OB cut in. Mother and daughter looked at him with similar looks of surprise. He focused on the little girl. “The word is beautiful. Say it after me.” The little girl continued to stare at him with her clear brown eyes.
“Mr. is there a reason for telling my daughter what to do? She hasn’t disturbed you in any way, has she? We’ve been speaking in low tones to avoid doing that.”
“You haven’t, I’ll agree but, listening to her struggling to read simple words for hours is giving me a headache. As a mother, you know you have to pronounce the words for her to repeat after you.”
“Do you have kids?”
“Yes but, what has that got to do with anything? If you want to know, they all started reading on their own when they were each 4 years old. I paid good money to their teachers to ensure that.”
“That’s the mistake a lot of you people make. Just because your child was able to achieve a milestone at a certain age, you assume every other child should be like yours.”
“Well, if I hadn’t paid for such, it is obvious my child would have grown to this age still struggling to read,” he said dismissively.
She shook her head and turned to her daughter who had been watching the exchange curiously. She nodded for her to return to her book. Whiles the little girl started pronouncing the next word in the same slow manner, OB noticed something he hadn’t realized over the hours he’d watched the little girl reading. She was wearing a hearing aid? He looked closely at the device and realized that indeed, it was one.
“Is that a hearing aid?” he asked curiously. She ignored him. He decided not to push. If it was one then it would explain what was going on. He suddenly felt guilty for jumping into conclusions. Also, he had been very rude.
“I’m sorry for the way I spoke to you.”
“She was born without the ability to speak or hear anything.” The woman responded after a minute. “You would mention your baby’s name and she’s looking elsewhere because she can’t hear you. Whiles my nieces and cousins were calling their mothers ‘mama,’ mine couldn’t. She wouldn’t even make a sound. You would read to her and she’ll prompt you with her head to continue if you stop but will never make the effort to speak. I have met kids with speech disabilities but they at least made sounds. She never did. Always silent. We spent money on therapy, flew her all over the world, did everything we could and she still wouldn’t speak. Then one day, my husband told me, “honey, let’s leave Eunice alone. When she feels like it, she will speak. We have been forcing her to speak so that we would feel at ease, forgetting that she has the right to speak or not.”
“It was hard for me to accept it but I had to. We took her to a special school and she always tops the class. She would prompt her younger siblings with just a finger that they’d mispronounced a word. Then last year, she gave me the sweetest hug and said, ‘mama.’ I cried that day. It was my birthday and that was the best birthday gift ever.”
“We took her back to a specialist hospital in the US for a cochlear implant and spent thousands of dollars on a hearing aid as well as speech therapy. We bought a siemens hearing aid for her but she rejected it last week. My husband had this new one flown in this week and she’s testing the sound. Mr. Know it all, my daughter isn’t struggling to read, she’s testing how each word sounds in her ear and as her mother, I can only encourage her to continue.”
There was silence but this time on OB’s part. He couldn’t say a word. He didn’t have to. The lesson had drummed home. Without another word, the woman turned to her daughter with a smile.