Writing about a hearing impaired child in Nora & Kettle and my own experiences as a mother of a child with hearing difficulties.
Nora’s younger sister Frankie is hearing impaired. This was a particularly important part of the story for me as my daughter is also hearing impaired. It gave me that personal inspiration to create a realistic character with a disability. It alsoafforded me the opportunity to showcase how awesome my daughter is. Like Frankie, she never lets her hearing problems slow her down.
My daughter is pretty lucky though compared to Frankie. Being hearing impaired in the fifties is very different to now. Aside from the stigma attached to having a disability, the equipment was very basic and could often make things worse rather than better.
It was thoroughly educational researching hearing aids in the 1950s. If you were lucky enough to be able to afford one, you were kitted out with so many wires and bulky battery packs that you looked like an extra in a bad sci-fi movie. My daughter has recently become more self-conscious about wearing her aid and it’s a tiny little rubber shell that fits neatly into her ear. Imagine the attention one would get walking down the street in the fifties with all this hardware attached to you.
Coming from a high society family, Frankie also has to deal with the social exclusion of being deaf. I am so glad this seems to be a rare issue for my daughter. But back then acceptance was harder to win, with people thinking there was something “wrong” with you and your family for having an ‘abnormal’ child.
Social situations were also a problem. In an environment where children were expected to be seen and not heard, children who yelled and asked people to repeat themselves regularly would have been seen as shameful.
Frankie’s speech is also affected. My daughter has some issues with speaking and I used her speech patterns as the basis for how Frankie talks: Smooshing some words together and getting certain sounds confused.
In my world everyone loves the way my daughter talks, though it can be frustrating for her, knowing what she wants to say and not being quite able to say it. It’s one of the most difficult things about her hearing problems. It can single her out and make her appear as if she doesn’t understand things. When the truth is, she understands things just fine.
In Frankie’s world, talking as she does would bring unwanted attention. It also causes frustration resulting in hyperactive behavior. Not a great combination when your father has an extremely short fuse.
I’ve had the pleasure of watching my daughter deal with each challenge in her life with great courage and determination. Thankfully she doesn’t see her hearing impairment as anything to worry about. It is just part of her. It’s her reality.
In writing Frankie I hope that people will think about how it must feel to be in her shoes. To understand the hurdles someone like her needs to overcome everyday and rather than staring, shaking their heads in pity or worse still, averting their eyes, simply smiles and thinks to themselves, what an awesome little kid.