The Most Unsentimental Education of My Life
It was my mother-in- law who discovered Cybele's deafness one holiday at the sea. It is hard now to believe that our daughter was already a year old and that we had noticed nothing—or almost nothing. I remember mentioning to our distinguished elderly physician that Cybele seemed to have a high-pitched voice. "Is that normal?" I asked him. He looked at me disapprovingly through thick glasses and said solemnly, "What does the word normal mean?" I didn't dare ask anything else.
My husband and I were just 20 years old and did not notice much except ourselves. We had married, for love, while he was still a student at Yale studying French literature, and had come that summer to visit his mother, who lived on the Italian coast. One hot morning, the three of us sat on the beach in the sun, as one did in those prelapsarian days. I sat on my husband's lap, my arms around his neck, gazing into his eyes.
Draped across a deck chair, my mother-in-law, a long, lean lady from Kentucky, watched Cybele playing with her green bucket near the water. The calm sea glittered. Nothing moved in the still air.
My mother-in-law called out to Cybele, who went on playing in the sand; she clapped her hands loudly three times. It was then that my mother-in-law put a hand on my arm and said, in her Southern drawl, "Do you know, I don't believe that child can hear!"
I remember thinking, That woman, that woman, she is always looking for the fly in the ointment. I picked up my little girl, clutched her to my heart, and carried her down to the edge of the sea. I waded in up to my knees, up to her toes. I swung her around and listened to her laugh and watched her bare feet rise and fall and the drops of water glisten in the bright air, and realized, in spite of myself, that I would never see the world quite like that again.
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