The day before Sawyer's birthday party, I realized I hadn't prepped the kids.
It had not occurred to me, until the Boys Town Preschool supervisor gently suggested, that a big party with a lot of 3- to 8-year-olds could present some teachable - a.k.a. potentially painful - moments when our hearing and deaf or hard-of-hearing worlds intermingled.
I imagined the worst and was horrified by the idea that any child would feel bad.
"OK, you guys," I said to our three children, ages almost 7, 5 and almost 3 at breakfast. "Some of Sawyer's friends from preschool will be at the party."
"And, you know, some of our neighbors, cousins and other friends might ask about them." Leah, who attended Boys Town as a neighborhood child three years ago, looked confused. "Ask what," she said.
So I tried to casually explain that the other children might not know what cochlear implants or hearing aids are; that they might wonder why a friend didn't hear them the first time, and that they might not anticipate beautiful, differently constructed faces.
"They might be curious," I said. “And our job is to make sure everyone has fun and that everyone is kind.”
My own kids looked at me with perplexed expressions, as if to say: "And your point is..." Then it hit me: This is a non-issue for them. They are so used to being with other children with differences, that so-called differences aren't different. That is their normal.
It's not that our children don't notice size, shape or color or try to make sense of the world they see around them. But their world, starting in our own home and certainly on our street, is full of different people.
This is something I had hoped would be a benefit from the Boys Town Preschool program when we signed on four years ago.
What is a non-issue for my children, is a very real issue for parents of children who are deaf or hard of hearing as they navigate the mostly hearing world around them and especially as they grow. That's why the Boys Town Preschool is so important. It provides a good bridge for families who can watch their children socialize in a safe environment with other children who are deaf or hard of hearing and with children like mine.
Beyond the shiny building, phenomenal teachers, well-trained staff, what has to be one of the lowest adult-child ratios in town, and the inventive, amazing art program, Boys Town Preschool presents an opportunity for my children to be in a classroom that reflects the world at its best.
It is a classroom with children who model persistence, courage and strength; a classroom where language in so many forms is prized, and a place that so values the minds and magic of children, capturing their essence in photographs that take my breath away.
In other words, it’s a classroom filled with preschoolers who aren't thinking or talking about differences. They're thinking and talking about what moves them.
Sawyer's birthday party came and went and no one seemed to notice one child's hearing aid. They were too busy bouncing, eating fist-fulls of popcorn and wanting to play with the tiny, plastic Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, which stood atop Sawyer's birthday cake.
It was a birthday party for a 5-year-old. And all children were having fun.