When 5-year-old Anthony Smith uttered those words to his mother, Christina, one day last year, he had been wearing his hearing aid without issue for four months. But that morning he woke up and decided that since his favorite superheroes didn’t wear hearing aids, he didn’t want to either.
Born with mosaic trisonomy 22, Anthony’s parents knew he would suffer from hearing loss. Because of a complicated childbirth and other health concerns, Anthony didn’t receive his first hearing aid device until he was 2-and-a-half-years-old. “One of our big regrets is that we didn’t push harder, sooner, because it made a miraculous difference,” said Christina.
While the first device Anthony had to wear was painful, the second one — the blue Phonak hearing aid referred to by his family as “blue ear” — seemed to be a perfect fit until Anthony decided he didn’t want to wear it anymore. Not willing to give up on a device that was helping to improve his speech and language skills, Cristina came up with a solution: “I lied. I said superheroes do wear hearing aids.” Anthony, of course, wanted to know which superheroes his mom was referring to, so Christina wrote an email to Marvel, publisher of comic books and creator of many famous superheroes, asking for help.
Although her email was sent to a general catch-all “fan mail” account, the Marvel team saw it and responded. As it turns out, superheroes do wear hearing aids: Hawkeye, a member of the popular Avengers team, had lost his hearing during a fight and wore a hearing aid for a period of time in the 1980s. But the Marvel team went a step further and created a new character, Blue Ear, to be Hawkeye’s sidekick in a special one-off comic book created just for Anthony.
That private gesture didn’t remain private for long, though. Almost a year ago, the story of Marvel creating a superhero for one little boy went viral. CNN, Gawker, and the Huffington Post were among the news outlets that picked up Anthony’s story.
While media attention eventually died down, the Marvel team went to work figuring out how to make the specific character appeal to others. “We immediately thought of Iron Man,” said Bill Rosemann, Marvel Custom Solutions Editor. After suffering a chest injury, Tony Stark (Iron Man’s alter ego), relies on a suit of armor to live, similar to how Anthony relies on his hearing aid to hear. Iron Man is also one of the most widely-known and popular superheroes, thanks to two blockbuster movies in the past five years (with a third movie due out this May).
Iron Man was also a perfect fit for Kimberly Rawn and the team at Phonak, manufacturers of hearing technology for children and adults. “[Iron Man's story] was a complete parallel to what hearing technology does for kids and adults,” said Rawn. Together, Phonak and Marvel created a poster (see below) to educate children and lessen the stigma of wearing hearing aids.
The poster was revealed last week at the Center for Hearing and Communication in New York City. At the event, Anthony said his favorite superhero is now Iron Man. Christina added, “[The past year] has been amazing and I think the biggest impact on [Anthony] has been him being a great self-advocate.”
But what about Blue Ear? His turn in the spotlight may not be done just yet. When asked if there are any plans for him in the works, Rosemann said, “Well, you never know. The more we get asked about it, the more we think what could be done, so I always say, ‘Stay tuned.’”
This time of year can put children’s (and parents’) patience to the test — long trips in the car to visit family, seemingly endless shopping lines. Make the most of the time your kids will spend waiting with a fun new educational app, Little Ashby: Star Reporter.
Created by Parents’ celebrity correspondent and Entertainment Tonight co-host Nancy O’Dell and developed by StoryChimes, the app is an interactive storybook that allows children to follow TV reporter Ashby (named after Nancy’s daughter) and her crew on exciting assignments.
Ashby’s first job? To interview Santa! Children will love joining Ashby on her journey to the North Pole. Along the way, they’ll learn educational facts, values, and morals that will be reinforced with engaging activities and games.
With the end of the London Olympics rapidly approaching, you may have noticed that there hasn’t been much coverage of baseball or softball at the Games. Actually, neither sport has been at the Games; after the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted to remove them.
Jennie Finch is a strong supporter of returning softball to the Olympics. Once called “the most famous softball player in history” by Time, Finch led the U.S. women’s softball team to a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics and a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics. Finch retired in 2010 and now spends most of her time taking care of her children with her husband, baseball player Casey Daigle. They have two sons together, Ace, 6, and Diesel, 1, and Finch recently announced that she is pregnant (congrats, Jennie!).
Tell me about your work with Hershey’s.
The program is something I’ve always been about: balance. Finding balance in your life, and happiness through well-being, and enjoying precious moments that we don’t get very often. I’m excited about putting the “active” part back in family activity. My role within the campaign is promoting a way to live in the moment and enjoy it. I’m one of the Good Life Gurus, and we have a Good Life Promise to live in the moment; for me, it’s finding time to be present with my boys.
You’re promoting how to make physical activity fun for the entire family. What are some ways you keep active with your family?
With our boys, we have so much fun with just a cardboard box or a ball. My husband gets involved with playing games of Wiffle ball or setting up a goal and playing soccer.
What about your little one?
He just takes off in his walker and chases, follows, and bounces a ball — his favorite toy. On rainy days or days when it’s too hot outside, we build forts inside. We make little treats like banana chocolate chip cookies using Hershey’s recipes. These are the little ways we engage the whole family. We also have a trampoline and play games like tag or hide-and-seek.
Will you encourage your sons to play sports?
Definitely. Having played my whole life, I’ve been able to see firsthand the benefits of sports. There are so many life lessons that transcend the playing field, such as teamwork, leadership, discipline, and sacrifice. My older son is playing T-ball now and we’ll see if he likes it. There is so much pressure at a young age to be part of individual and team sports, but whatever his passions are, we’ll let him decide what he wants to do.
You showed the world that it’s possible to be feminine and an athlete. What’s your message for little girls who want to play with dolls but who also want to get dirty?
I loved having a bow in my hair and I did wear makeup on the mound, but to each her own. You can still compete and be whoever you want to be, in whatever makes you feel comfortable. One of the greatest things about sports is the diversity within it. There’s room for everything. It doesn’t discriminate against anybody. It’s about ability and having fun, being outside, being active. Off the softball field, I always tell young kids, young girls especially, to find their gift and run with it. We’re all made differently. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Instead of constantly comparing ourselves with others, find your gifts and let them shine.
What did you learn from being an athlete that applies to motherhood?
Sacrifice and discipline. Also, not to take things seriously. With my 6-year-old, I may say, “Crying will only get you a snotty nose and all worked up over nothing.” As an athlete and a mother, you just have to let loose and have fun with your kids while being a kid with them.
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