Sitting down…

My world of late, has been filled with ups and downs. The last week or two have particularly felt like a steep uphill climb.  By the end of last week I was feeling tired. Very tired. A friend then reminded me that on any journey, when we’re feeling that we’re too exhausted to take the next step, that’s the time to just sit down, rehydrate and take a good look around.  So, I decided to take her advice.

I remember, as a new mom, how my definition of a “successful day” drastically changed from being one that included hard work, exercise, getting through lists of admin and indulging in something that I enjoy, to simply making it through the day with 2 alive babies, and maybe packing away the washing… and really a fantastic day would include making a meal that was a bit more complicated than peanut butter on toast. This week has reminded me of those early days.  I’ve set aside the piles of overwhelming admin, I even cancelled a few of our usual afternoon activities.  I’ve just taken a few days to stop and simply feel my kaleidoscope of emotions rather than trying to puzzle them all together.

I reached a low point yesterday when I took the twins to their swimming lesson. (I then regretted not having cancelled swimming for this week).  Being incredibly nervous, when they started swimming lessons  a few months ago, I had to get into the swimming pool with them, as Hadassah, in particular, would not go near their very sweet and gentle swimming teacher.  I’m not someone who does the swimming costume thing.  Every lesson, it would be a bunch of kids with their teachers in the pool…and me, whilst the rest of the parents enjoyed the entertainment. Not my favourite activity of the week! By some kind of miracle, it turns out that our swimming teacher knows a fair amount of sign language and has experience in teaching the deaf to swim.  So, after a few months, I decided a few weeks ago, that I would try to not to have to get into the pool with them.  I explained to Hadassah, that Mommy was going to sit whilst she and Tahlita were going to swim and have fun with their nice teacher.  It took a week or two, and things seemed fine. Wonderful! Then yesterday, they were both so excited for their little lesson, and eagerly awaited their turn in their bright pink swimming costumes and polka dot swimming caps.  When it was time to join their teacher, Hadassah went crazy.  Tahlita happily went off, but Hadassah threw an absolute tantrum and would not even try to communicate the problem with me. I signed and said “what’s wrong” about a million times to try to get her to calm down and express her feelings as best as she could, but nothing helped.  She didn’t want to get into the pool, she didn’t want to sit on my lap, she was not hungry, nor thirsty nor needed the toilet, I even offered to sit on the stairs of the pool with her but she wouldn’t have it.  We created more entertainment yesterday for everyone in that swimming school, than my being inside of the water ever did. An afternoon where I wished that they could speak fluently, so that I could understand.  To add insult to injury, when Tahlita had finished her lesson, she went straight up to Hadassah and very firmly signed to her sister that she had been very naughty – the wailing intensified!  Oh, my week was going from bad to worse.

Then this afternoon, I took time to really  just “sit and look around.” I saw 3 little girls smiling, playing and laughing.  Tahlita was going through the days of the week, Hadassah wrote down her first letters (“H” and “T”) and brought them over to me with such excitement in her eyes whilst she signed them and showed me the written letters simultaneously, and little Eden was paging through a new book whilst commenting on the odd thing that she saw with her gruff little voice and chubby little fingers.  I was being asked to make honey and peanut butter sandwiches by one whilst the other asked for a cheese triangle. Look at what has happened in 4 months of proper intervention. Four months ago, the chaos that I experienced yesterday at our swimming lesson was my every hour, every day experience. Yes, there are moments of frustration and disappointment, but one doesn’t need to have deaf kiddies to experience these emotions.  Another thing I noticed whilst “sitting in the shade”, was that there are many people out there climbing some mighty steep hills. Deaf and hearing…we all have our own stories and challenges.  Let’s keep encouraging our neighbours on their journeys, and from time to time, as my friend encouraged, just be sure to find a spot to simply sit or lie down, and take a look around.

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“Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” ~Mark Twain

The emphasis in our home at the moments is on strengthening communication within our family.  As you already know, we are using a total communication approach, meaning verbal, sign language, gestures and just about anything else that grows language and concepts.  I often overlook the value of unspoken communication.  What happened a few weeks ago, is an example of silent communication that spoke volumes of love to me.

I love flowers (my little Eden does too)!  I’m continuously captivated by how many very different, yet uniquely exquisite types that there are out there.  It’s like they really boast of creation and humble the most high profile beauty endorsements with their simple reflection of Beauty.  From the rustic charm of Proteas to the elegant poise of roses – a vase of fresh cut flowers adorning my mantelpiece, is something that I really appreciate.  I have a wonderful husband who often romances me with some fresh flowers.  The girls always help me snip off the ends and sprinkle the flower “food” into the vase of water.  I then usually get instructed by them on how to arrange things to meet their satisfaction!  Once placed in the usual spot on the mantel, we all step back and admire.

A few weeks ago, I was having a ‘low’ day.  We happened to have no fresh flowers at the time.  Tahlita, having seen that mom was not quite her usual self, decided to bless me with a special treat.  Off she went outside, and chose a few leaves.  Without any help, or even my knowing about her little plan, she fetched her little red cup, climbed up on a chair to reach the kitchen tap, and filled it with water.  Once arranged to satisfaction and placed in position, a sweet little face came to call me.  Hand stretched out for mine, eyes dancing with excitement, she led me to the family room, to show me her special gift to me.  The most beautiful little cup of leaves that I’ve ever received!  Words couldn’t express such gentle, sweet love, but this little girl managed to communicate it, just perfectly.

“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known.” ~Brene Brown

One thing that we all have in common is pain.  Every one of us has been hurt and been disappointed in one way or another.  It’s a scary thing to share your experiences of pain with others – it’s a place of extreme vulnerability.  It’s also often uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of someone else’s pain; what do you say? what do you do? … if anything at all.

I distinctly remember a conversation that I had with a tutor at medical school.  I can’t remember the exact setting for this conversation or how many other students were part of it, but I do know that I left that day feeling dissatisfied.  He suggested that we as doctors, create in our minds, a metaphorical “white coat”.  One that we are able to slip on at the start of our day, to allow us to cover up our own personal lives, personal thoughts, beliefs and experiences.  A kind of guard to protect the patient from any part of ourselves other than our brains, and the scientifically sound plans that we would have learned to prescribe.  Then, after managing a host of situations that are potentially painful; death, ethical controversy, giving bad news and witnessing people at various stages of grief –  the advice was to protect ourselves, by removing this “white coat” at the end of the day and leaving it behind at work.  In some ways, I get what he was saying… no one wants personal ideas and thoughts shoved down their throats, and taking on the pain of every patient would be unhealthy, but this “white coat” as he described, felt like it was covering up the “human factor” that every person needs.  It’s the human factor that allows us to relate to, empathize with and trust. It’s been times when I’ve been on the receiving end of the medical world, that I’ve realized, that too many health professionals have such a coat.  No one wants to be managed or treated by a robot.

A few weeks ago, I was at work, when I was reminded of the advice from this tutor from several years ago. Reaching the end of my evening shift, it was now almost 7 am, and I was checking on a few babies in the nursery.  I was tired, and so the natural tendency after a busy night, is to sink back and just get on with the job at hand, and avoid anything extra.  A mother in the far corner, sitting over her baby’s bassinet, caught my eye.  She looked sad.  I was tempted to just silently say a quick prayer for her and continue my quest to get home to my three girls, but I couldn’t. I went over to her and smiled, and asked her what her baby’s name was. Politely, she forced a smile and answered my question.  I asked if I could see her baby, and enquired about what had happened that resulted in her baby being admitted into the nursery.  With tears in her eyes, she explained that her 2 day old baby had Down’s syndrome, not something that she was expecting, and that the baby had an associated heart condition that was going to need surgical repair.  This was the moment to decide whether to slip on my “coat” or throw it in the bin.  I chose to bin it. I pulled up a chair and we had a mother-to-mother chat. The “doctor” me was tired and ready to hand over for the day, but the “mother” me was eager to engage with a grief-stricken mom.  Her situation seemed heavy to her at the time, her hopes and dreams for her baby seemed shattered at that moment, and she felt greatly disappointed with life and with God.  I could identify with those feelings. She spoke and cried, I cried and touched and encouraged.  Our conversation ended, and she expressed sincere gratitude for simply having me listen to her thoughts and fears. She asked me whether I had any children, so I briefly told her about my new journey and the hope that I had found. I could see that she was encouraged. Possibly not what we are taught to do at medical school, but I’m tired of all the white coats that I see being worn.  If my own journey through grief can make me more relatable and even encouraging, then I’m willing to risk the pain that my tutor was so eager to help me avoid.  The pain that comes with feeling and experiencing, facing fears, being uncomfortable, not being able to answer all the “why?”s, or explain the purpose of bad things…the pain of just being, honestly human.

Tomato Sauce

As a proudly South African family, we are frequent users of the unmatchable “All Gold” tomato sauce.  The other day, as I was dishing up the dinner; the events that followed are a good example of the individuality of each of my girls, the communication that is growing within our family and the reality of being a mom whilst having to deal with nagging.

Let me start by assuring you that things are anything but perfect and calm during dinner time in our home.  Firstly, our dining room table is a small green plastic table perched in the middle of the kitchen.  We all take our tiny pink chairs and find a spot around it.  We had a standard dining room table before we moved, but only ever used it to gather clutter or to study at.  Our cozy huddle in the kitchen works for us for now, and sticky rice, spilt yoghurt and mashed egg is far easier to clean off the kitchen floor’s tiles than the dining room’s carpet.  Something that Graeme and I so look forward to, is the day that we can all sit civilized around a decent sized table (good thing we sold our last one as I’ve since discovered that a round table is a better option for deaf/HH families) on adult size chairs and without having to dodge missiles of broccoli!

On this particular evening, Tahlita started signing and trying to say “tomato sauce”. She signs it quite clearly, and certainly got the others going. Eden, now excited with the suggestion, energetically started signing “red” over and over, somewhat impatiently.  The impatience for this family favourite was very contagious, and in no time, Hadassah was shouting out “Tomato sauce! Tomato sauce!” but simultaneously signing “yellow”. I overlooked her “yellow” add on, as she was pronouncing the words quite clearly.  It was chaos in the kitchen as everyone was hungry…there was “tomato sauce” and “matosau” being shouted, and “tomato sauce”, “red” and “yellow” being signed all at once.  As I was dolloping blobs of the red stuff onto each little plate, Hadassah’s frustration mounted and she started reversing into the kitchen cupboard.  Frustrated by my futile attempt at meeting everyone’s needs, “I lost it” a bit. I went down to Hadassah’s level and shouted (and signed) “No! Stop that!”  My little girl’s bottom lip began to quiver as a plump tear trickled down her rosy cheek.  I’d messed up.  I’d hurt her feelings.  After satisfying the other two with plates of food, I scooped up my eldest princess and took her off to a quiet spot to apologize and try to figure out the problem. “Mamma’s sorry!” I said whilst signing my favourite sign, “sorry”. After hugs and kisses, I asked her what she wanted.  Again she said, “tomato sauce” whilst signing “yellow”.  Tomato sauce and yellow, mmmm… yellow tomato sauce – aah! MUSTARD! Dassie wants mustard NOT tomato sauce.  I signed “yellow” back to her with a question on my face, and her eyes lit up immediately. That was the key, she wanted the yellow stuff that was like tomato sauce, and that was the best way that she could think of, to express her desire.  Off we went down stairs to join the others and retrieve the mustard.  Delighted with finally being understood, Hadassah sat down contented, and we were finally able to enjoy our meal.

These three are so different, they really are my greatest teachers on this journey!  In the end, I was so proud of Hadassah’s persistence to help me understand her, even after I had hurt her feelings! I’ve since learned the sign for “mustard”, and I’m helping Dassie learn to say “mustard”. I read something recently that said something like, “be GENEROUS with saying ‘sorry’.” I think that’s good advice.