Just thinking…

I write this sitting on a worn red leather chair (that’s rather uncomfortable), next to a sleeping Tahlita. She is not well and has been admitted to hospital for some IV fluids. She’ll be fine though, I’m sure.

It is now 22:00, and apart from a beam of light slithering from under the bathroom door, the ward is in darkness. As I contemplate a long night of not getting much rest, and being disturbed by Tahlita’s hourly temperature checks, I take a few minutes to zoom out and observe.

There are several beds in this cubicle…the mom across from us has curled up next to her toddler in an attempt to find comfort. She is evidently asleep. The volume and character of the snoring coming from that corner is something that I’ve never experienced before. She sounds like a werewolf – a loud one. Next to her is a little boy being entertained by a musical book. It only has one jingle… “Old MacDonald…” However, he keeps hitting the music button, and the repetition of the first few words is becoming painful. “Old MacDonald had a…Old Mac Donald had…Old Mac…” This has been going on for about fifteen minutes already. As I pray that the battery would finally die, I’m concerned that the persistent words of this rhyme will be burnt in my mind for me to experience all night. The baby across from him is having his dressing changed. I’m sure that the entire hospital can hear is protest – poor boy, he’s obviously scared. The last little man in the bed next to us is tired and frustrated by not being able to fall asleep. The noise levels are beyond unpleasant, and consequently, he is adding to this melancholic orchestra. Sounds from other cubicles compete with the din from ours…medical machines beeping, nursing bells are ringing and babies are wailing.

And here next to me, is my little girl, her peaceful face framed by golden curls, soundly asleep. She is comforted and caressed by silence. As I sip my milky tea, I have a refreshed appreciation for deaf gain.

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Going “Under”

Our somewhat nervous Eden, gripping to her swimming teacher like a baby monkey, eyes wide with anticipation as her teacher asks her if she’s feeling okay to go “under” today, glances at me across the pool for moral support. I sign back, “You’re brave (knowing that quite the opposite is true) go “under”, maybe just one time today?” She shakes her head nervously with a, “No go under today, no go under! Tomorrow Eden go under maybe.” This little ball of cuteness is quite different to her sisters. While we can’t keep the twins out of the water, Eden hates getting her face and head wet and actually is quite nervous to see any water level reach higher than her knees. She’s been going to swimming lessons for about six months now, in an attempt to make her water-safe. It seems like a contradiction, as her fear of water keeps her a fair distance from the edge of the swimming pool, but you just never know. Every single time on the way to swimming, we have a negotiation. As she recognizes the trees and houses that mark our swimming lesson journey, it starts, “Mama, Eden no go under today…maybe tomorrow.” I don’t push her at all, I acknowledge her fear and help her with words like, “Is Eden feeling scared and nervous?” and then assure her that she can go under the water when she feels ready to do so. We’re very fortunate that our swimming teacher can sign sufficiently, or they’d have no communication without their hearing aids in the water. After convincing both myself and her teacher that today would not be he day to get her hair wet, Hadassah, made her way to the edge of the pool. After getting her little sister’s attention by frantically waving her arm in the air, she started signing with a determined look in her eyes, “Eden can do ANYTHING. Remember, you CAN do ANYTHING!” With encouragement from her sister, a glowing smile emerged between two chubby cheeks. Hadassah continued, this time with a questioning expression, “You can do anything? You can go under?” A pregnant pause was followed by a single nod as she glanced up at her teacher. “Eden go under.” And “under” she went. With all the praise and encouragement from everyone watching on, this little monkey was happy to be submerged four times that session. She believed she could, so she did.

“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.” I’ve seen that catchy phrase many times before, and believe it to be true, but never thought it would pretty much become the theme of our family motto. For the last year or so, almost every day, we speak a positive declaration to our girls – and they LOVE it. Each one is looked directly into their eyes and we sign, “You are beautiful. You are brave and strong. You are clever. You are precious, you are loved. You are enough, just the way you are. You can do ANYTHING!”

Hadassah was the first to start believing those things about herself. One morning she was getting so frustrated as she was trying to tie her own shoe laces. She’d bundle the laces together, hoping that miraculously, they’d figure themselves out. “I can’t,” she signed very frustrated. I always try to remember to acknowledge their feelings and expose them to a variety of “feeling” words. “You’re feeling frustrated because tying your laces is difficult?” I signed, “but just remember…you CAN do anything…let mama teach you.” I showed her twice and then she insisted I stopped. With Tahlita watching on, Hadassah tried and failed, tried and almost got it, but didn’t, tried and tried and after 10 minutes was tying her laces with ease. In amazement, Tahlita excitedly exclaimed, “Hadassah CAN do anything!” Encouraged by her sister, she offered to tie her laces too, and taught Tahlita over the next few weeks how to do them herself. She believed she could, so she did.

These are small, seemingly insignificant examples, but weave the belief into their hearts that in spite of obstacles that may come their way, with practice and perseverance, they CAN. This is important for my kids especially. They will be labeled “disabled”. People will write them off as less than capable and make false assumptions that their abilities may be less, simply because they are deaf. Their mama and dada will fight for them ‘til the end if necessary, but the time will come when they need to stand up for themselves, and they will only be empowered to do so, if their self-esteem has not been crippled by the limitations that others may want them to believe about themselves. They CAN do anything – that is the truth. I believe they can and intend on reminding them frequently of this. If she believes she can, she will.

Discussing Urchins

As a parent, I appreciate more than anything, that not one size fits all. What may work for your child and family, may not work for mine and vice versa. And, you know what – that’s okay! I’ve also learned that no decision of ours needs to be set in stone…if something is not working so well, try something else. Being relaxed enough to be flexible in the decisions that we make for our children, is key to enjoying this journey.

In the beginning of our journey, we opted for oral communication with our girls. In my blog “wet shoes,” I mention how this really wasn’t working for us and that on identifying Eden’s hearing loss, we decided to embrace a total communication approach which includes South African Sign Language.

SASL has been a wonderful tool in language acquisition and development with my girls. Initially, overwhelmed by a brand new language, we took one step at a time in trying learn it as a family. Each step… holding fear in one hand, and hope in the other; fear fueled by the opinions of those against visual communication, and hope that just perhaps, it would open the door to communication. It didn’t take long before hope won that battle, as we started to communicate as a family.

During a recent beach holiday, this new language, gave me renewed insight and appreciation of how a visual means of communication can be very liberating. We were away for nearly a week and spent several hours a day on the warm sand. Had we been a family reliant exclusively on sound to communicate, I’m pretty sure that I’d be watching my clock, feeling more and more guilty as time went on, possibly thinking that I was depriving my child of “language time”.  I know myself well, and in this culture of achievement-driven motivation, I would have felt guilty. Without our hearing aids on the beach, we may have had moments of extreme frustration, as simple issues needing communication, such as the need for a toilet break, may have become misunderstandings. Instead, thanks to SASL, we had a blissful guilt-free week maximizing every moment on our proudly South African beaches under the glowing African sun.

Besides the minor details, such as accurately being able to discuss exactly which ice-cream each of them wanted when the faithful ice-cream man strolled along the water’s edge, to informing us about their need for the loo, our ability to communicate in the local thriving rock pool was truly an experience that I will always treasure. This was the first time our girls had tried snorkeling. It took a few minutes of spluttering, to learn that the snorkel should not be submerged into the water, and after one day’s practice, they had gotten the hang of things, and REALLY loved it.  This experience opened up a whole new world to them. With the use of sign language, and gesture and often made up signs when our vocab reached its limit, we were able to discuss the crabs and the urchins, and their various details colored with interesting adjectives and facts. The topic of anemones was wonderful, as we discussed why they are important to the sea, and then we could appreciate and converse about the variety of fish life that would swarm around us at times. At the end of a session the girls could tell us that they were cold or feeling thirsty and wanted a break. Not for one minute did we feel like a family with special needs. Just a regular family with regular kids, embracing the very best that nature has to offer. One thing we didn’t do which I’ll definitely try out next time, is linking literacy to the experience…either through creating an experience page where the girls can draw what they saw or enjoyed the most, and then we will embellish that with words and short phrases that they can see, or even just through writing words like “urchin” or “fish” in the sand and giving them opportunities to spell them out and practice their writing.

Salty skins and slightly bleached hair from all the wonderful time in the sun, were some of the little reminders of the fun that was had. The girls are already asking for the next trip to the sea, although our little nervous Eden needs continuous reassurance, that we will never let her swim in that rock pool if by any remote chance, a shark has managed to sneak in…even if it is just a baby shark!

Every child is different, every family, unique. I do hope that in the future I will remain flexible enough to allow my girls to guide me in further decisions that cross our path. Discussing urchins … 18 months ago, I never would have thought that possible!

Nice to meet you….

This wonderful video clip shared by Hands & Voices, is a must-watch for any families with deaf/hoh children and anyone who has any role in the lives of such families. Communication matters. Informed choice matters. Parent empowerment matters. Early intervention and early identification matters. Honouring parent autonomy, by allowing parents to make the decisions that they feel will best suit their unique child, is of utmost importance!