This July marks two years of my journey of knowingly mothering Deaf children. I say ‘knowingly’, as all the frustration, unanswered questions and deep seated concerns associated with the many months before their identification, were all part of my journey too. I think as each year passes, I will stop and reflect; reflect on what is behind, take a few moments to be very present in the ‘now’ and muse over what this interesting path is hiding around its next corner.

What has the past allowed me to be mindful of in the ‘now’?

I am aware that the ‘little’ things are not little at all. No language, meant minimal bonding with my girls in spite of loving them beyond measure. We now are able to express our love for each other. I can remind them daily that they are precious, beautiful and loved, strong, smart and brave. Every now and then, one of them will look intensively into my eyes and tell me, “Mama, you’re precious.” My relationship with them matters, and had they been hearing, I may not have acknowledged it as a priceless treasure.

We are extraordinarily ordinary. Ironically, being comfortable with this makes us extraordinary. We live in a culture where anything less than perfect, just doesn’t cut it. We are so influenced by this, that exposing our brokenness, hurt, fears and the stuff that doesn’t work out as planned, leaves us feeling so vulnerable, that we’d rather risk normalizing the deep sense of isolation inside, than chance the sting of judgment and rejection. I’ve been broken, my everything seemed shattered, and it seemed like everyone was a spectator at my vulnerability. We now embrace that which is real, we stop and examine our feelings, and appreciate that some of the unpleasant ones are just as important as the more celebrated ones. We appreciate that people are hurting. The glossy airbrushed portrayal of ‘normal’ seems glamorous yet is intimidating. I’m so relieved that we no longer feel the need to live up to that, and in our freedom, able to engage with other people in their brokenness and pain. We are learning to keep things real, and learning that real can be quite perfect.

We are learning to listen. Here I’m referring to listening with our hearts and our eyes. One of the things that I admire most about my girls, is their ability to sense other people’s emotions and well-being.  They know that I am sad before I know that I am sad. They are attentive, and their example is helping me become a more attentive parent. Attentive to their needs, fears, frustrations, joys and dreams. Attentive to what they are truly communicating to me.

We are becoming resilient. We hope, we dream we try. We try harder and never give up. We know what disappointment tastes like, and have experienced the sweetest of hope. We expect people to say that we can’t…but we continue to believe that we can. We ‘can’t hear’, ‘can’t speak’ but we CAN communicate, we can learn we can be our best, and our best will be good enough.

We are becoming good at celebrating. We celebrated keeping the hearing aids in for a whole day, then our first signs, their first day at school, or first 4 word phrase … the first easy session in the sound booth. On this journey there are endless opportunities to celebrate.

We are learning to be humble. This journey is one of trial and error. What works today, may not work next year. What works for one may not be the right fit for the other. Admitting that I don’t have all the answers, is not easy; we want to know what lies around the corner. This journey will see countless decisions, some harder than others, but my hope is in knowing that all will work together for our good. The unknown need not be scary, but rather can be exciting.  Learning to say sorry to my girls has been a frequent lesson in humility. There is no two ways about it, parenting kids without language is tough, when they get language it is much easier, but still often hard. I’ve snapped and shouted and misunderstood, and have had to say sorry, many times.

We are learning to be brave. Making choices that may not be popular is not easy, setting my focus on my children and not the hundreds of other voices out there, has been uncomfortable. This has helped me make changes in other areas; address injustices and challenge the ‘norm’. In this process, I am being strengthened to be brave for others too.

There are so many facets to this journey that we are discovering; gifts so precious, lessons so valuable. This is not a reflection of what I’ve learned, but rather what I am in the midst of learning.  Trials develop character and character, HOPE.

Kintsukuroi. A Japanese art form that I learned about recently. I see this as a metaphor for my journey. A journey from being broken, and having Love pick up the pieces. A journey of being confused and feeling alone, and have Hope whisper that it’s all going to be okay. A journey that we continue, one day at a time, embracing the hills and the valleys. Kintsukuroi means “to repair with gold”, and is described as, “The art of repairing pottery with gold or silver lacquer.” The process takes time and precision. The process embraces that which is unpredictable – broken pieces are different in size and shape, you work with what you have; some vessels may have just a small chip and others may be completely shattered. This art form requires patience, and at times, may even burn fingers. The most significant aspect of all, as so simply explained, is the “understanding that the pottery piece is more beautiful and valuable for having been broken.” (this is the online reference for the photograph as used for this blog).


Cold Risotto

Baklava, Moussaka, olives and gladiator sandals…just some of the wonderful things that I experienced during my recent visit to Greece. Two weeks ago, I was privileged to attend the International Congress on the Education of the Deaf (ICED) in Athens. It was a busy week, full days of lectures and seminars which ranged from topics that I had already thought through to interesting new concepts, some talks that were heavily biased in one way or another, as well as some that were simply way above my understanding.

The actual conference itself, wasn’t the only reason for my excited anticipation during the preceding weeks whilst organizing my visa requirements. I was almost more excited about the people that I would meet, the conversations that I would have and the unlocking of yet another facet of the Deaf world, whilst re connecting with some of the friends that I had made at the FCEI in Austria last year. I won’t pretend that I didn’t look forward to sometime of exploring and shopping! Indeed, that had been budgeted for, and my girls had given me long lists of presents that they were expecting.  The long summer days, made late night shopping and midnight dinners doable in spite of the busy conference schedule.

I hadn’t anticipated that my fourth night in Athens would be my highlight of the conference week. I accompanied my friend to a special dinner hosted at the New Acropolis Museum. If you ever travel to Athens, this is a MUST do experience. History and culture are preserved through original sculptures and artifacts from the legendary Acropolis. An intriguing tour by two Greek archeologists (one in English, the other by a Deaf archeologist in Sign Language), was concluded by the invitation to dine in the museum’s restaurant. The illuminated masterpiece, the Acropolis itself against the sapphire sky, was our back drop.

People were finding their friends, and then choosing a table. As someone who prefers the familiar and struggles with “small talk”, I understood why this was the case. Feeling ever so slightly lonely, we found a table that was empty and chatted about the artifacts that we had just seen. A few minutes later we were joined by six other people. Without hesitation at being seated next to a stranger, they took their places at our table. At this point, my friend whispered over… “These are six of THE world’s most influential Deaf leaders.” She went on to explain that one was the President of the Gallaudet University, and another was the Chairman of the World Federation of the Deaf. My mind was consumed by the juxtaposed emotions of feeling completely honoured and excited to be spending the evening with these people, whilst terrified to communicate in Sign Language and nervous for them to discover that I was no one special in the Deaf World; mothering a bunch of Deaf kids being my only qualification.

My reasons for being intimidated by the Sign Language were multiple. Firstly, I have only been learning it for 20 months. Secondly, I was concerned about the expectations of people; might they think, “How could she possible be mothering her kids effectively when she is not a fluent signer?” Then throw the fact that they were not using SASL but rather mostly American Sign Language, in the mix, and gosh, that made for a stomach full of butterflies! Like losing my breath to the fright of icy sea water on sunburnt skin, I plunged in and introduced myself. Warm smiles and welcoming looks of intrigue slowly eased my tension. I told them where I was from and took great delight in discussing my 3 precious girls. I do however, struggle receptively with fingerspelling. The one thing that unites our languages, but man, as soon as someone starts fingerspelling – it’s as if I get a mental freeze. I can’t remember what the first few letters were, then pick up half way whilst still trying to remember what the letter before was, not knowing whether to spell it out loud or sound it out instead. Simple words end up becoming a finger spelling conundrum.

I admitted my inexperience and embarrassment and was embraced even more, and then for a few minutes I sat back, whilst bowls of steaming risotto were set before us, and observed.  The amazing thing about a visual conversation, is that you can tune into them from across a table without straining to hear. On the flip side, private comments to your neighbor, don’t exist. Everything you say is public, like it or not.

Zoning out to reflect on my own thoughts and feelings, and totally at a loss with most of the conversation at the table, I became very aware that this experience reflected that of a Deaf person at a table of exclusively spoken conversation. Even a Deaf person with access to sound through amplification, would struggle at a table with several conversations occurring simultaneously, whilst the din of background noise competes for the clarity of directed words. Limited access, limited participation, a potentially isolating experience. I enjoyed considering this for a few minutes as I was grateful for the opportunity to step into my girls’ shoes. I did not feel isolated though, as the atmosphere was inclusive. I was tapped on the arm and questioned about how much I was following. I admitted that I wasn’t getting much, but it didn’t matter. This engaging man, invited me to ask him at any point to explain anything that I was missing. I was stunned by the humility and kindness of this world leader. These people did not see me as an outsider, in spite of my difficulties with communication and short history with the Deaf World. My three girls meant that I belonged. As I relaxed, I was able to converse more, whilst having my hands preoccupied in conversation meant that, by the time it came to having a mouthful, my risotto was cold. I’d trade warm food any day for another experience like that.

A marble lane led us back to our hotel shuttle. The air was warm and fragrant. My heart felt full of appreciation. Appreciation for Deaf culture and for experiencing something new. An appreciation for my girls, and the gift that they have given me. The gift of belonging to a brand new world.