“Mama, me Deaf?” asked my littlest a few weeks ago.
“You are correct,” I answered. I answered her with smiling eyes, as I want her know that I think that her being Deaf is okay. In the beginning, the burden of arriving in unexpected, unprepared for, un-welcomed “Holland” made everything I said and thought seemed grey, and I certainly didn’t think that my girls being Deaf was okay. I would have done anything to have changed that. Anything. But change that I couldn’t. Despite any efforts to teach them to speak, they’d always be deaf and most importantly to me, is that they know that they are loved and accepted irrespective of their communication mode/s or audiograms. There was one thing that I could change,however, and that was the way we saw “Holland”.
“And Tahlu? She also Deaf?” she continued to question. It was evident that she was trying to make sense of her reality.
“She’s Deaf too.” I smiled back. “She’s Deaf and clever, beautiful and special, just like you!”
The inquisitive face lit up with the affirmation as she nodded to herself, as if to say, “Yes, clever…beautiful, yes.”
“Dassie? Is she Deaf or hearing Mama?”
“She is Deaf. The same as you and Tahlita.” I replied.
Hadassah joined the conversation, “Is Dada hearing or Deaf?”
“What do you think?” I replied with a smile, realizing what a compliment to her dad’s efforts at signing, her question implied.
“Hearing!” Was her confident answer.
“And you, Mama, you’re Deaf or hearing?”
“I’m hearing too, my Little Duck” I answered using one of her gazillion little nick names.
Then with a face filled with compassion, she signed emotively, “Mama, you are hearing, I’m sorry!”
Trying very hard not to laugh, both at the sweet face that evidently thought that being Deaf wasn’t too bad a thing at all, and at how this little conversation had unfolded, I was interrupted by a final summary from the little one who had initially started trying to piece things together.
“You and Dada are hearing; Dassie, Tahlu and Me, Deaf?”
“That is right!” I answered enthusiastically.
The smallest member of the family replied with a satisfied nod, and as her cheeks wobbled, she signed, “I’m a lucky fish!”
“You sure are! Sometimes Mama wishes mama was Deaf too, because then we could sign fast to each other and Mama wouldn’t have to stop and think first. But God made us all different, so please be patient and help me sign. I’m hearing and can help you sometimes, and you are Deaf and you can help me sometimes, okay?”
Holland you crazy place! I kicked and screamed as I set foot on your land, but all the while the little people that I love most like it here. Oh yes, I’ve grown to like it here too, sometime I absolutely love it, and sometimes I wonder what Italy’s like. But they like it, and I want them to like it, I want them to know that I’m not dreaming all day of “Italy”, but rather enjoying exploring “Holland” with them too.
When I introduce myself at seminars, I almost want to prepare the audience with a, “Now before I tell you anything about me, I want you to control your foreheads – do NOT frown!” Because as soon as the words, “three Deaf daughters…” have left my lips, there is an inevitable and painfully predictable synchrony of groans and a sea of furrowed brows. Like a mass assumption that there is something broken, rather than simply, something being different.
I often go on to challenging the medical model of disability, and challenge even further than “differently abled.” On so many levels in several different ways, my girls are truly ENabled. I showed them a little video clip on my cell phone recently from a friend who had taught her little boy to sign. He had sent the girls a signed message. They giggled and signed “cute” emphatically as they watched on, and as the video came to an end, one of my girls giggled about how sweet and cute this little munchkin was and very flippantly mentioned that my friend’s floor rug was the same as ours. Huh? I hadn’t noticed the rug, or anything else in the somewhat darker and insignificant background of the video. I replayed it and had to strain my eyes in concentration just to spot the mat. Sure enough, we have the same taste in carpets, and noticing this detail, was utterly effortless on her part.
There are many more ways that my girls are extraordinarily enabled, I will share some of these another time. These three pretty much blow me away daily. The point is they are different, they like being different and I want them to know that I celebrate them being different. They also know that I sometimes find this whole journey hard, but not because of their insufficiency, but rather mine. It’s not that they can’t hear or don’t speak intelligibly sometimes, but rather that I don’t sign fluently yet. We’re on this journey together, a journey of living, loving, persevering, hoping, teaching and just being who we were made to be.
They are not flawed, not broken and nothing less than extraordinary. May they know that, love that and truly believe that different is beautiful.
(reference made to the poem “Welcome to Holland” by Emily Perl Kingsley http://www.our-kids.org/archives/Holland.html)