3 Lucky Fish

“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)

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5 thoughts on “3 Lucky Fish

  1. I am so glad to chance upon your blog. I would like to include it in a toolkit (website) which I am building for educators on how best to include deaf children in their programs – I have a section titled resources for parents. Hope this is okay with you. 🙂 I am from Gallaudet and also have a blog at http://www.phoebetay.wordpress.com

  2. I just want to wish you all the best bringing up your three little sunshines. When I was a baby I had my tonsils out, and the streptomycin the doc gave me in all innocence, killed my hearing nerves. From that day I became more and more deaf, and was so embarrassed to have to wear a hearing-aid in school from sub-B onwards. To make up I escaped into books, and only two years later my mother found me reading her thick English books. Reading about 300 books a year right through school made me so good at English that I never had to open a single book for study, and I usually got an A for it in exams. While today my spoken English is not very good, never having heard many words being pronounced, my language use and grammar are usually perfect. This has helped to the extent that today I have a sideline going of doing final proof-reading for certain non-fiction authors. I might add that about ten years ago I finally became completely deaf, and so donated all my hearing-aids. Becoming deaf gradually also prevented me from ever having to learn sign language, but instead developed my lip-reading to a high degree, although a change of subject can leave me floundering for a while. Apart from the last three years of primary school, I only attended ‘hearing’ schools, and in the high school, I have to confess, bullying was a factor. All the jobs I ever had were outdoor ones, mostly at sea, and for the last over 12 years I have been working as Scientific Observer, mostly around Antarctica on foreign fishing vessels. This put a great premium on my lip-reading ability, especially as the accents of those non-English nationals usually affected their pronouncing. However, the reason for sending you all this, is to say that one of the best things you can do to your kids is to get them to read, and for them to learn to enjoy it, This can only help them learning new words and may aid in helping them to gain confidence as well. Oh yes, I will be 60 by this time next year!
    All the best.
    Jerry

  3. Good day Bianca. Wow, how refreshing it is reading about your story and your commitment to your daughters. I am a hearing SASL user who teach Deaf children, and it breaks my heart everyday to see these parents not being able to communicate with their children! I want to know more about Thrive, cant find anything when googling. Can you please send me an email at leanavanrensburg@gmail.com just to give me more information so I can advice parents about the support group.
    Thanks so much for your amazing article 🙂
    Take care
    Leana

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