He cares more about changing the world than how the world changes him. He is a snuggler, more puppy than kitty by nature. His laugh will make your heart swell. This kid of mine, newly minted 11-years old today, is pure happiness. When he was a little boy, I used to call him Happiness. He cooed in that melty way only babies can. He giggled easily. He slept soundly and woke peacefully. Still, he does all these things. And still, he makes me melt.
He is growing up, as all children must. He embraces it while I eschew it. He is timid by nature, a tester and observer more than a lemming or risk taker. His constitution is teflon to the nags of peer pressure. I pray this holds through his college years.
He is a thinker and tinkerer. There’s no such thing as junk in his world, for everything can be repurposed. He putzes and plays with equal parts focus and folly. He loathes tidy spaces and made beds. He leaves a pile of books, LEGO bricks, and contraptions on every flat surface he passes. His mind swirls with ideas for inventions, every other sentence starting with, “What if…?”
He reads voraciously. He dissects ideas and loves to build with his hands. He is sensitive, clever, and generous. When he graduated from elementary school just a week ago, several parents sought us out to remark how kind Deal had been to their son, their daughter. He is the kid who stays back to help someone out. He identifies with the underdog. It’s this compassion,coupled with his drive, that’s going to help him change the world.
He’s just half an inch shy of me and has had feet bigger than mine since he was eight. He still holds my hand in public. I imagine things will change in middle school. Gulp. I see expressions and mannerisms from his toddler years. Then I catch a glimpse of his future self. I see hints of the young man he is becoming, though he will always be my baby boy.
When I was pregnant (both times), I was what doctors called “advanced maternal age.” That’s a pretty uplifting way to begin a pregnancy. I faced a battery of tests, and in just a year plus between pregnancies, there seemed to be even more tests and areas for concern. There were new ways to gauge what could possibly be wrong with my baby and my health. Luckily, my babies were both healthy, and my own health was not compromised. But I remember after waiting days for some lab results, a friend of mine said to me, “What if your baby is deaf? You won’t know that in utero.” I am a worry wart by nature so I could understand thinking of every possible thing that could go wrong. Yet I had not worried about having a deaf baby. I don’t know deaf people personally, though I have spent time with the hearing impaired. I suppose it was those experiences that made me not worry so much.
One of the best jobs I had was working as a docent at the Capitol Children’s Museum (now the National Children’s Museum) in Washington DC. It was years before I had children of my own. I ended up working in an exhibit that simulated hearing loss and shared the myriad ways deaf people navigate the world. The exhibit was staffed by students from nearby Gallaudet University, “the world’s only university designed to be barrier-free for deaf and hard of hearing students.” I was among the few hearing people who worked in the exhibit. Though it was many years ago, what I learned that summer in that exhibit sticks with me still; it was eye-opening for me to see what life was like for the hearing-impaired. There were alarm clocks that woke you with the gradual stirring of light and vibrations instead of a ringer or music as my own alarm clock did. And there were blinking bright lights flashing to replace the fire alarms and smoke detectors usually found in one’s home. There was a wonderful exhibit of music with the bass cranked up so the deep bellow belted from the floor, booming through your toes to your head. We all bopped our heads to the beat. And we danced. I learned how to clap waving my hands in the air rather than putting my palms together. The students I worked with were marvelous with the children and so patient with me, a bumbling student who took so much for granted and had so much to learn. We laughed a lot that summer. In the years afterwards we wrote letters to each other. Never before had I realized the profound power of words and writing.
Years later, I went to one of the most unique and fun weddings I’ve ever been to. It was in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin near a state public school for the deaf. Aside from the regular tearjerkers at a wedding, this one had a particular poignant moment. The hearing bride was born to deaf parents. Her parents spoke to her exclusively in sign language. As a surprise at the ceremony, which had an interpreter for the deaf and for the hearing, the groom, instead of speaking his vows, signed them. He wanted his in-laws to know what he was promising their daughter, their only child. The cries and gasps in the sanctuary were audible. Later at the reception there were notepads and pens beside each place setting at the table. Those of us who were not deaf were in the minority at this party, which as you can imagine, was a rare yet wonderful experience. We got to know our table mates through jotting notes and hand gestures. Again, the power of writing presented itself in full force. We all laughed, we drank wine, we wrote notes to cute boys at the other tables (after consuming a few glasses of wine, of course). The music was loud and the bass was deep. And we all danced with wild abandon. We sang the words aloud with verve, the wine stripping away our reserve and feeling emboldened by the knowledge that most people on the dance floor couldn’t hear us.
Both my experiences at the Capitol Children’s Museum and at that lovely wedding gave me a lesson in empathy. I learned that having a hearing impairment was a disability, but that deaf people led rich lives. I learned about communicating and appreciated the beauty of sharing a smile, an antidote, a cheeky shared moment. I’ve experienced the difficulty of communicating in foreign countries my whole life. There is only so much you can do gesticulating. But in jotting notes and speaking slowly and clearly to enunciate for those who read lips, I learned how to communicate with the deaf and quite frankly, how not to be afraid or uncomfortable.
I don’t know if any of the deaf people I met back then have hearing aids or cochlear implants now (you have to be at least 12 months old to get a Cochlear implant). Like with everything, technology changes rapidly. In operation for over 30 years, Cochlear is the global leader in implantable hearing solutions, providing products (cochlear implants, bone conduction, and acoustic implants) that are designed to treat a range of moderate to profound types of hearing loss. Cochlear has helped over 450,000 people worldwide have access to sound. Parents today have different choices than they did long ago. Hearing parents who gave birth to a deaf child want to communicate with that child in the same way any of us want to communicate with our children. Communications is the foundation of all relationships, whether parent to child, docent to student, or groom to in laws. The cochlear implant provides an opportunity to not only improve communications, but improve language and development for that child to live independently without limits. Words matter to us all as we grow and learn.
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