Today is Thanksgiving and in a couple of hours my family will go to my mothers to celebrate. I was thinking about what I am grateful for and there is just too much for one post so I decided to focus on one Thanksgiving that for me was the most important.
About 8 years ago.....
My son had a best friend he had met at school. When I first found out a year earlier I was so excited. We had been so excited when he started preschool because for the first time he would be able to socialize with other deaf children who were fluent in ASL. I asked the teachers if they could contact this boy's mom to set up a play date. They told me she was very strict but they would help us connect. Then I found out she was from El Salvador and a single mother of six. She had very limited English and was just starting to sign. This information didn't mean anything to me because I thought I had a pretty open mind.
I was so excited when she agreed. The conditions of our meeting was she wanted to see my house and meet me before she would allow her son to come over. Of course I understood this and even respected it. the problem was I don't know Spanish and she wasn't fluent enough in ASL or English. To solve this problem I invited a neighbor who was fluent in Spanish to interpret. The mother didn't have a car so I picked her up at the school. The meeting went well and she seemed fine with me but a bit worried that I wasn't a Christian. The rule for her son coming over was that his older brother who was 10 at the time was to chaperon. We arranged a time and date for us to pick up the boys.
We were not prepared for what we saw as we got closer to their home. It was located in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods. When we found it we parked and people were starring at us because we were so out of place. This neighborhood is know for a lot of gang activity. I have to admit I was scared. The family was living in a one room apartment that had been separated into four sections. It was smaller than our living room. I have never seen such poverty and tried to act natural. The mother was a gracious host and offered me what I later learned was papusas a famous dish in El Salvador. At first I denied the food thinking I didn't want her to give me something her family needed but she was insistent. Her son interpreted for us.
We brought the boys to our house and they and a blast. It was a normal play date just like hearing kids have. I was thrilled. The boys were so polite and responsible. I couldn't wait to set up more. Over the next year our families became very close. One would think this family needed our help but to be honest we were equal in generosity. That relationship taught me about respect and dignity. I had thought I was empathetic and liberal in my view of the world but I learned my "charity" and "compassion" was a bit misguided and often paternalistic. I had thought I knew what was best for a family like this but it turns out I was judging them from what I thought was the right thing to do not what was best for them. For this lesson I am eternally grateful. It is just one of the many times having a Deaf son has made me grow into a better person. This mother made sure her whole family learned to sign so her son was never excluded.
One example of this lesson still makes us all laugh. I assumed they needed the kinds of material things we had. One day I brought over an expensive Kettler tricycle that my son had outgrown. I saw the the look on the mothers face that said, "oh Mel, you silly girl" She was always polite but I could sense she thought I was a bit of a goofy creature. We were so different but she never judged us. The next time I visited a few days later the trike was outside missing the wheels and seat. It looked like those cars you see on the side of the road that have been stripped. It dawned on me the tricycle was more of a burden to her. She had no place to store it and felt responsible because it was a gift. Her children played just like other children all over America and didn't need a lot of junk to enjoy it.
So after knowing this awesome family for one year we decided to invite them to our Thanksgiving dinner. By this time the mother and all six kids could sign so we had no trouble communicating. We took two cars to go pick them up and by this time I no longer feared the area. The mother cooked a turkey Salvadorian style and I cooked one my way. She brought a lot of food and we cooked together in my kitchen. She taught me about her native spices and how to make nopales. It was the most delicious Thanksgiving ever. It was a tradition with us to have family time after dinner. The kids could perform or read us a poem or story. The children of this family had decided to write letters of gratitude to us. I still have them. They wrote about friendship, laughter and learning. Not one mention about our two different lifestyles.
I am still grateful for this friendship.
We still keep in touch with this family. Since that time both families have moved so it isn't very often. We were their first call when they got their VP. The Sorenson guy looked a little shocked to see us gringos on the other end. The two oldest sons now attend college. The deaf son often talks to my son about what college they want to go to. He has been in the same bi/bi school and fully intends to pursue a higher education. I haven't figured out how to turn on the sound on the VP so both families sign. It would be kind of fun though for my daughter to be able to speak Spanish with them.
Sometimes parents tell me they want to learn to sign but they don't have time or it is too hard. I have empathy for this but to be honest not a whole lot of compassion. Yes, I know that is judgemental. It just doesn't make sense to me when I have seen so many families with mutiple challenges in life find a way to learn.
I am still learning what is best for my son and I am grateful for all of the lessons his deafness brings our family. I am also grateful for all of the people who we have met because of him.