Friday, November 13, 2009

Send In The Clowns

Next week we will be celebrating my son's 12th birthday. I have found his birthday celebrations to be a good window into where we were at.

Eleven years and ago.........

I have made many mistakes as a parent. One I am a wee bit embarrassed to admit is I am a little too into being a parent. I have mellowed in a good way, but when he was born I was kind of crazy. We were not really kid people before but suddenly we were knocked head over heels in love with this little person who entered our lives. Everything he did was cause for celebration. I wanted to do all of the mommy stuff. I couldn't wait until he could sit in a swing or bring home macaroni art that would be framed and admired by all. Our friends didn't have kids so he became their outlet for buying every object that could be applied to child. In short for the first few years he was spoiled.

As his first birthday approached I went into high gear planning the celebration. We would invite everyone! I imagined a huge outdoor party with tons of food and decorations. Since we had recently discovered he was deaf I wanted the most visually pleasing environment so I went nuts. My level headed husband pointed out none of our friends had kids so it may be a bit odd to throw a party for a one year old attended by adults humouring my mommy obsession. I calmed his fears by explaining we would just tell folks it is a BBQ for his birthday and make it more adult. As luck would have it a ten year old actor was a guest star on my show. I have had a lot of exposure to child actors and she was the only one who didn't seem effected by her work even though she had stared in a major motion picture. She met my son on the set and she told her dad she wanted to come to his birthday party. It was so cute that she had her dad ask me and he said he understood if I didn't want her to go. Well heck yea! I didn't have any kids on the guest list yet! What a strange life we lead, I was searching for kids like a movie casts extras.. One of the guys on the crew had 2 kids so we were set! At the party the guests honored my request of no high end brand names or loud toys (membership has it's privileges) by giving us the entire line of Ralph Lauren apparel and a drum set just to mention a few of the gifts. Very funny guys. I don't think we had any deaf people at this party but I had invited a teacher or two. My husband and I were frantically trying to sign everything.

Ten years ago......

His second birthday was just as big but about half of the families were deaf and most of my friends could sign enough to get by. We were knee deep in anger at the School district and I was a bit of a soapbox mom about Deaf Ed. I was angry because all these hearing people paid to help me were treating me like a crazy person. I was grateful because we had a deaf community picking up the slack with gentle, generous hands.

Nine years ago........

Birthday number three is the one which really best illustrates what it was like for me being a hearing mom of a deaf son at this time. I am not deaf. I tried and provide my son with a quality of life that is as assessable as possible so I tried and think ahead about everything I did so I didn't trip and make a mistake that would effect his feelings about himself. He never saw this at a young age and I planned it that way. I had a "plan" if he felt his deafness was just a characteristic like hair color he would be strong enough to face the challenges that may come later. My husband and I tried to live as much as we could as Deaf/hearing parents. What I mean by this is nothing we did excluded him if we could help it. The problem was we hadn't had the early support from folks we thought were going to help us and well, we are not deaf.....

He was turning three which was huge. It meant we could leave behind the frustration of early intervention and enter the world of bi/bi preschool. It was a time surrounded by supportive deaf community from all walks of life and hearing friends who had chosen to join us in celebrating our new life.

I asked my son what he wanted for a theme for his birthday. He had just gone to a circus so he told me a circus party and he wanted a clown. Well we had just gone to a hearing party where the family had a hired entertainer. I decided my son deserved the same thing. I first asked around if anyone knew a deaf party entertainer, nope. I then called the deaf association, nope. I then resorted to the phone book. I refused to believe my son couldn't have that clown because he was deaf. At this point I want to mention I am not a fan of party clowns they are kinda scary to me. I called and called. Finally I called and a man told me they had one person who signed so I booked her.

This is the first time folks helped plan the party. His Deaf babysitter baked a circus cake and made decorations with me, Another deaf friend helped plan games. I found some wood set columns being tossed on the set and the crew helped me cut them into pieces and paint them like a circus ring. This party was a gathering, a celebration with a community.

The day of the party was awesome. Friends arrived and communicated freely. Tons of children showed up fingers flying. Life felt very good. Then down the road approached a dented economy car in need of a good wash. From this death trap emerged a young woman in a clown suit. I was a professional costumer so I have a sense about apparel in terms of how to develop character. I found this ability often spilled into my daily life. I could tell a lot about a person by what they wore. This clown was also in need of a wash. Her costume and props were a little too well loved to present as professional. As I approached her I noticed she was nervous scanning the crowd. I introduced myself voice off because I assumed she was fluent. She looked at me in terror, oh crap, she can't really sign. She gathered the children and began her routine. She signed at a first year high school level. I was so horrified and embarrassed! The parents who were standing around the performance began to make jokes, myself included. We knew we were signing so fast she couldn't understand.

My son turned to me and said, "Mom she is weird, what is she doing?"

I told him it was rude to make fun of people.

I was so embarrassed in front of my Deaf friends. I didn't show it but I felt like a failure. I couldn't even throw a party for my deaf son. Later I looked at the tape and saw the adults pulverizing that girl while she went on with her act clueless we all thought it was a joke. The party was a lot of fun and the clown was just a point of humour.

A short time later we attended a party for a deaf of deaf child. They had a deaf performer who did her routine on stilts and juggled. My son LOVED it.

Here is what I reflect back on

It was a lot like Early Intervention getting help for my party. I am hearing and need the help of deaf adults to learn the ropes, because the people in charge of this help are hearing and only involved with deafness as a job. I was left with having to go to great extremes for an ineffective outcome.

I also am now embarrassed that I was so cruel to this girl. We were not rude in a way she understood so she doesn't even know but if I had been more secure with my abilities to parent a deaf child I would have been more empathetic. Looking at her attire I should of realized she was maybe in desperate need of income perhaps and couldn't afford the dry cleaning bill. She was probably offered the job and assumed it was a hearing family with a deaf child who really didn't sign. I had used my voice to place the order. A lot of hearing families didn't voice off when they sign. She probably put ASL down on her application under other skills because she had taken a class in High School. She was wrong to take the job but I understood why perhaps she did.

The worst part of the whole story is I reprimanded my son for doing exactly what I was doing.


My son is excited to turn twelve. His life is much bigger now than when he was say 10. His favorite class is modern dance. I know that sounds strange but trust me it is a ton of fun for him and he has an awesome teacher. I find that I underestimated him. I really thought dance would be a bore for him. A Deaf friend tells me she love dance and I souldn't be surprised.

Happy Birthday kiddo, I am one really proud mama.


  1. Happy Birthday to your kiddo! My youngest is the same age.

  2. I have never understood why some people think they know sign after taking a class or two. I have taken six classes and only know enough to know I really need lots of practice. I could never volunteer to do a stand up clown act in sign regardless of the situation. Secondly, I don't know why some Deaf people make jokes about hearing people who can't sign fluently. I work in a library that serves a large population of non-English speaking people. Many of them speak four or five other languages, but suddenly find themselves in America with no English skills. I have nothing but empathy and respect for them trying to communicate in a new language. It isn't easy as you well know.