Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sometimes I Wonder

My son is very aware that hearing and Deaf culture are different. He often will point this out to me. I ask a question and he replies, "Mom it's a Deaf thing". There are many small ways we navigate differently. He does it with ease. I love how he can just turn a switch and fit in both worlds without thinking.

Over the years every time I am introduced to a Deaf adult it is normal to be asked for a sort of deaf resume. I offer my name and depending on who it is maybe my sign name. It goes like this.

Meeting a Deaf person

Me "My name is (finger spell my full name name), sign name (my sign name)"
Other person " Are you Deaf?"
Me "No I am hearing my son is Deaf"

At this point if there is someone I know standing by they jump in and explain me. It goes something like this,

" She is very involved her son has beautiful ASL. He goes to such and such school"

Then we go on to offer a brief background into how we fit into the community. I may learn if they were mainstreamed or attended a deaf program. I may find out where they were from and if their parents signed. I will not find out if they talk. If I later find myself with them and they start to talk to someone it will startle me a bit. They usually don't ask what I do for income and I won't learn this about them unless maybe they work in a Deaf related field.

Meeting a hearing person,

"Hi I'm Mel"

" Sally, nice to meet you. "

" Nice party, do you know Jack?"

"Yea I work with him"

"Oh what do you do?"

"I make packing peanuts"

"Interesting I have always wondered how they do that. I'm in sales."

" Really? What do you sell?"

" Tractors, here is my card if you are ever in the market."

There are other little differences and I understand why but the one that I am really curious about is makeup. Yep that has stumped me for years. When my son was younger I bought professional face paints because why pay a non signing hearing person when I could do it myself? I also have done theater makeup for both hearing and Deaf kids. I was thinking really hard about how to paint a deaf child's face. I thought about how it would feel if they shut their eyes and had no idea where the brush was going. So I developed a strategy. I would gently touch the are I was going to paint as a signal before painting. Boy did I feel clever.

The difference that baffles me is Deaf kids don't flinch. They don't as a rule mind if you paint on their eyes but hearing kids go nuts. I can tell a hearing kid to shut his eyes the verbally tell him what I am going to do and they still squish up their faces in nervous anticipation. I use the most quiet gentle voice. A deaf child will shut his eyes and remain relaxed not moving until I tap their shoulder. Why is this? I know it is such a small thing that in no way impacts the lives of our kids. Why do the deaf kids trust I won't poke their eye out but the hearing kids look like they are at the dentist? Other folks have told me the same thing but don't know why.

OK, I know that is a really strange thing to waste space on but I am on vacation and this is what happens when I have free time. Rest assured today I will make better use of my time. My son is teaching my daughter and I how to make a Comedia Del Arte mask. I didn't even know what that was until he told me. So always learning on this end.


  1. You are so right! All our Deaf kids hold perfectly still and close their eyes for face painting. I never thought about it before...

    We also get the "She's hearing BUT...." and then the rattle off all the good things about us. (Not sure that will still happen since we switched schools though)

    How do you deal with not having the "right" answer for "What school doees he attend?" The Deaf community has a huge attachment to their schools, and now that we have the "wrong" answer, I feel like they are less accepting of us. We still have our wonderful friends, but when we meet new people it is hard.

  2. Well that is a good question, thank for asking.

    Our situation is different because he did attend the state school since he was four.They are like our family. We have a history. Before that a bi-bi program in Los Angeles. I have been a loud advocate for bi-bi education. He is also really big D Deaf. He is known for his story telling and ASL poetry skills. He is part of the Deaf community. He is old enough to have that inside of him. It is his independant of me. It is something he is very proud of.

    We were pushed by the Deaf community and his teachers to mainstream him. That started around third grade. It is really kinda complicated. I wanted direct instruction in ASL but he had no peers at the state school. Parents for the most part mainstream first then if that isn't working go to the state school. So the teachers had to be creative. We also didn't have a bi-bi option. So our community reconized he needed more challenge. Our first attempts to mainstream were not so good. He wasn't really having fun. So back to the state school. We didn't really have any good options.

    The school he attends now is very hard to get into. Admission is based on merrit so our community was proud one of their own got in. It was also his choice so they are fine with it. In fact they love how Deaf friendly it is. We all also wish there were more deaf kids there. He is the only one.

    As for new people I say,
    "He attended WSD until last year then was accepted to VSAA. "

    I have never gotten a negative response. Everyone seems to be really proud. Maybe some folks talk behind our backs but I haven't heard anything.

    Even though he moved on we are both involved with the state school. I am on the bi-bi commitee and the public arts commitee (my son is also on this). I am going to volunteer this month for a function.

    My guess is people think you are leaving her Deaf culture but my understanding is you want both. Maybe they question the benefits of your choice based on their past. I can only guess.

    Maybe find a consistant way to stay involved, not just events. The bottom line though is you can drive yourself crazy wondering what others think. Over the years I have upset many and I try and find a common ground. If that doesn't work I move on. Give yourself a break. You can't please everyone.

    Hee hee that was an I'm on vacation ramble! My son is still slepping! So my daughter and I are going to toss water on his head soon. We want to make masks! Hope this answered your question. It is hard sometimes because we are all so different and so the same. What works for me may be dead wrong for others but the more we all reach out the more likely we will get answers we need.

    Sorry if there are typos.

  3. That was interesting about Deaf kids holding still while hearing kids flinch and fidget.

    Could it be that they're used to being fiddled with, having their ears prodded, poked into, headgear adjusted, vision tested, etc?? In any case, I'm sure they do open their eyes if no touch is coming within a few minutes, just to take a quick peek.

  4. Hi! I'm so glad I found your blog, love reading it! There are so many blogs about deaf children with cochlear implants, it's nice to see a blog about a Deaf child doing so well! I am hearing and I have 2 hard of hearing children and one hearing. Nice to meet you!

  5. Dianrez you always are the voice of reason! Yep I imagine the kids would peek if if I left them sitting there. Also maybe they are used to being fiddled with. Come to think of it my son fidgets a bit...........

    Ericka nice to meet you! I went over to your blog and your family is so lovely! I am a preschool teacher so of course I want to read more.

    I am also a recovering helicopter mom and can really relate to what is going on. I saw the pictures of Miles and giggled, I have the same pictures of my kids. I was a soup sandwich when my kids started school. Please don't ask my kids teachers about me!

  6. We do still attend a Deaf church, all the Deaf community events and I am still a part of the bi-bi school's PTA.

    Maybe it is just in my head! I just want Miss Kat to still be accepted by the Deaf community, regardless of MY choices.

  7. Aw, Miss Kat will be accepted on her own merits when the time comes.

    The diversity and complexity of Deaf society is growing daily and in the future Miss Kat will be among a large component wearing CI's and happily signing away with each other.

    If history proves true in the future, you'll have had very little to do with her acceptance. Most of today's Deaf community grew up with hearing families who didn't sign, and who chose to leave their families' oral ambitions.

    In fact, your acceptance of ASL will have more to do with YOUR acceptance in your daughter's future society.

  8. Yep I believe Dianrez is right. A lot of my Deaf friends well most of them have parents who sign very little or not at all. We all worry about our kids and want to be sure we are doing the right thing. We all want them to be happy.

    Your daughter is deaf, she will make her own choices as she gets older. Things may go how you plan or change. 10 years ago I would have never dreamed my son would want to mainstream and live most of his daily hours in the hearing world.. I don't know if he will want to continue to do this a year from now. I know that I can't control how he navigates the world but it is really fun watching.

    So again, give yourself a break. You can't create a perfect world. You can give her the tools to enjoy the world we have.

  9. Interesting about the seeming lack of fidgetiness.

    ...I'm just speculating, here, but I wonder if it's at all related to the comfort Deaf people have with walking in, around and through groups of others while signing, and hearing people tend to wait nervously at the edges for permission to pass through. Which seems... counterintuitive to most hearing people.

    But maybe when your first language is three-dimensional, you have a different relationship with the "empty" space around your body.

  10. capriuni that is so interesting to me. I had to sit and think for a moment. With my Deaf friends we are much more comfortable with space. With my hearing friends we are much more aware of avoiding others space.

  11. I was just thinking: that if you're Deaf, than the space around your body has a real, grammatical, meaning. So that "space" is where people trade ideas. Its 'purpose' is for exchange amd connection, rather than a buffer zone against attack.

    So hearing kids (and adults) may get more nervous with closed eyes because they can't monitor thair boundaries... maybe.