About 9 years ago......
When he turned three and not a day later he started preschool. We were really excited to move away from the adversarial relationship with early intervention. This new place was our sanctuary. He was our first child and commanded most of our attention so this transition ,although welcome, was an emotional roller coaster. The idea of leaving him alone terrified me.
We walked up to the door and were greeted by a Deaf teacher. My son looked in and I asked if we should go in or just leave him. He told me either way but usually it is easier to just say good bye and leave. Oh, OK.
My son ' "Come on" gestured for us to go in the room with him.
Me, " No, this is your school. You are a big boy and get to go alone. I am so proud of you"
Then in true Haddy fashion he said bye and walked in. Of course I cried all the way home.
We waited after school counting the minutes. Finally we saw him lining up to come out. He ran to the fence beaming and full of joy. " Mom I am a white person!"
I was standing there in shock. His first day of school and this is what he learned. I hadn't even noticed that he was the only fair skinned blond kid in the class. He was so excited to have discovered a label for himself. It was a matter of fact and it was his.
This new information was easy to process. We had no trouble helping him understand. It is something we share as a family. It is not good or bad just a physical fact. He was passing through the gates all children do. They one day realize girls and boys are different, that they can tie their shoes (or not in my son's case) and that people come in all shapes and sizes.
About 3 years ago......
What was not so easy was helping him find his place as a Deaf person. There came a point where I felt he needed to learn about deaf history and culture in a real way. I think he was about nine and he lived a rather protected life at the state school. He didn't like that I made him attend his IEP meetings and got a little embarrassed that I was always trying to change things. I wasn't like the other moms and he felt self conscience.
So I pulled out all the books I had bought and had him read. Then he became angry. He had no idea how unjust the world can be. Hearing people suck. Deaf Power.
At this point I understood that he should be angry but I wondered if a life filled with anger was what he would really want. I tried to imagine what he felt. I tried to think of things in my life that make me feel that way so I could help him navigate his feelings. There had to be something out of my control of the same magnitude.
Left Handed Power! .............uh nope
Tall Lady That Can't Sing Power! .......seriously?
Can't Spell Power! ......uh still not working
There it is plain as day. We do not share this. I can not try and control his feelings or change them. I don't own him. I can however help him work through whatever he is feeling.
Of course I pointed out that his parents are hearing. That doesn't count he tells me. Oh right. We get a kind of special pass at least until he is the age of independence.
So I decided to check out other historically oppressed groups. Bingo! You don't have to go far to find examples of a group of people who have had their rights violated. The choice he had to make was how he would define himself as a Deaf person. How would he face this world with all of its imperfections? He could lead a protest march to the House Ear institute. This would be a powerful way to vent anger but what would it accomplish? We talked about hearing people just not knowing. The need to educate not aggravate. We talked about the power of diplomacy and unity. We talked about the strength of self acceptance. We talked and talked.
We still talk about this. Last night he decided to catch up on my blog. He recently was asked to advocate for ASL in deaf education. He wasn't sure what to say. His life is not, from his perspective, in need of struggle or advocacy. So he read my blog and we talked. He isn't angry anymore so much but every now and then shocked. He now knows what to say.
With his sense of identity comes a responsibility. With his knowledge of self he must make choices about what he can or should do. I can't control that but I hope the choices he makes are are true to him and aware of the greater picture. I hope the way he decides to enter the world is full of confidence and empathy. I hope that empathy empowers him to help change the world he shares with others.