Last week my son and daughter wanted to go to Target with me to do a little shopping. It was a lazy Sunday and we were not in any hurry. We were chatting while we wandered around and peopled stared as we walked by. Usually this is a glance in our eye line then a full on stare after we pass. Its a Deaf thing, people are curious. We are used to it and don't often notice.
Sometimes ASL students will go to great lengths to get our attention. Shy little waves then awkward attempts to sign anything to show their desire to communicate with a real deaf person. My son is polite but not too engaging. He values the brief times where he has privacy.
Other times mothers will ask if he is deaf. The next questions are about reading lips and level of hearing lose. They often can't conceal their pity and relief it is not them. I always feel a little sorry for them. Sometimes they ask if he goes to a special school. I tell them he goes to the Art charter school and they have a look of shock wash over them. Often they tell me their child didn't get in.
On this recent trip we are in the cracker aisle a rather benign place to be and a mom with three kids shares it with us. She looks to be the perfect soccer mom. She has great hair and the requisite pressed jeans and knit shirt. Three kids follow her like salmon so kinetic and silent. I am wearing yoga pants and a weird shirt tossed on in hast. She sees me signing and offers a polite smile. I smile back. We have nothing physically in common so I wonder does she nod and smile to everyone she meets? My kids are joking about how it would be a good thing if I bought Oreos because they are on sale. My son tries the" boost the economy angle". I laugh and move on. I suddenly get an auditory assault from the next aisle. Soccer mom has gone rabid on her kids, "DON'T TOUCH THAT! I MEAN IT! DON'T! STOP TOUCHING! I AM GOING TO PUT THE CANDY BACK! IF IT IS NOT YOURS DON'T TOUCH! I MEAN IT! THE CANDY WILL GO BACK!......" I hear the first few screaming reproaches an my ears recoil and hide. I stop listening and just hear the drone of the assault. I pity this woman for having to live like that. Doesn't she know her kids no longer listen to her soundtrack of nagging? STOP- how can I judge her and why do I need to? Maybe she just found out she was loosing her house or her mother died. Maybe she is just doing her best and today was too stessful. I know nothing about her but because she does something that in my opinion is weak and know I have the right to pity? Maybe I am showing my weakness.
I move my kids on hoping her screeching voice won't alter my good mood or scare my hearing daughter. Too late she is a bit freaked out and asked about it. I mumble a lame excuse and redirect her. As we are checking out the craft aisle I hear her again but in loud trying to be hushed tones, " Stop hitting your brother! Don't do that! OK I am going to take away your DS if you can't control yourself." I look over and realize it is another family. They are spilling all over the main aisle and the kids are wrestling and jumping in front of her cart. Again I am so happy that is not my family. STOP- I have had moments like this. Tired needing to run errands and my kids decide to take advantage of my stress. I offer her a smile, one that says hang in there.
My son asked to go look at the book section while I look at some household stuff. Fine I tell him. Can his sister go he asks? Yes I tell him but he needs to watch her and never separate. Fine he tells me and they walk off he puts his arm around her shoulder and I am so happy we are family. When I go find them my daughter is on the floor looking at a book my son suggested and he is standing guard watching over her.
As we leave I tell the kids we can get a drink. They are so excited because that is a treat. As we wait in line a mom barks at her son as he walks up, " I told you to stand with your dad!
Now go away!!"
Wow, stress, glad it is not me.
I am thinking today about pity. Often I find people pity my son for being deaf even though they do not know him. Over the last couple of days I have seen some pretty funny examples of this and what is more funny I am thinking the same thing about them finding myself shocked at their perspective.
I see it like we are all looking at the same tree but from different sides so the perception of the tree is different to all of us. I may see they moss growing on my side and the branches may be growing in different ways but it is still the same tree you are looking at. I am now thinking about how we all see what is the desired outcome in life. What our tree needs to be in order to be "right".
I don't understand why anyone would pity my son or me but it happens. Gosh, it must be hard they tell me, or wow, you do such a great job they say with a look of uncomfortable, polite, fear.
They don't know him yet.
They meet him and then, well the table shifts. He is happy and at peace with his life. Sure he is also grumpy and a tween but his deafness does not define him. One of his dance teachers told me yeasterday she watches the way he moves outside of class. He is comfortable with his body and self so it is easy for him to navigate the world and engage. She tells me it is interesting to see this in a twelve year old boy.
Yesterday my daughter met a new neighbor girl. She is really sweet and wants to play. Her brother, she tells me, is my son's age. He gets bullied at his new school. I feel sorry for him. I hate when kids get bullied. He comes over after awhile and wants to meet my son. Haddy is busy working on some editing and tells me maybe later. I go outside and start to teach this boy some signs. I hand him a "100 Signs For Parents " booklet. He picks it up on his own so fast. This boy is awkward and a bit well , slow for all intents and purposes but he is really good at reading ASL gloss. He starts to show me many signs he is learning. I tell him how sharp he is and I see his confidence grow. Soon I feel so warmly for this awkward kid I go tell Haddy he should really come out and try and be friendly.
" Mom, serious? I am right in the middle of this...(he shows me his new project)"
"Please, this poor kid has no friends and is out there trying to learn to sign. I feel sorry for him he is not really bright and I think we should be nice"
"Hold on I need to do a few things I will be out soon."
I walk outside and this kid shows me more signs he mastered. " I like birds and food"
I tell him maybe he could learn signs for things he really likes? He names off some video games and cars. I show him the signs. He tells me he really likes birds and food. Then he says,
"I really feel sorry for your son because he can't hear"