Monday, April 30, 2007

Secrets? Not Here!

I never realized how small the Deaf world was until I went to Deaf school for the first time. I knew my parents had gone to Gallaudet, along with too many aunts, uncles and cousins to mention. I just didn't put 2 and 2 together and figure out that so did many of my teachers from school!

My freshman year was a tough one for me-- I had to adjust to a new school and a home away from Mom and Dad; my sister didn't want her little sister tagging along behind her and would tell me to "shoo-shoo!"; and my parents also separated that year. For a young girl, that equates to her world falling apart! I needed someone to talk to, so I went to see my school counselor. I confessed everything that was happening in my life-- my parents impending divorce, my big mean old sister, it was as if the world was against me! It felt wonderful to unload and have someone hear me and make me feel better and I just knew I did the right thing.

The next day at school, several teachers came up to me and said they were sorry to hear about my Mom and Dad's separation. Huh?? Where did that come from? No one knew about my parents getting a divorce except...for... the...*gasp!* The Deaf counselor!!! I was so upset that I went and told my Mom what happened. She asked me what the counselor's name was and it turned out that it was one of her classmates. Mom explained to me then, that many of my teachers were her and Dad's classmates from either Deaf school or Gallaudet. She took the yearbook from the previous year and pointed out all her classmates to me, so that I could be more careful with my words and who I said them to. Mom went to talk with my counselor and of course it was all denied that she said anything. I never went back to her again and switched to a hearing counselor.

Today, the Deaf world is still small. True, there are more Deaf people than ever before, but the same names come up over and over and people everywhere recognize them. You may be a friend of a friend of a friend, or so-and-so's classmate. With today's technology, events -- good or bad -- spread like wildfire faster than ever: VPs, Internet and pagers. I got a rude awakening all those years ago, and it was a lesson I have never forgotten. Be careful what you say, there are no such things as secrets here.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

In today's culture of 'want it now' and 'want it fast' I seem to be the odd man out. People everywhere are always looking for shortcuts and how to get something fast, faster, fastest. Take a look around you-- fast food, drive-through, emails, heat 'em and eat 'em foods at the grocery store to name a few. How hard is it to cook up some rice the old-fashioned way? 2 cups of water, a cup of rice, 20 minutes on simmer and voila! Why is it with all the so-called time-savers we have, IE: microwaves, cars and computers, that it seems like we have less time than ever before? If we can cook a meal for 5 minutes or less in the microwave, drive a car and arrive at your destination in 10 minutes, wash and dry clothes in an hour and a half, WHY are we STILL busy?!?!

Gone are the days of washing clothes in a big old washer and squeezing the water out through the wringer, then hanging up the clothes on the line where it will then take most of the day to dry (if its a nice hot day and not overcast). No more do we have to pump the well and carry 10-20 pound buckets of water to the house so there will be water to cook, clean and bathe in. Need meat? Go out to the pasture and pick a cow to butcher and then spend most of the day gutting, draining the blood, skinning and cutting up the meat to feed your family. Time to cook a meal? Head out to the garden and pick enough vegetables and fruit for everyone to eat. Seriously, life was hard work before all these time-savers came about, but I think time-savers steal away time with family.

Not only is it quick to make a meal, we now scarf down our food in 5 minutes and then scatter to our respective rooms; free to watch TV, play video games, surf the Internet, call a friend. Instead of the whole family working together, weeding the garden or chopping wood, we spend time with electronics. We talk on the phone while we drive and listen to the radio and put lipstick on all at the same time. If you saved 15 minutes on dinner, how come you don't have time to put lipstick on before you get into the car? Why is it when I meet you at the mall, you answer your pager every time it beeps and put me on hold? As my Hubby likes to say: the phone is there for me, I'm not there for the phone. In other words, if I don't answer, it doesn't mean something happened to me, it means I am out doing something else, instead of waiting for the phone to ring!

We moved to a house with 15 acres with the intent of having a bigger garden and a bigger yard for our children to play in. I started to can my own food a few years ago, as a way to preserve some of the extra fruits and vegetables that we couldn't keep up with and people who would see us coming with armfuls of garden goodies would turn the other way, afraid we would unload more tomatoes and zucchini on them! After moving here and discovering berry bushes and trees, I wanted to try making my own jams. So we spent our summer evenings walking around the property, picking berries, half would go in the bucket and the rest into my children's mouths. What fun that was, to talk and laugh and play, instead of cooped up inside the house with our electronic friends. I like to tell people that Hubby wasn't very enthusiastic about helping us pick berries for jams, because he thought I would leave the seeds in them. After my very first batch of seedless jam, he started walking with us and pulling the higher branches down for us to pick! He quickly changed his mind after tasting my jam!

Today, we all spent time in the garden, tilling the soil to get it ready for planting. The kids had fun taking their shovels and digging holes, looking for worms, while Hubby started trimming the branches of trees around the garden. We have a fence around the garden, so I could let the little one run around and not worry too much about them running away and concentrate on the task at hand. Eventually shoes came off and they ran around in the soft soil and left trails of little footprints everywhere. Then Hubby attached the wagon to the tractor and pulled the children around for a ride. It was a most perfect day! The TV remained off the whole day, dinner was made from scratch, and dirty feet were washed before bedtime. Who needs all those time-savers?? Instead of buying shortcuts from the store, I made time with my family in growing our own food. My kids will know that food comes from the earth, meat comes from animals, and they will know that there is more to life than video games.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Miss Me?

As a Deaf person, growing up deaf also means being part of a Deaf World. It means going to Deaf gatherings and events, going to class reunions just to catch up on old classmates and learn who married whom. It means when you meet another Deaf person for the first time, you often ask, "Which school did you go to?" Doesn't so much apply nowadays for the younger generation with more schools offering mainstream programs, but for the older set of Deaf people it still comes as a standard, as common as "How are you?"

I married a Hearing man and before me, he had not had much contact with a Deaf person before. We became friends at work and talked and he finally asked me out. When the relationship got serious, I laid down some issues on the table: I come from a Deaf family and you'll need to learn sign; if we have children there is a 50/50 chance they might be deaf because it is hereditary for me; you need to accept having closed caption on the TV ALL THE TIME and if it isn't captioned, I don't want to watch it (sounds trivial but I have heard of hearing people not liking CC on TVs); get used to the deaf equipment-- TTYs, phone lights, doorbell lights, etc... If he didn't want to deal with and accept any of those things that come with me, the door was right over there and he was free to walk out. He choose to stay with me.

Some might say I was being silly for doing that, but I wanted to go into my marriage with open eyes and wanted to make sure that HIS eyes were open, too. I wanted him to know what he was getting himself into and to know that my Deaf world was different from what he was used to. I took him to Rock Festival at Gally a month before we got married and it was funny to see his reaction to all the flying fingers and even though the music was loud, he commented on how quiet it was. It sort of opened my eyes too, to see my Deaf world through his eyes, to see his observations and hear his comments on things I never took notice of.

Fast forward a few years and I found myself too busy to keep up with my Deaf world-- work, kids, activities and family dominated my life and I just didn't have the time to go to any Homecomings or expos or sports. I didn't think I was missing anything and frankly, did not miss it at all. Then a month ago, I heard something happened in my Deaf world and I didn't know about it until a week or two later. A friend suggested I check out and the links there would help me figure out what happened. Little did I know, that going to that website would open the floodgates to my forgotten Deaf world. I discovered DeafRead, YouTube, and a multitude of other Deaf V/Bloggers and I discovered that I MISS my world. My husband noticed I was spending a lot of time on the computer surfing all the Deaf websites and showing him this and that and finding old classmates and finding my parents' old classmates, too. I made a decision, then, to never leave my Deaf world for so long, ever again.

I didn't realize that I missed being among my Deaf peers. I have no regrets in my life and I make an effort to appreciate what I have and not dwell on what I don't. I have enjoyed my "break" and now it is time for me to take a step back into the world I left behind and bring my family with me and show them who I am. My husband knows who I am, but my children have yet to go to any Deaf event and be surrounded with flying fingers, to see the beauty that our hands can create. Look out Deaf world, I'm back!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Memories of school

I was born Deaf to Deaf parents, and it is something I have grown up with. My parents did just fine in the Hearing world and never complained about not being able to hear. They set examples for my sister and I and showed us that deafness doesnt mean you cannot function in a hearing world.

When I was little, I had some hearing and I didnt qualify for Deaf schools, so my sister went off to her dormitories during the week and I stayed home to go to public schools. I did just fine until I lost more hearing and got my first hearing aid-- then my problems began... Other children who never saw such a thing before, got curious, "what's that?" I tried to defuse the situation with humor, "oh this? It's a little radio!" But then we moved to another state and I was dropped into a new school with older and less tolerant students. By this time, I had lost more hearing and was on the verge of needing interpreters to understand the teachers. This was all before ADA happened and interpreters weren't commonplace for schools just yet. Mom would go to the schools and tell them that I needed help with understanding the teachers and they suggested Cued Speech, since there were 2 other students that had Cued Speech interpreters at the school already. Mom argued and they simply ignored my Mom's requests.

My grades started dropping, and I remember taking a required foreign language class, Spanish, and doing fine in the written lessons, but then the teacher would randomly call on students in spanish and then I got lost. "Senorita Jenny, por favor, blah blah blah....." , then she would wait for my response. "Uhhmmmm....Si?" I changed courses not long after that!

When it came time to pick a high school to go to, I had 3 choices: regular public, mainstream, or deaf residential. My sister was going to the deaf school and every Friday when we picked her up, I remember not wanting to leave! I had so much fun socializing with the other kids and FINALLY being able to understand what was being said that I knew I was going to go there for school in the fall. Funny thing, going to public schools and using my voice to communicate kind of carried over into Deaf school. I linked up with similar students and we talked with voices instead of signing, so now instead of hearing students pointing out my hearing aid, it was deaf students calling me oral-minded and telling me this was a deaf school, to stop using my voice! I had a heck of a time convincing others that I came from a Deaf family instead of a hearing family!

Deaf school was such a joy and I look back with fond memories. I would not be who I am today if it wasnt for Deaf school. I truly opened up and became a braver, more assertive person instead of withdrawing into myself like when I was in public schools. In public school, I didnt want to be noticed for fear of more taunts and being picked on, so I didnt participate in anything, didnt make new friends. I made friends to last a lifetime when I changed to a Deaf school and to this day, still talk with many of them. Our lives have changed, many have gotten married and started families of our own, but I will always keep in touch! To my friends-- Deaf and hearing-- you have made me who I am today, Thank you!