Our class was in Kenan Hall, in one of the little rooms off the stairway. It was a bright room and the class was one of of my favorites. The assigned book for the class was a pale yellow book entitled, Psychology of Deafness. Despite the fact that most of us showed up in our flip flops and bathing suit covers, you were always dressed professionally. If I close my eyes, my photographic memory can bring me right back to the blue chairs and plastic desk tops.
During this class you would often regale us with stories about your daughter. She was just a tot. You would tell us how you created language play activities for her. I specifically remember how every day, when you dropped her off at school you would sign, “Bye Bye Butterfly.” A beautiful use of ASL rhyme. I wonder now how old she was when you finally stopped that routine and if she still remembers it today. Maybe she secretly gives you a little butterfly sign when it’s only the two of you or maybe she doesn’t remember at all.
In one chapter of the book, we talked about the horrifying statistics of deaf children being born to into hearing families. I remember you telling us how 9 out of 10 Deaf kids are born into hearing families and that of those families only 1 or 2 of the mothers would ever learn to sign. Only 1 or 2 mothers. It still shocks me, even though my last 20 years of working in the field provides a solid confirmation.
One day, the class was having a rather thought provoking discussion on how we would feel if we found out that our child was Deaf. I clearly remember you standing before us and posing the question.
How would you feel if you found out your child was Deaf?
Hands went up. People were adamant that they couldn’t or wouldn’t be upset. There was a lot of shaming language used about parents who would ultimately grieve their “lost” child. I remember your patience, your calm demeanor as the class debated the issue.
I remember raising my hand and openly admitting that I thought I would be devastated.
I remember the hushed silence and obvious judgement from some of the other students.
I am a talker and always full of opinions, so I am sure no one was really shocked. However, the honesty was more than a room full of hopeful “we are gonna save the Deaf kids” deaf education majors could handle. No one truly wanted to admit that they might just grieve the loss of their “perfect” child.
Now, here I am. Seventeen years later.
I am that parent.
The one who had the audiologist come in and tell me that my precious new son couldn’t hear. That he is deaf. That he is imperfectly perfect.
As she talked and I held him I found myself squeezing him a tad bit harder.
I tried to put on a happy face as we talked about hearing aids, cochlear implants and audiograms.
“Fourth generation Deaf” they will call him. Deaf of Deaf.
So many labels for such a little person.
My mind swirled against the knowledge as they filled his tiny 1 month old ears with goop that would become his first ear molds.
Inside I was crumbling a bit and as I held him I flashed back to that classroom and those stories. I remembered that discussion on grief and I realized that no matter how well I sign or how much knowledge I have, sometimes I will still grieve.
I will grieve his perfectly imperfect self. I will grieve when other kids make fun of his hearing aids or don’t invite him to play. I will grieve when my older kids want to watch a movie and he hasn’t yet learned to read the captions. I will grieve when when he has to fight for access. I will grieve when he feels frustrated or different.
I will grieve.
And because of that one class, 17 years ago, I know that grieving is alright.
I will also be his #1 supporter. I will love him fiercely and completely. I will make up little sign language games and teach him to be proud of his language and culture. I will be his Mom.
And on one of those bad days…
I might even teach him to sign, “Bye Bye Butterfly”