Wednesday, July 02, 2008

An Educational Hijack *Part 1*


(me at age 4... waiting for surgery)

Technically this is supposed to be a space where our family and friends can catch up on the latest Itty Bit adventures at their leisure.

So... I'm hijacking it.

I'm mommy. It's one of my superpowers.

Since I recently posted a couple of personal - as in "deaf" personal - entries, the surprising amount of support and empathy from you blogreaders got me thinking (thanks, by the way).

This one's kinda selfish. Because I hope you remember a couple lines next time you encounter someone with a disability.

The first and foremost way I define myself is "Rachel".

Running into high school classmates often results in an awkward exchange:

Me: Hi - did you go to Anytown High School?
Them: Uh yeah, did you? (obvious consternation as they try to place my "accent")
Me: Yeah, I think we had biology together?
Them: Ummm
Me: I was kinda quiet.
Them: Ummm, I'm really bad with names.
Me: I'm Rachel, I used to have a sign language interpreter in class?
Them: Oh yeah, you're the deaf girl.

I realize that it is easier for people to recollect something that is different about me.

But in the often-lonely school years, I felt like most classmates grouped me with the rest of the "special ed" kids. The little yellow school bus group.

The "deaf" label seemed the only thing they associated me with.

I realize that as social as high school can be, there are an awful lot of lonely kids out there, too. And I sure could have gotten up off my butt and tried to give classmates a better glimpse of what was "normal" about me.

Here's what I hope you most take away from this: everyone is different. I'm not the same as the next deaf person you'll meet. You're not the same as the next "normal" person I'll meet (though some more than others! *grin*)

I wasn't born this way.

My hearing loss is a result of damage caused by repeated chicken pox bouts.

My baby sister was two weeks old. It was my 4th birthday when I lost the rest of my dwindling hearing.

And because my parents are who they are (in a good way) - it was a tumultuous time for our family. It would have been far easier for them to ship me off to an institute and focus on the brand new baby. Refusal to take the easy out cemented their hero status.

My sister's childhood was filled with tagging along as my mother took me to appointment after appointment:



speech therapists



special education teachers

school administrators


faith healers

I was placed in a special preschool program for hearing impaired kids. It was an early lesson in segregation. We had our own small classroom, bathroom, and small playground fenced off from the rest of the school. On the other side of the chainlink barrier was a noisy world full of clamor and fun.

It was an eye-opener to suddenly feel different.

Before, I'd felt special. One of the oldest in a large gang of hard-playing cousins, I was known for being the exceptionally girly and bossy one. Bedecked in dresses and braids, I never backed down from a fight.

I was an early talker and had already learned to read. I felt smart and pretty and in charge of my little world. All that self-confidence and puffed-up 4-year old pride dissapated with my hearing.

It left me a bit of an oddity. Someone who was still considered bright by scholastic standards, but who was clueless while the rest of her classmates followed the instructions given over the school loudspeakers.

Someone who couldn't hear, yet could lipread and speak.

A stubbornly unrealistic girl who used to sing on key and still loved music and wanted to be a ballerina.

Someone who just simply wasn't cool to hang out with unless you wanted the "retard" guilt by association label.

What a profound lesson in how feeling "different" can impact a person's ultimate potential. How many times have I unknowingly made someone else feel excluded? Or in my shyness neglected to reach out to someone who obviously could have used a friend?

More personal lessons in Part 2 (here)