I am totally loving Google Reader. I've loaded all the blogs and news sites that I read/would like to read and it puts it all together for me. So now I'm not missing blogs I'd like to catch but don't always have time to catch on the blog rounds, and I'm saving time by not doing blog rounds because Google checks it for me and puts all the updates together with little excerpts that I can click on if I want to go to the site. Love it! Love it!
I've been sitting on this entry for a few days now, from this woman's work. I've enjoyed this blog from time to time for a while. She's a writer, a feminist, a homeschooler, and mama to a boy and an adopted black daughter (the family is white). She writes about writing, mothering, feminism, homeschooling, race, fertility, adoption, etc. The entry that I've reread a couple of times is about how to provide their daughter with a racial identity that is different from their own, to give her the culture, the experience, the role models, to give her a healthy sense of self.
In fact, it was this woman's experience that immediately popped into my mind when I first realized that, in a sense, I would have to do the same for my son. My son was born with a different identity from ours. He is deaf; we are hearing. He has a language and a culture that is his and different from ours.
On the first day of the ASL class that we took last month our teacher approached us as we were leaving at the end.
"Does your son know he's Deaf?" she asked.
I replied, "well, he's only one year old. But I sign to him 'you're deaf, and I'm hearing'."
The teacher nodded "good, you're fine."
I reflected on the question later. At first it seems an odd question. After all, he is only just a year, which she knew, and I doubt he possesses much self-awareness other than "I'm hungry" or "I want Mama", and is that self-awareness or just visceral urges? what about more abstract matters? for instance, does he know he's a boy?
But for me, the question spoke volumes, and I wouldn't have known until recently how much it could mean. We have been surfing fast on top of the learning curve imbibing all we can of sign language, deaf-related issues, cochlear implant issues, etc. To think that at the beginning of this year, we barely could spell our names, and this summer we enrolled in ASL II. And at the beginning of this year, we barely understood the level of Ellis's hearing loss, and now we have opened the fascinating box of what it means to be Deaf. For Ellis to know that he is Deaf is no small matter.
A deaf subculture exists in the United States, unified by the use American Sign Language. I'm fascinated with how a shared language has created a shared culture that exists in tandem with another culture. From early on I was struck with how hard this language has fought for existence. When I first approached Early Intervention services when Ellis was two months old, I knew nothing, just that he had significant hearing loss. I've never been exposed to deaf culture; I had never met any deaf people until Ellis was born. Early Intervention asked me what our priorities were, more speaking-centric? or to include sign? Actually I think they asked some stupid question where they kept using the word "communicate" for "speaking". And finally I'm like "Isn't it all communication?!" They obviously did not have a very sophisticated idea of what communication means. But I digress.
I didn't think not using sign was an option; it just never has made sense not to use it. Providentially, we were assigned the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, which uses ASL, as opposed to our local oral school. Do you realize that many, many hearing parents don't sign with their deaf children? That schools exist that ban the use of sign, saying that it will inhibit the child's ability to acquire spoken English?
There have been a couple of books/documentaries that have been especially informative to me in the last few months. The first is a book titled, Train Go Sorry: Inside a Deaf World, by Leah Hager Cohen, given to me by the wonderful YelloCello, to whom I will always be indebted. "Train, go, sorry" is an ASL expression best translated into English as "missed the boat," a compelling metaphor as the author, who is hearing, weaves together different stories of students at a school for the deaf in New York, her own experience as the granddaughter of deaf grandparents and the daughter of the superintendent of the school and their stories, and her own fascination and journey with ASL and deaf culture. Through these memoirs she introduces many of the different issues and facets that created and challenge deaf culture in America. And she is very good writer; it was a delight to read!
One of the issues that brought a lot of other issues to a head was that of cochlear implants. With a cochlear implant, a person who is profoundly deaf can learn how to hear well enough to function almost as much as a hearing person. And the younger a person is implanted, the more like a hearing person the child is in his acquisition of spoken language. The cochlear implant challenges the need for sign language like nothing else before. And the language is a building block for the culture.
To members of the deaf community, who, without regrets or apologies, regard deafness as a culture, the implant is an indictment and a threat. Imagine coming up with a "cure" for any other cultural minority or oppressed group--African Americans, say, or women, or Jewish people. Most hearing people find this analogy strained. After all, deafness is a handicap. No one could disagree that a person's life would be made easier if she could be cured of deafness. But couldn't we say the same thing about black people and women and Jews? In our society, isn't it more convenient to be white and male and Christian? Isn't life generally easier for members of the dominant culture?
Her words are thought-provoking. And provide an interesting tandem to the well-known documentary (wh. some of you have likely seen) called Sound and Fury, about one extended family. There are two main brothers whose parents are hearing. One of the brothers is deaf, and he married a deaf woman, and they have three deaf children. They are a Deaf Family. The other brother is hearing and he married a hearing woman of deaf parents; they have twins one of whom is deaf. They immediately decide to implant their deaf infant, a decision applauded by the hearing grandparents and questioned by the deaf grandparents. Around the same time the oldest daughter of the deaf family, who is about five, starts asking for a cochlear implant. Her deaf parents were a little taken aback, but explore the options, finally deciding not to implant her, much to the dismay of her hearing grandparents. To be honest, this Italian family from Long Island was a little too full of drama for me. The hearing grandparents were oppressive; the hearing brother and father of the twin and his wife were melodramatic; and the confusion and hurt in the deaf family was palpable.
After watching the documentary, Chris and I had a lot of sympathy for the deaf family. For one, their parents were incredibly oppressive and histrionic, accusing them of abusing their daughter because they decided not to get an implant. Their decision made a lot of sense for their family's needs. And their concerns were real. They met a little girl about the same age as their daughter and her hearing family. She was implanted as an infant, and they treated her like a hearing child. She didn't even know she was deaf!! and when she saw the deaf family signing she asked her parents "what's that?" (A follow-up documentary, though, in the last couple of years, reveals that the deaf family has gotten implants and rifts created at the time of the initial debate seem to have been healed some. I haven't seen this follow-up, but owuld like to)
The cochlear implant has been foremost in our minds about Ellis, since he is an ideal candidate. He is profoundly deaf; his hearing aids provide little help; he is capable of grasping language concepts; he is under two years of age; and, as we recently found out the results of his MRI, he is physiologically sound--no abnormalities in his inner ear/cochlea.
It has been a tortuous decision process to go down this path. As we have come to love ASL and deaf culture and have met and become friends with many successful deaf adults, we asked ourselves, "does he truly need this? is it worth subjecting our perfectly healthy child to surgery?!" But we have decided to go ahead and proceed. I think it will move quickly once we figure out the state medical assistance tangle of information and bureaucracy. We think that it will open more doors to him in the long run, offer more choices to him. The opinions of the Train Go Sorry and Sound and Fury are imbedded in their time. Deaf culture is changing, and, hopefully, will withstand the tide of the new technology.
In light of this, we feel deeply the burden of responsibility the weighs on us. Of continuing to sign with him, to provide him access to deaf culture, to create a home environment that will be bilingual and bicultural. If we really mean to offer him choices, we have the responsibility to equip him as a Deaf person, as well as providing him access to sound. He can always take off a cochlear implant later in life; but he can never put it on in the peculiarly advantageous way of implanting a child under two years of age.
And so when I read the post by this adoptive mother regarding the shaping of her black daughter's identity, it resonated with my thoughts of late.