SayWhatClub Online Voices January 2011
I am a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) but didn't know the appellation until I was in my 50s. I was born with normal hearing to culturally deaf parents. My early life embraced the Deaf Culture with my mom and dad, who had many deaf family members and friends from the deaf schools and clubs. My mom had only hearing family members, mostly Russian immigrants from Galicia (Austria-Hungary). Good people but communication was not easy for her with them. My dad had deaf parents, two deaf brothers and a deaf uncle with several deaf cousins. Their world was comfortable with easy communication in ASL.
Dad was a passionate, stubborn man with his life. "No" was not an acceptable word in his life and also in our family. He always encouraged me, saying I could do anything I wanted. This is really remarkable, coming from a man who had a tough time in the hearing world, always having to prove himself again and again that deafness didn't equate to a lack of intelligence or ability. There were frequent visits to our home from younger deaf people who regarded dad and mom as “mentors”. I remember dad dispensing encouragement and advice.
My maternal grandparents always lived with us: me, mom and dad, and my younger deaf sister, always respecting us and our lifestyle. Even though ASL was my first language, I probably learned speech from them, with their broken English. I also probably picked up some from playing with the neighborhood children and their parents. I had speech therapy in grammar school, not because I had deaf parents but because I could not pronounce my "s" properly. I still have that problem to this day.
I had an uneasy alliance with the hearing world and learned that it could be hurtful. I never got used to questions and comments that denigrated the deaf. Also stupid remarks like, "Your dad drives?" "Your parents can read?” "But your parents are DEEF!" "Your parents are DEATH?" "Are they really your parents?" "How come you can hear?" "Why do they even bother to go to movies if they can't hear?" Believe it or not, some hearies did say "DEEF" and/or 'DEATH" as if deaf was a dirty or bad-luck word (such as "cancer").
I consider the Deaf as those in Deaf Culture, those who usually attended schools for the deaf, participate in deaf clubs, deaf camping and deaf athletic events -- those who utilize ASL to communicate with one another and others who knew it.
I vividly remember accompanying my mom to the doctor when I was three years old. The doctor had asked my mom a question which she didn't understand. The doctor started to write it down and I signed to her what he said. The doctor leaned back in his chair amazed. He wrote to my mother, "What did she say to you?" Mom wrote back what I had signed to her. The doctor, still amazed, wrote "She's signing before talking!”
When my grandchildren were three years old, I tried to visualize them in such a situation. It is mind-boggling -- the responsibility. Yet I thought nothing of it, it was just something I had to do to help mom bridge the hearing world. That was the first of many, many interpreting situations. Some of it was OK; some were agonizing, with clueless and ignorant hearies. The worst were those who laughed or snorted with derision. My face would burn with embarrassment and/or hurt. My parents would just shrug it off, signing, “Stupid hearies" or, “Just ignore them."
When I was around 9 years old, in the fifth grade, I had the measles. When I returned to school, I realized I saw the teacher talking to me but she had to come close to me to get a response. She sent me to the school nurse who did a hearing test. At the end of the school day, the teacher gave me a note for my mother.
I remember so clearly giving the note to my mother and watching her face drop. She told me the nurse said I had lost some hearing. I remember feeling like I had done something wrong. When dad came home from work, she showed him the note. He read it and looked up, signed to mom "She's still better off than us. We're deaf but she just lost a little hearing. It's OK." Oddly enough, he made me feel better.
So now, life took a turn -- a more difficult turn. I wasn't getting sympathy from my parents and the hearing world didn't understand me and my hearing loss. I never had trouble with learning -- it was just the communicating and resulting misunderstandings that became part of my school life through college.
I felt like I had a double-barreled gun aimed at me. I had to show the hearing world that I was smart and able to do well in school, both for myself and to show that deaf people can have smart children! It was a heavy, heavy load.
My parents loved to take summer vacations Down The Shore, often to deaf get-togethers. I remember loving the culture and the other children of deaf friends. With them, I didn't have to "explain, explain, explain" as in the hearing world.
When I was in my mid to late 50s, I was introduced to the formal CODA organization. It was like I had been searching all over the world for my peers and finally found them! We all share the commonality of deaf parents and growing-up experiences. We have yearly conferences, various regional weekend retreats and house parties. It's my most comfortable group and I love it!
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