I’ve written and re-written this post about fifty times. The words just weren’t coming in the first few drafts. After the beginning of this hellacious week, I think am able to explain a little more succinctly what is happening in my head and heart. We’re in a little bit of a battle in the Full Plate house. I would never categorize it as a war, because I never want to lob grenades and start fights, but we are having to defend ourselves.
For awhile now we’ve been going back and forth with our school district about the best place for Gigi to attend school. Our neighborhood elementary school does not house the center-based deaf education for our district. That program is located across town, a 40 minute bus ride from our house. Our district feels that Gigi will receive a better quality of education by making that bus ride every day. We feel that for 4-year-old Kindergarten, which is only 3 hours each day, Gigi is better served at our neighborhood school. We feel she is better served being with her sisters, Tess and Cate, and with an interpreter to help her communicate with the other children.
I understand all the pros and cons about choosing a deaf residential deaf school versus a center based deaf program versus mainstream education with an interpreter. I’ve spoken with countless deaf adults. I’ve read hours and hours of research. I’ve weighed focal interpreting for a deaf/blind child with immersion into a full language model classroom. We’ve done our very best, as hearing parents, to learn ASL as quickly as possible and to absorb Deaf culture in our home, just the way we’ve absorbed countless other cultures. Oh my gosh, the cultures that aren’t our own. There are so many. Black, Latina, Chinese, Ghanaian, Dwarf, adoptee, large family, transracial culture. None of them are natively mine. We have done our best to be cultural brokers for our kids.
Deaf culture, like many other cultures, has many traits that can be traced directly back to a long history of oppression and disrespect. For centuries, Deaf children were given no access to language. In fact, quite a few still are. For centuries, we have expected Deaf children to adapt and learn the way hearing children do. When they couldn’t, we sent these children to residential schools where entire worlds were built inside the walls where communication could occur. Talk to a deaf adult whose family didn’t sign about how awful it felt to be sent home from school on holiday breaks, or for the summer. Talk to them about the depression, the loneliness, the isolation that they felt inside their own home. You’ll understand so much more about Deaf culture.
It speaks volumes about the professionals in Gigi’s life that they value Deaf culture so highly that their advice to us is to send Gigi to a place where she won’t feel that isolation, where she’ll feel included, where she’ll never feel lonely. It is wonderful to have so many people watching out for Gigi.
As her mother, naturally, I think of what I would lose if we make that choice. I won’t choose residential school for Gigi yet. She’s only 4-years-old. The earliest I would consider this is high school. That is understood amongst the educators we are working with. However, I don’t want to send Gigi outside of our neighborhood school either.
That is less understood.
Beyond what I would lose if I put Gigi on that bus and send her on that 80 minute bus ride to the school on the other side of town, I think of what Gigi’s siblings would lose. She will no longer be a part of their school, a school that is an anchor for them, a place where they begin to understand the true definition of community. They would have a community in one place, she would have it in another. There would be a gap there that would be hard to build a bridge across. We would be choosing separation.
Then, as a mom, I have to consider what Gigi would lose, because it is already fairly obvious what she would gain. For a child who was born to us, one who had a family to love her since she entered the world, it wouldn’t be such a loss to spend so much time away from parents and siblings. That child would already have a firm foundation of love and security. Gigi doesn’t have that. Her beginnings were marked with loss. A short four months ago, that loss happened all over again when she was ripped out of China and dropped into our family in America. She has no language to discuss her feelings. She has minimal language that allows for her to be reassured and comforted. She won’t understand why, yet again, everything she has known is being taken away.
Tess and Cate are Gigi’s security blanket right now. She looks to them for answers to the questions ‘Am I okay?’, ‘Are we safe?’, ‘Is this dangerous?’, ‘Should I be happy?’. Those two can talk her through anything. I tell people not to ever underestimate what the love of a sister or brother will do for a child. Cate is Gigi’s best friend, partner in crime, arch rival. They are sisters forever.
I won’t take that away from Gigi.
I made that known this week. I made the choice. No more debating. No more discussing. No more researching. I have to go with my mom gut for this upcoming school year. I am not making a permanent choice for Gigi. We can take each year as it comes. We can assess each year where Gigi is at and what her hierarchy of needs is in that moment. Right now, her biggest need is emotional security. She needs to feel safe in order to learn.
I was told that my wishes and the recommendation of the educators on Gigi’s team don’t coincide. They don’t agree with my decision. They feel Gigi’s biggest need is her deafness and finding a way to accommodate for it when educating her.
As they told me this, my mind flashed back to a week ago in Deaf church when we were discussing Deaf culture. I remember the Deaf instructor standing in front of our small group of eager ASL learners and explaining to us that when it comes to Deaf culture, you are considered Deaf or hearing first, and then a person second. Family, friends, etc, they all come after your deafness. Your deafness, and the Deaf community that comes with it, trumps everything else.
That was an incredibly eye opening moment for me. I began to understand why the educators we work with, who are so much more familiar with Deaf culture than I being that some are Deaf themselves or are children of Deaf adults, would make the recommendation that they did. I understood why we seem to clash. I understood why they’re, seemingly, forcing me to choose. Because Deaf people have a history of being forced to do just that.
I’m trying not to be angry about the recommendation. I’m trying not to be bitter about the fact that our family culture is being ignored in place of Deaf culture. But, as I get ready to try to explain myself, yet again, this week, I do wonder why Gigi can’t have both? Why can’t Gigi have family and the Deaf community? Why is it that a person has to be something else before they are allowed the human right that is a family?
Then I have to wonder if I’m allowed to ask that of a culture that isn’t mine. Am I allowed, as the hearing mother of a deaf child to say ‘I want her too! I don’t want to lose her to you!’ I want to be allowed to say ‘We can share her, but for now, in these precious moments when she is learning to love, family always comes first, and her deafness, and by extension all of you, come second.’ I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that.
–FullPlateMom, who knows there is so much complexity in parenting other culture kids.