Tuesday, March 24, 2009

So this confession is honest but it may not make you like me better. It's the true story of how it was.

I definitely resented my parents at times, not necessarily for being deaf, but for some of their choices. I mean, I understood that they had no control over being born deaf, but they could hear well enough to make things tricky. My dad had a profound hearing loss which means total nerve damage, but through a series of blessings given to him over the years, he functioned far better than people with lesser hearing losses. My mom had a severe hearing loss. She could maybe hear 20% of what was going on around her. She and my dad were both raised orally, meaning with intensive speech therapy and no sign language, so they were master lip readers and speakers, and extremely competent at understanding content based on context. They both learned sign language in college and switched to that as their primary form of communication, but their ability to speak and lip read...well, sometimes even I got suspicious...

I mean, were they really deaf? It seemed sometimes like they could hear when they wanted to. As a kid, I often wondered if they were faking being deaf and just tricking us so they could get us kids to do more stuff for them. As an adult, I found out that my younger brother and sister had the same suspicions.

As it turned out though, they really were deaf.

The resentment came from having to do a lot of things that other little kids never had to do, and since I'm the oldest, most of it fell to me to take care of. It's pretty easy for deaf people to communicate now, what with email and Blackberries and video relay services. As a kid, I didn't have any of that stuff to bail me out. At six years old, I would have to call and make doctor's appointments or handle calls to my parents if they couldn't understand the person on the other end. With their hearing aids and the special volume control they had on the phone, they could get by most of the time, but they needed me often enough for it to wear thin, sometimes.

As I got older, the resentment came from other things. These are the choices I mentioned. We never did sports as kids because my parents didn't have the money and my dad's health was too poor to invest in something like that. However, as we grew older, my siblings and I (there's just the three of us) got involved with things in high school, especially academic stuff. I went to the national mock trial competition with two different states (Louisiana and then California) and they never came to see one match, not even at the county level. My dad said they would be bored without interpreters.

It really bothered me. I felt like it was kind of beside the point. I figured the point was just to show up and be there, but they didn't see it that way. My brother kind of felt like that too. I guess over time we learned to shrug it off, but not completely. It still bothers me, sometimes.

Also, we attended a deaf branch when we moved back to California. It was awesome for my parents because they finally got to participate fully in church and I was happy about that, but we got tapped to interpret a lot in church when there weren't enough adults to go around and sometimes...we just wanted to be kids, to enjoy youth conference without having to interpret for a classmate or whatever. Most CODAs feel this way at some point.

There were compensations, though. My parents died two years ago, but I have rich memories of them centered in the language of thought, which is probably the best way to explain ASL. There are things you just can't explain in English that are so easy to get across in ASL. I have great memories of my mom explaining the origin of certain signs to me in a way that made them indelible, and I bet no one else has ever thought of the same explanation. I'll always remember how lovely she looked when she led the congregation in hymns every Sunday, her hands tracing out concepts about God and glory and grace in the air, painting the clearest picture. I'll always remember the way my dad's face would move so expressively, perfectly conveying his thoughts which is an earmark of ASL. I'll always remember his contributions to spreading the gospel in the deaf community. He and his three companions were the first LDS missionaries called to teach the gospel to the deaf, and in later years he worked on helping the Church translate the scriptures into ASL dvds.

So in yesterday's question, Josi asked how I reconciled the issue of their deafness in my life and how it relates to me as an adult. The answer is that in hindsight, they did their best, but sometimes the load was heavy and as children we were asked to shoulder a part. I don't think it's anything different than what many children have done for their parents whether it's because of a disability or a language barrier. And I know my life is far richer for the experience.

Thanks, Josi, for asking the question. I think later this week I'll revisit deafness once more for the time being to share the lighter side too, because believe me, there are some funny things about deaf culture and growing up in it. And maybe even later, I'll share a little more of the tought stuff, too, but honestly? It all shook out all right, you know?


Debbie said...

This is why you are so wonderful. You are honest and open with us. As I read this, I felt like I was seeing your childhood. And it really did make me like you more. Who wouldn't understand a child or young adult feeling "put upon" by having to interpret or perform tasks that really belong in the adult world. And I also understand your hurt from them not attending your mock trial comps. I can't wait to learn more.

Kazzy said...

I can tell how much you loved your folks. And your mom painting pictures in the air? Love that imagery.

But they were parents. And parents sometimes disappoint their kids. Deaf, not deaf. You have the right to the same kid feelings other kids have. Thanks so much for your post!

Stephanie and Co. said...

Oh Melanie your paragraph on the compensations was beautiful. It made me cry. I really love reading about your experiences with your parents.

codadiva said...

I did the same thing, and know of other Codas that did too! Thinking our parents could hear. I did a vlog about it last year. http://codadiva.com/?p=29

I too have resentments. I was in basketball, a visual sport, I think my dad - the sports lover, showed up twice. Mom maybe once.

However, my brother's hockey games were always attended. I too have resentment, today I am trying to tunnel that into my future speaking presentations. I'm looking forward to reading more from you.

My blog is under construction and trying to fix some of the broken links for the videos, but I'm on youtube too.

Josi said...

I probably wouldn't have beleieved you if you said it was wonderful all the time, but this was awesome. I got teary eyed in a couple spots--no wonder you're so remarkable. You've had to consider other people all of your life. I'm so sad they are both gone now, and yet I think you KNEW your parents better than most kids know theirs. Thanks for the honest answer. I love hearing about things that are so far away from my experience, it opens the world for me.

Annette Lyon said...

This makes me like you all the more--you're so real, and you've got such a great perspective on it all.

You're so right about ASL and English being so different. I used to come home from ASL classes and want to bad to tell a joke that my teacher had shared--but I couldn't, because there was just no way to convey it in English.

DeNae said...


Bear in mind, ALL kids grow up resenting their parents for SOMETHING. At least yours is quantifiable and containable in this unusual situation.

If anything, you can be spared the guilt of realizing you were angry over stupid things, like your parents having too much money or being too active in the church! (I've known both types of kids!!)

And you've learned - and taught - a necessary lesson through these experiences: Every one of us, no matter how hard we try, at some point requires the charity and compassion of someone else in order to get by.

I think you're awesome, Melanie.

Kristina P. said...

I was going to say the exact same thing as DeNae. I definitely resented a lot of the choices my parents made, and spent a lot of yars getting over that resentment towards my mom, for abandoning us. I can't say it's still completely gone.

LisAway said...

This is really neat. I agree with Kazzy. Every kid resents some things about their parents, but you did have some things that are very specific to their deafness.

Maybe you were just holding out here, but the positive you presented in the end really seems to counterbalance the bad, and actually tip it in favor of the good. It seems like that's really the way you feel about it.

Thanks for another great post.

LisAway said...

(Oh, I had the comment box open for a long time, so I meant to say that I agree with Kazzy AND DaNae and Kristina. . .)

Kimberly said...

Love the sincerity of this post, Melanie. And it's instructive too. Certain things can't be understood unless you live them, but a post like this gives a good glimpse.

And I think, many years down the road, you'll be glad to have a written record of your experiences growing up, but the funny and the frustrating.

Heidi Ashworth said...

I love your attitude about this. I worry a lot about these kinds of issues because between the Big Guy (multiply disabled) and my husband who suffers from anxiety and depression which makes him a poor wage earner and my fibromyalgia which means I can't really work either, our kids are expected to go through things they wouldn't have to go through if we were an entirely healthy family. I think my 14 year old is starting to get it but my 7 year old is just beginning to figure out that things are different here than he thought and it's going to be a tough road ahead with him. I try to compensate but you can over-do that, you know? It's just such a hard balance to strike, like always walking on a razor's edge.

Erin said...

This was so informative! I can imagine how frustrating it was sometimes to have to make important phone calls for your parents and other such things.

The thing I connected to personally was when you said your parents didn't come to stuff. My parents never came to one of my piano recitals...I felt very lonely and unloved during those times. And I will be sure to support my kids better than I was supported!

Luisa Perkins said...

This is probably my favorite post of yours. I like you more.

Chaka said...

That was a nice post. It's refreshing to occasionally see a more serious post on the bogs I follow. By the way, I think I'm the only guy commenting on here. Is that ok?

That Girl in Brazil said...

Wow. I think that was one of the most honest, well thought out, inspiring posts I've ever read. I'm so grateful that you shared it with us. (And I mean that in a non-shallow, Stupid Comment kind of way. Like, I really am grateful!)

Emily said...

Wow. This is so interesting to read. If it makes you feel any better, my parents never, repeat, NEVER, attended anything of mine.

Ten kids . . . two parents . . . they just didn't make it a priority. To this day, my siblings and I have resentment. I totally get how you feel.

From one disappointed child to another . . . I'm sorry you felt this way too.

Jessica G. said...

I don't why I'm commenting other than to throw in another "Amen" to DeNae's comment.

And you already know I think your writing is amazing.

Marcia Mickelson said...

I think I can relate. I grew up always translating for my parents whose English was limited. We spoke Spanish in the home, and I was forever translating for them at school, at stores, everywhere. I was forever making phone calls for them. I felt resentful at times too and embarrassed as well. I felt like I was 'adultified' as a child, if that's even a word. I'm glad I'm bilingual now.

April said...

I applaud you on your braveness and on the path that you have traveled. I think you would be surprised at the number of children who hold some resentment toward their parents.

You inspired me to work harder. Thanks!

Melanie's Sister said...

You're right, this entry doesn't make me like you any better. In fact, I don't like you at all. (J/K; it was too easy to pass up)

What you describe is typical of most children with deaf parents. And the oldest children usually get the brunt of it. However, I think our parents were better than most deaf parents. If they needed me to make a phone call, they would always ask, never demanding. If I was in the middle of something, they'd let me finish before I helped them. They always tried to do it first, and then when they couldn't they would ask for help.

They tried to be as independent as possible, but sometimes you just can't do it without help.