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I love Christmas but Christmas is also something I dread. I fret when Christmas nears..
I love seeing families gathering together and celebrating Christmas as a family, acknowledging and loving each other…. but not mine. When it comes to my hearing family, I hate it. Not because of the people in my hearing family…. because there is no communication.
Every year I avoid Christmas gatherings unless they are ‘Deaf friendly’ and with people who really valued communication whether it is signing or not.
My husband and I got married on Christmas Eve. I wanted my Christmas to be special, I wanted Christmas to be a joyful time and getting married on Christmas Eve was the best thing I ever did. That changed my feeling about Christmas.
I grew up in a very ‘hearing cultural world’… I tried so hard to be ‘hearing’ but it doesn’t matter how hard I tried, I never succeed.
Trying to be ‘hearing’ was expected in my hearing family but it is also something that they will never understand because they cannot see it from my perspective nor have been in my shoes. Especially as a deaf person. It doesn’t matter how many times I tried to share and explain… “It’s always about you..” I am told.. often.
The older I become, the more I avoid being around my hearing family is because I don’t have the strength anymore and I dont like ‘wasting time’… my energy, my time and my life on something that had no value to me nor return anything in exchange.
My mother is a beautiful kind person and she is well liked by many people, she does have a good heart however my relationship with my mother is toxic. Dysfunctional.
My father is a very brilliant eccentric man and talks loudly, drones on and on, shares his own strong views on many topics yet my relationship with my father is better than anyone else in the hearing family.
I have two siblings and they are lovely people but I do not ‘see’ them as siblings… just people I know, friends. Even though I do love them… yet I resent their relationship with my parents, other hearing family members and one of my children.
Why? because I don’t have that kind of relationship and I crave that. I wanted that for as long as I can remember.
I have many nieces and nephews, I love all of them and because they are children, it is easier… who knows what will happen when they grow older?. I know deep inside we will fade apart as usual…. because of communication.
Communication was never taught to be valued, my parents never taught us to appreciated and value communication. Therefore we have no mode of communication… not even text, email, Skype or any other.
My grandmother and one of my siblings asked me to come home to my birth town for Christmas because my grandmother was turning 99 and she wanted to have the whole family together again. It was her birthday wish.
I couldn’t say no to my grandmother even deep in the pit of my stomach… I wanted the world to crumble. My heart was racing and I had that horrible dreading feeling…
My mind was screaming “No no no no, no way, f$&@ no”…
I had all those visions from the past pouring out in my mind… seeing me among them feeling isolated and hating life.
My mother and I haven’t communicated in two years. What would it be like? How will we react to each other?
I went. Yep I went. I took my family home to my birth town for Christmas. I survived and I hated it. I cried for days. I became angry and frustrated. But I did it and I am not, NOT doing it again. I just can’t.
We went for 3 days and it was torture. Canberra is a beautiful town and does have many amazing things that represent Canberra. But I hate Canberra because of the memories and it’s a reminder of what my life used to be like.
The first day we all went to a picnic… supposed to be with all the cousins. We sat there on a bench trying to look useful. My husband and I prayed fiercely for rain to come… our prayers were answered but the picnic was moved to a house. We were stuck in a house, a beautiful house with one of those yoga rooms out the backyard and such a gorgeous dog.
I felt like an elephant in the house with many mice swarming around me. I felt like I was a dog being patted on the head “Good girl”. I felt really uncomfortable and unacknowledged.
The hours dragged on so slowly and it was becoming harder to bear another minute.
I hated those ‘small talks’. “Hello how are you? what are you doing now? it’s been so long”… I struggled to lipread with my one hearing aid as I needed to ‘hear’ the voice to lipread. I cannot lipread without sounds. There were too many noises in the house, too many people and too distracting…
Then there is that awkward silence… a smile and the conversation is finished. Or someone interrupting by calling out. Or I am told “Excuse me, sorry”. I am relieved yet I feel so stupid standing there not knowing what to do next.
I looked at my large hearing family with all these cousins and felt sad because I don’t know them. I don’t have a relationship with them. I am not considered important enough to them. A tear rolled down my face but I quickly wiped it away and made myself look amused.
The next day was our 13th wedding anniversary… my hearing family forgot as usual. We visited my grandmother who was in rehab, I was so relieved to see no other family members were there. Just us. Because it meant I could communicate with my grandmother without interrupting, loud chatter…
I sat with my grandmother and felt loved in her presence. She writes to me every month without fail. Her letters were always full of news about what is happening. Her letters always were written in cursive writing, oh I loved getting her letters. Her letters were my connection to my hearing family.
For a while we chatted about her family tree and my family. I sat there trying to lipread and listening to understand what she was saying. After 10 minutes I became tired but kept on watching her lips… my eyes started to burn and my mind started to become mushy.
I start to lose focus on what she was saying… picking up one word every few words. My voice started to wobble and my signing became flappy.
I always sign when I use my voice, I couldn’t speak without signing… I can’t speak on it’s own.
We had to stop and I hugged her tight, told her how much she means to me and how much I valued her letters. I looked at my grandmother, admiring her. She still dyed her hair and still dressed beautifully. Her mind is still intact and strong. Her body is frail yet she is determined to keep on living.
I left wondering if I would ever see her again after Christmas.
After that we visited my parents. Since I was there in Canberra I felt I should try and make an effort. An effort that wasn’t appreciated. As usual, me being there for 3 days wasn’t good enough. An argument occurred and the screaming started.
I stood outside waiting to leave and my youngest son, he is the only hearing child in my family, start to ‘interpreted’ the screaming. My heart sank… my youngest son ‘interpreting’… he is only 8. Yet he saw me standing there not knowing and didn’t like that I was not knowing…. he felt the need to inform me.
My children should never have to carry that burden… that responsibility to interpret anything. To keep me communicated. It is not their duty. I didn’t have children to be my ‘interpreters’ I had children because I wanted a family and I love my children for who they are.
I left in tears and feeling that heavy dread. Feeling guilty and responsible for me being ‘deaf’ and not wanting to be there. I hated that guilt feeling… it just eats you up inside, I could feel it gnawing in me… slowly gnawing and gnawing till there was nothing left to gnaw.
The third day was Christmas Day. We opened our gifts and one cousin came to join us for the day. I had gifts for everyone including the cousin. I sat there on the couch smiling, looking around.. trying to look happy. Everyone is talking, voices across the room… no one was signing except me and my husband.
My heart was shattered seeing my siblings and my parents get a gift each from my cousin but not me.
Is it because I am deaf?
Is it because I don’t ring him on the phone?
Is it because I don’t have long meaningful conversations with him?
Is it because we drifted apart as we get older?
That hurts… like a knife stabbing over and over. Not that I wanted a gift. I wanted to be included. I wanted to be communicated like my hearing family communicate with each other. I wanted to be mattered. I wanted to be seen as one of them.
As the day dragged on… laughter and endless chatter was everywhere and I wondered, wondered and wondered what it was all about.
I tried to watch their lips… too many distractions, too many noises… too fast, too hard and my eyes just burns. Whenever I look at someone, I get a smile yet they continue their conversation knowing I am standing there watching.
No one in my hearing family can sign. My father can finger spell but he’s clumsy. My mother can sign a few words but not clearly. Not enough to have a brief conversation.
At lunch I sat with the children eating my lunch, watching the children talk among themselves. I wished so much that moment, that I could hear… I wished so much I could be a part of their conversation.
I looked over to the other tables and watched the adults talk among themselves. I saw emotions on their faces and I wondered what it was about. But I knew, as usual I will never know because every time I asked… I am told “Oh it’s nothing”… “Oh we are talking about the prime minster” ….. “Oh it’s about my job”…
I wondered so often… ‘Do they ever look at me and wonder. what I am thinking? what do they know about me? why don’t they try and communicate with me?’…
I watch my mother trying to teach my children how to say a word clearly and I think to myself ‘I didn’t bring my children for you to teach them how to speak, they are deaf and signing is their language’.
Then I wondered if my mother really wanted to see me or was it my children is all she wanted to see? That I don’t know.
While sitting on the couch with my mother, my youngest daughter said to me “I find it frustrating when I ask people to repeat what they said, they say it doesn’t matter”… I tell her “If they don’t repeat what they said then they are not worth your time, find someone else who will. Communication is important for everyone.”
I told my husband we need to go. My heart was racing too much and I couldn’t bear another minute. My eldest son was becoming angry and suffocated. As we drove off, everyone waved goodbye except my mother. She resented the fact that I was there for 3 days, she felt she wasn’t important enough for us to stay longer.
I left with one new piece of information about my hearing family and that was I have a cousin who is deaf in one ear. She had been deaf in that ear for more than 40 years and I just found out when everyone else knew back then.
As a deaf person, communication is my key to survival. Communication is the most important thing to me. Without communication I am nothing.
It does hurt knowing that I will never be a real family member in my hearing family, I will always be an outsider because I am different. It doesn’t matter how hard I try to educate them about communication…. changes never occur.
Whether it is signing or not…. it is so important to include everyone even the deaf person. Yet signing makes life easier and more accessible. It doesn’t matter how well a deaf child can speak and ‘hear’… it will happen… that feeling of isolation in a hearing family…. that feeling of being unvalued.
I teach my children to communicate and to be considerate of everyone.
One day… when enough is enough, I will consider taking further action to those who told my mother not to sign with me. I will somehow change that.
It is discrimination and a deprivation of a deaf person’s right to language. No wonder mental health issues are high among us deaf people… because we are not included in a hearing family.
If you have a deaf baby…. please always sign and start now. Don’t wait till later. Do include your other children and partner. Make communication the most important thing in the deaf child’s life. Whether the child is implanted, hearing aid, speech and auditory…. always sign.
Signing does NOT… and I am telling you it is a load of crap when those so called ‘hearing experts’ say “signing will impact their speech and auditory”…because signing DOES improve their speech and auditory far better than a child without signing.
My youngest daughter is proof of that. And many other deaf children who are being signed at home.
Don’t allow deprivation, audism and surdophobia become a thing in your deaf child’s life like it does in mine.
Don’t let your deaf child grow up isolated and hating family gatherings like I do.
Don’t let your deaf child drift away from the family like I did.
Embrace signing and see it as a right for your deaf child. After all your deaf child cannot and never will be ‘hearing’. I tried… and it didn’t work.
Here is a video from a Deaf person about isolation in families:
Rebekah is a Deaf mother of three Deaf children and one hard of hearing child. “My children define me as a human being and enable me to fight for what is right. I am a passionate writer and artist, and I write with my heart and soul. I have spent the past 23 years working with deaf children and teaching Auslan/Deaf Studies to many adults. My world is the Deaf Community, without them I am nothing.”
The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.
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