Friday, May 16, 2014

Embracing Life

Last Sunday, many people did various things to honor and celebrate their mothers and other maternal figures in their lives.


Phone calls.



You name it.

In the years past, my husband, Teddy, and I would enjoy a brunch on a cruise along the Potomac River on Mother's Day.

This year, we decided to do things a bit differently.

We took a weekend trip to Shenandoah National Park to just get away from the craziness that is Washington, D.C. for a bit. On a whim, we also visited the arboretum near James Madison University. The ducks, turtles, flowers, koi, and other fish were a hit with Teddy! We even saw a small garter snake that rushed across the chipped wood pathway and hid among the bushes.

One of our friends, who lost her son a few years ago just hours after birth, joined us on the trip as well.

My thoughts continually drifted back to her as I hugged my son who would have been roughly the same age as her son would have been. Nothing is to be taken for granted. I also thought about my friends who are either expecting or already had their second child. In fact, one of my friends is giving birth to her third child as I write this.

I also thought about my other friends who are open about not wanting a child at all.

The truth be told, I never thought I would be a mother. I had always envisioned myself as a career woman before anything else. Also, I valued my independence and personal time. And still do. By nature, I am a planner and had my entire live planned out. So I thought. There is a Yiddish saying: "Der mentsh trakht un Got lakht." Or, "Man plans, God laughs," in English.

My sister was always the more nuturing one. Children-especially young children-naturally gravitated towards her and loved her. And my sister was, and still is, absolutely awesome with them. She now has one of her own. And I am proud to call myself an aunt.

I always found it easier to connect with teenagers and older children. Now, the awkward woman around young children. That person was me.

Don't get me wrong. I love children. And most people that I admired were either mothers or maternal figures who always put others before themselves. In fact, my closest friend is a stay at home mother with three children.

But... I have never felt a strong urge to have children of my own nor a big family. Maybe I will be a late bloomer in that sense. Who knows?

I also believe that there are some people out there who should never have children in the first place.

When some of my friends decided that a child wasn't right for them, I admired them for being forthcoming.

Let's just face it. Children requires a lot of work, attention, and is not compatible with every lifestyle.

But there are also rewards.

I felt woefully unprepared when I found out I was pregnant with Teddy just over four months after getting my undergraduate degree. My world as I knew it at the time was turned upside down.

Fast forward four years later, I couldn't have imagined my life to be any different. While some things didn't come naturally to me at first, motherhood definitely made me a better person.

Before Teddy, everything had to be perfect. Post-Teddy, I learned to let go a little bit and accept some things as they are. Admittedly, it is still an ongoing exercise in letting go for me.

Now that Teddy will be turning five years old this summer, some people asked me when we were going to have a second child. While there are different perspectives regarding how far apart children should be spaced, these same people suggest that the magic number was somewhere between two years and four years. My sister and I are five years apart. There definitely are some upsides and downsides associated with that. I realize that.

There are some days where having a second child is appealing. But I want to be sure that I want a second child because of right reasons and my husband is onboard as well. Some of it is also the timing since I am still building my career.

Only time will tell.

And to be honest with you, I love being able to spend all of my "free" time with my son. He is turning out to be such a cool dude! And such a personality!

Thank you, Teddy, for being who you are. I am proud to call myself your mommy. I love you!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Vive Le Fromage!

I am foodie. There. I admitted it. Food is an adventure in and of itself. My kitchen is my laboratory.

When I was a teenager, I lived less than a block away from a Sargento cheese factory. I also toured other smaller, family-owned facilities that produced cheese. I was fascinated with the entire cheesemaking process and the chemistry behind it. The ingredients are rather simple, but produces a wide variety of flavors. All that is really required is some milk and rennet. From that point on, I knew I would have to make my own cheese someday and experiment.

I am know for my various projects. In a typical Sara fashion, I went big like Clark Griswold from the Christmas Vacation movie. Well... alright, maybe not THAT big.

I have gone to a few wine and cheese events, but never heard of anyone ever hosting a cheesemaking party. Why not? I decided to go for it. So I invited a few of my friends over to our house for some cheesy time!

I didn't want to have superior knowledge about the entire cheesemaking process, so I conducted only very limited research in order to find out what supplies I needed to have on hand for the party. I wanted to experience everything at the same time as my friends without knowing what the final outcome would be.

Well, it ended up being such a hit! Everyone enjoyed themselves. We sampled fresh mozzarella and made some gouda. After everyone left, I decided to make one pound of cheddar.

I strongly encourage people to host a cheesemaking party. Before doing so, however, I have the following tips to offer.

1. Invest in a good dairy thermometer. The cheesemaking kits that we used included a dairy thermometer without a clip. Maintaining the correct temperature throughout the entire process is critical. However, we didn't want to always have to hold the dairy thermometer while also pouring or stirring. I purchased one that could be clipped to the side of the pot.

My handy dandy dairy thermometer

It worked wonders! It also meant that we had our hands free to communicate using sign language. Sweet!

2. Buy or make a cheese press. When we decided to make some gouda, I did not realize that the curds needed to be squeezed at a specific pressure for a certain period of time. We quickly improvised and this was what we came up with:

Once we put the curds in a cheesecloth lined cheese mold, we basically put the mold inside a stainless steel bowl and topped it with another bowl that had two five-pound dumbbells stuffed with a bunch of dish towels to limit slipping. Even though it did the trick, it ended up being such a balancing act to make sure that the dumbbells did not fall. Guess what? It did and caused a small dent in our wooden kitchen floor. Probably not the smartest thing to do.

3. Buy whole milk. Cheese requires a lot of milk. However, I did not exactly anticipate just how much. My husband probably thought I was crazy when I had him go to the store to purchase milk. He ended up buying so much milk that our refrigerator was literally full of milk-fifteen gallons total.

Even though we were successfully able to make some cheese with minimally pasteurized, store-bought whole milk, the curds actually ended up being a bit weak. When I made the cheddar, I replaced one pint of the whole milk with heavy cream and saw better results.

Empty glass milk bottles

4. Use stainless steel pots. Let's face it. The cheesemaking process can be a rather messy business. Stainless steel made everything easier to clean.

5. Have a lot of patience. Mozzarella was easy and quick. But let's just say that I did not realize how much time gouda and cheddar cheese required. However, I should have connected the dots because I have purchased cheeses that were aged six months or so from the store before.

But you know what I say now? It is a good reason to invite your friends for another party-this time to taste the cheese!

Gouda cheese drying in the refrigerator at constant 50 degrees

Cheddar cheese drying at room temperature

What other tips do you have to offer? I'd be interested in hearing from you!

After having hosted a cheesemaking party, I developed a new appreciation for cheese because there really is a lot that goes into the process with more steps than I originally anticipated.

I am already thinking about what my next cooking project turned into a party will be.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Funny You Don't Look Jewish!

Many of my Christian friends and family members will be celebrating Easter this coming Sunday. Once I think about it, it has been ten years since I last celebrated Easter.

You see, I identify as a Jew and was officially adopted into the Jewish community eight years ago. My husband comes from a Jewish family. Raising our son as a Jew was a no-brainer. I am currently a Board of Directors Co-Chair for a local Jewish non-profit organization. I feel no different from any other Jew. I have never really looked back. If anything, I feel more authentic.

Except when Jewish geography inevitably comes up. I get puzzled looks when I explain I was born and raised in Wisconsin where I never saw one day of Jewish day school or Hebrew school.

Other times, people say once finding out that I am Jewish:

"Funny you don't look Jewish!"

But what does Jewish look like anyways?

Over the years, I met Jews of every possible color-even Jews of African descent with corresponding dark complexion and kinky curly hair. As far as I could see, there was not a single Jewish phenotype-only stereotypes.

My response has always been the same.

"You mean that I do not look like I am of Eastern European ancestry?

At that point, most people smile sheepishly. They know I am right.

It even led to confusion with my midwife. On my medical documents, I had the box for Jewish under religious preference checked off. When I was pregnant with Teddy, my midwife insisted that I get tested for Jewish genetic diseases. I then had to explain why such genetic tests would be unnecessary.

There was a period in my life where I wanted to pretend that the first eighteen years of my life never happened. There would be less explaining to do that way. And I also didn't want to feel like I needed to justify my Jewish choice to some people who wanted further explanation to help them understand better how someone of a Christian upbringing could become Jewish. It was just the frequent explaining that got rather tiring over time.

But then my appearance would give me away. I simply could not pass for a stereotypical Eastern European Jew. What does that make me then? An Old Black Witch?

I was attending religious services one Shabbat morning when an adorable blond-haired girl of four years approached everyone with the same question:

"Are you Jewish?"

The answer was always the same.


She asked me the same question.

I nodded my head affirmatively.

She ran to get what I could see was a photo book and plopped on the seat next to me. The girl looked at me and said, "You are exactly like me. Did you know that I have two birthdays? One is the day I was born and then the second was the day I became Jewish."

She was adopted from Russia by the cantor and his wife after they couldn't have children.

The girl showed me series of pictures from the day she took dips in the mikveh. "Now that is how I became Jewish!" she exclaimed, grinning.

Then I came to realize that there are Jews with a wide variety of religious backgrounds and upbringing. I am simply a part of that diversity. Since then, I became more open about my childhood years. I still visit my family for Christmas, even though it is not really "my" holiday. It is more about getting together.

Even though I have religious and philosophical differences with Christianity in general, I still wish people nothing but good things for Christian religious holidays.

Happy Easter!

And Happy Passover!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Ten Modern Plagues According to Sara

Before we know it, Passover will be here. I cannot think of any other holiday that has as much symbolism as Passover. I am looking forward to seeing friends who have become something like a second family. Now...eating matzah for eight days straight-not so much.

As any observant Jew knows, the ten plagues are recited as a drop of wine is removed with our finger for each one during every Passover seder. There are various interpretations of this simple act. One such interpretation holds that the ten plagues, which describes the affliction of the ancient Egyptians, represents negative energy. As wine is spilled from the cup, the cup is then left with only blessings.

Briefly, the ten biblical plagues are as follows:

1. Blood

2. Frogs

3. Bugs

4. Wild Animals

5. Pestilence

6. Boils

7. Hail

8. Locust

9. Darkness

10. Death of the First-Born

However, these events took place quite some time ago when the world looked very different from today. I have been particularly fascinated with modern adaptations that also includes a list of ten plagues for our time. After seeing a few modern adaptations, I decided to come up with my own list of ten modern plagues.

So here it is! I would be interested to see what you think and whether you have anything you'd like to add to this list.

1. Crowded Metro platforms during rush hour.

We are an one-car family. In the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, having a car is really more of a liability than anything. Parking can be expensive. Since both Teddy's child care center and my workplace are located near to a Metro stop, Teddy and I ride the Metro together most weekday mornings and evenings. It became our special one-on-one time. However, it also coincides with the rush hour where Metro platforms can become really crowded.

It seems like people become more outright rude the more packed trains are. They elbow each other to get through. Additionally, they are not always considerate of people who might require a little more time getting on or off the train and allowing these people to go first.

2. Texting.

While texting can be a wonderful tool for keeping in touch as you are out and bout, some people don't seem to understand that texting does not necessarily translate to best writing practices. It annoys me every time I receive a hand-written letter or a business correspondence riddled with abbreviations such as "LOL" and "LMAO." While I would say that such abbreviations has its place and purpose, it does not require too much time to actually spell the full word(s) and should when drafting certain documents. The extra effort does not go unnoticed.

Also, texting while driving is not safe. It should be banned everywhere. Enough said.

3. Sleep deprivation.

It can be a challenge to get a full recommended eight hours of sleep during the week between working full time, social obligations, errands, and having an active preschooler in the house. The weekends are usually full of children's birthday parties, family and/or friends, and catching up on whatever errands I did not finish during the week.

If I had an extra hour each day, I would spend it sleeping. Sleep does so many wonderful things for you and seems to make a lot of things better.

4. Low battery.

Just when I need to get in touch with someone regarding an urgent matter, the iPhone battery dies. And then I realize I did not bring my charger with me. Fun.

5. Able-bodied people using the elevator.

During the weekdays, I walk past a group of high school students waiting outside the elevator to the Metro stop while there is at least one person in wheelchair. As soon as the elevator doors open, they push their way inside and fill the elevator without any room to spare for the person in wheelchair. The person in wheelchair has to wait another five minutes for the elevator to come back up just to get on.

One day, I decided to confront the students and pointed to the nearby escalators. It was not even twenty steps away. They had legs that enabled them to walk as far as I could see. They responded with some rather snide remarks.

There is a reason why elevators are there. And it is to provide accessibility for all people and those who needs it more than others should have the luxury of using it first. The rest of us can walk. Yes. Really.

Also, this brings me back to the first item on my list and ultimately boils down to having common courtesy for one another.

6. Traffic.

Washington, D.C. officially ranks among the top ten cities with the worst traffic according to this report.

7. Jaywalkers.

When I drive in Washington, D.C., I am amazed by the number of jaywalkers. They do it even in front of police vehicles and never get a citation from what I see. If jaywalkers started getting cited, I wouldn't be surprise the government of Washington, D.C. would see a budget surplus for that year.

8. White on white.

While I am no fashionista, the obsessive part of me kicks in every time I see someone wear a white top with a light khaki. Not many people can pull off this particular look. I keep thinking that the "whites" should match if doing a white on a white and consider a light khaki to be the equivalent to a white piece of clothing.

9. Telephone trees.

"If you want English, press one."

"If you want Spanish, press two."

Telephone trees drives me crazy because it might mean that I would be on line for at least twenty minutes trying to get a hold of a live person to get my question answered that hasn't been answered with the information already provided as a part of the auto-recording. It becomes very impersonal way of doing business.

10. Unfiltered information overload.

One of the best classes I ever took was actually when I was in middle school-Media Literacy. In that class, we learned about various sources of information and how to determine whether such information is actually a trustworthy source.

Anyone could start a website and put whatever information they want on there. While there are definitely some good information to be found on the Internet, newspaper, radio, and other media outlets, there is also a lot of misinformation out there. The challenge is learning how to filter out the bad to get to the good. It is an important skill that should be taught to every child.

There are times, however, when the constant barrage of unfiltered information can become quite tiring. I have gotten to the point where I take most information with a grain of salt.

Friday, April 11, 2014

KODA Speak

As a mother, I have a confession to make. I have not been particularly good about writing down things in Teddy's baby record book. I do have his birth-related statistics and information written down. But that is pretty much it.

As I was getting ready to graduate from high school, my mother and I put together a few scrapbooks chronicling the first eighteen years of my life. We shared funny stories as we pored through the pictures. My father filled a guided journal with his fond memories of me growing up as a part of his graduation gift to me. It was the best gift I could have ever asked for from both of my parents.

I wanted to do the same for my son, Teddy. So, I started to write brief notes here and there shortly after things would take place. It is important to me that I remember even the smallest details. If I don't write them down, I will surely forget.

During Teddy's last year in high school, my plan is to collect all of these notes I've written to date and turn them into a book about his life. The truth be told, I occassionally revisit these notes and take a journey down the memory lane. It is hard to believe that Teddy will be turning five years old this coming July!

For those who are not in the know or joining us just now, Teddy is a Kid of Deaf Adults (KODA). Which basically means that while he is hearing, both of his parents are Deaf. During the week, he attends a child care center where he is exposed to spoken and written English. Then on the weekday evenings and weekends, he is completely immersed in the Deaf world. Only time will tell whether Teddy self-identifies as a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA) or something else.

While there is a lot of literature available related to the language acquisition, bilingual education, and cognitive development of Deaf children, I discovered-to my surprise-that similar literature on KODAs is rather scant in comparison.

My husband and I simply went with our instincts and signed to Teddy ever since he was born. Besides, both of us have unintelligible speech anyways. Even though Teddy's first language is American Sign Language, he expressed a strong preference for English. I also suspect he is a strong auditory learner, which might also be a factor. However, one of my hopes for Teddy is that he be equally conversant in both languages.

After all, Teddy explained to his grandma when he was just three years old, "Mommy and Daddy talk with their hands and I talk with my mouth. And I have to try very hard."

In writing such notes about Teddy, I inadvertently documented Teddy's learning progress in both languages. After re-reading such notes, I made an interesting observation and wonder whether there might be a research-worthy nugget to be found in these notes especialy in relation to the language acquisition in KODAs.

You see, Teddy frequently mixes English and American Sign Language (ASL) similar to what one would see in Spanglish. From time to time, he chooses signs that is not correct for what he is trying to express in ASL. However, his sign choices are quite compelling and offers some insight into his inner workings.

The following are the top five most common areas that I identified for when Teddy mixes up English and ASL. Sometimes it does require some creavity on my part to understand what he is trying to say.

1. Visual and/or Conceptual Similarities.

One day, my husband and Teddy were playing and getting some quality father-son time in. Teddy came up to me and said, "I am going to creep up on Daddy!" I was caught a little bit off guard because instead of signing something that would signify a crawling action for "creep up," he signed crab. As in a physical crab found in or near the water.

But, it did make sense. He was thinking of how a crab moved across surfaces. And it does creep, after all. Brilliant.

2. Speechreading Similarities.

On July 2, 2012, I wrote the following note that I feel sums this pretty well:

"Was slightly caught off guard today. Isaac kept on signing, "Pancakes. Mommy, I want pancakes"-yet he kept on pointing to his elbow. I asked him if he wanted me to make pancakes for dinner. He said no, and insistently pointed to his elbow. He said, "I need pancakes to feel better." Suddenly, it hit me: pancakes=Band-Aids! I didn't realize that both words looked very similar on the lips!"

As a child, I went for speech therapy where I learned how to speechread as well. However, it never even occurred to me before Teddy that people who are hearing are just as capable when it comes to speechreading. After all, pancakes and Band-Aids don't sound anything alike from what I gather.

3. English "Compound" Words and ASL.

Even though the trusty dictionary defines a compound word simply as the result of two words being joined, there are compound words and then there are "compound" words.

What do you mean?

In English, there are a few compound words that I consider to be true compound words. For example, a doghouse. A doghouse is a place where a dog sleeps. It seems rather logical to me, after all.

Then there are a few words that looks like it is made up of more than one English word, but is not really a compound word. For example, carpet. Carpet has nothing to do with cars nor pets.

One day on the way home from the child care center, Isaac promptly informed me that they talked about feelings during circle time. He learned the meaning of the word, "upset." However, he did not know the sign for "upset" and signed the word for "up" and then "sad." This example is really a combination of #3 and #4 (see below).

4. Sound.

While ASL is a visual language, Teddy sometimes takes an English word and chooses a sign for another word that most closely resembles what he is trying to express based on the sound alone.

He would use the word "allowed" when saying that he is not allowed to do something. But I always have to smile every time he signs the word, "loud" instead of "allowed."

5. Incorrect Form.

This is relatively self-explanatory and is actually quite common source of confusion among anyone who is learning any language for that matter. In English, there are many uses for the word "run." It could mean a person is jogging or leading a meeting (as in "running a meeting"). It could even mean water is flowing from a faucet ("running water").

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

One Year Later

This past Monday, my life partner and I celebrated our first complete revolution around the Sun together as a married couple. We ate the top layer of our wedding cake and drank mimosas made with the champagne left over from the wedding. As we were eating our cake, our son inquired, "What does it mean to be married?"

I found myself reflecting upon the last five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes as a wife.

Unable to come up with a better explanation that even a four year old boy would understand at the time, I simply responded, "It means to show our love for each other and make a commitment to each other in a public way."

But what does that really mean anyways?

Alright, it did feel like such a canned response.

After all, our son was only three years old at the time we got married. As far as he was concerned, we were simply dressing up and having the party of the year.

We lived together for a few years with our son before finally deciding to get married. So, us getting married didn't really change anything for our son. He has always known a home with both parents where he is loved.

The truth be told, I was rather hesitant to get married for a while. After all, I value my independence. I didn't want to change my last name. I have friends who are in a long-term, committed relationship where they also live with their significant other and commingle their money. I have a job and didn't need someone else to support me financially. I also never want to go through what my parents did when they divorced. I had no qualms about having a child out of wedlock.

There was even a period where I questioned the value of even getting married. Was getting married going out of fashion? I conducted some research on my own. I found out that marriage has long, rather interesting history where women were often treated as property.

I then decided it was time to interview a few couples-both married and not married.

My conclusion? Marriage is what you make of it. I met a few married couples who sought out to redefine marriage to make it work for them. After all, why worry about what other people think about your relationship as long as it is working for both of you?

It also wasn't until my husband was deployed that I gave marriage another serious thought. After all, we missed each other.

Also, the deployment magnified how some of our rights were affected simply because we were not legally married despite living together and having a son. The whole experience actually made me even more sympathetic to same-sex couples who in all respects are married, but never got that legal recognition.

So, we decided to take the plunge and never looked back. And we couldn't be any happier. Even though I thought I knew my husband inside and out from living together for a few years before finally marrying, I am still learning new things about him. It has been a fun ride so far!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Minority Experience

This past weekend, we celebrated Purim-one of the most fun and festive times of the year marked by costumes, carnivals, silliness, and rather dubious drinking. And not to also mention the hamantaschen and the satirical latke-hamantaschen debates.

At our house, the making of the hamantaschen was a family affair. Teddy helped by measuring and mixing the ingredients. My husband pitched in by rolling out the cookie dough and cutting out the circles. For the most part, the actual assembly was left up to yours truly.

Since Purim took place the day before Saint Patrick's Day this year and as someone of Irish heritage, I knew a recipe mash-up was in order. That was when Bailey's Irish Cream came into the picture with some delicious results!

Also, even though I never really fully understood the mustache craze, I always felt there is nothing sillier than donning a fake mustache. Perfect for Purim and might as well as start a new trend while I'm at it.

So, I now am introducing you, my dear readers, to the first-ever mustache hamantaschen, or mustachens for short, made with the leftover cookie dough sans the filling.


Why not? It's fun. After all, who said hamantaschen had to be triangles?

For those who are not in the know, Purim is also a time of the year where the Megillah, which presents the central narrative behind the Purim celebrations, is taken out and read. The basic gist of the story was that there was someone who wanted to kill all Jews throughout the entire ancient Persian empire. However, the Jews were saved in the end.

Unfortunately, anti-semitism and attempts at the total extermination of the Jewish peoplehood is certainly nothing new as we have seen time again and again throughout history.

So, Purim is really about embracing and celebrating being Jewish. And a perfectly good excuse to get our party on. After all, we're still here. That is more than a reason enough to celebrate.

There are many rather excellent (and clever, if I may add) Purim spiels, or Purim plays, written. Most Purim spiels are rather comic dramatizations and/or draw parallels in order to illustrate a point.

In fact, we just recently saw a wonderful Purim spiel using Annie as the basis with the familiar curly, red-haired orphan with her dog at her side serving as the stand-ins for Queen Esther and Mordechai, two of the several central characters of the Purim story. It was a huge hit with Teddy!

However, I always found it quite interesting that Queen Esther had to hide her Jewish identity only to disclose at a later time in order to save her people. To me, that spoke of the ultimate minority experience to ensure basic survival.

I also have a broader view of what it really means to eradicate a peoplehood. Such eradication is not limited to only the killing, but also includes the destruction of the culture and stories that makes up the very fabric of a particular group of people.

As a Deaf person, I cannot help but to draw parallels between the central narrative of Purim and what is happening today to the d/Deaf community. After all, the d/Deaf community is certainly changing with the available technology. What would happen if there was no longer deaf people in the world? That all deaf people were 'cured' or 'fixed'?

A few months ago, I came across a short, documentary-style, and quite compelling British film that explores this very question. The film follows four d/Deaf individuals throughout the course of their lives as they decide whether to use cochlear implant(s), and the effects of such decisions on their lives. The film is somewhat futuristic and ends with so-called the last Deaf man left in the world. If you are interested, you can watch the film for yourself here.

Though a gradual cultural shift with cochlear implants gaining broader acceptance within the d/Deaf community where everyone, with the sole exception of one abovementioned Deaf man, opts in to receive at least one cochlear implant, the film shows us how crucial aspects of the Deaf culture is lost along the way.

While the film presents a rather extreme case of a total destruction of Deaf culture by people in the majority, there are various ways that d/Deaf people chose to (or not) assimilate with the majority society.

In a 1986 American film, "Children of Lesser God", Sarah Norman, the central Deaf character who works as a cleaner, meets James Leeds, a new teacher at a school for the deaf and hard of hearing. James attempts to teach Sarah to speak based on the belief that speech ability would serve only to expand her world beyond the school. However, Sarah chooses the path of self-perservation by refusing to learn speech and continued to embrace sign language. Sign language is an integral part of who she is.

Like Sarah, sign language is an integral part of me. After all, I do not have legible speech. Unlike Sarah, however, I work in an environment where I am in the minority.

I have had to appear less "Deaf" in order to get where I am at now. In other words, I had make conscious decisions regarding how I present myself to others. Perhaps even struggled with some of the very same things that Queen Esther struggled with when it came to her Jewish identity.

For example, I regularly consider how my English word choices would be interpreted and understood by my hearing counterparts. That way, I appear less threatening and/or less different to people who may be less familiar with Deaf tendencies.

I also reframe things for them where my Deafness simply means that I use sign language-just another language not that much different from using French for that matter.

It then becomes not a big deal to them. That approach helped to grease some wheels a few times and they get to feel comfortable at the same time. In fact, it hasn't even occurred to some of my hearing colleagues that they are, in fact, hearing until relatively recently.

However, there are certainly times where I simply want to embrace my Deaf identity and tap the table to get their attention. But that would probably just startle them as they are not used to having their attention called that way.

When I was at the residential school for the deaf, we had a sign (HEARING-MIND) to illustrate this phenomenon and which meant that there was a deaf person acting and thinking like a hearing person. The HEARING-MIND label is a derogatory term within Deaf circles because it signaled that you were something less than Deaf-something left more to be desired.

Within Deaf circles, Deafness is something to be embraced and celebrated-just like being Jewish during Purim. Not something in need of fixing, cured, or taken away-or even to be hidden.

However, what it means to be a Deaf person today is constantly being redefined with some Deaf people using speech, hearing aids or even cochlear implant(s), and listening to music.

I am then reminded by George Veditz's words, "As long as we have deaf people on earth, we will have signs."

That could not be even more true.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Being Unplugged

So much took place since we last met up for some coffee.

My vivacious stepmother passed away this past February. We knew that her death was imminent. In fact, we talked about it openly. It was the world's worst kept secret. It was just a matter of when.

When I first met her, I was a teenager trying to figure out my place in the world. To put things mildly, I did not want anything to do with her. Loving me was not a part of her job description as my stepmother as far as I was concerned. However, she saw past my defenses and continued to reach out. I eventually came around. We grew closer over the last few years.

I wanted to be more like her in how she approached life even in light of her devastating cancer diagnosis. It brings to mind writer Katrina Kenison's observation, "How in fact, life is not all about planning and shaping, but about not knowing and being okay with that. It's about learning to take the moment that comes and make the best of it, without any idea of what is going to happen next."

My stepmother chose to be gentle, loving, and a free spirit all the way to the end rather than being at war with cancer. She chose to live with cancer and made the time she had left about what she loved the most-family. After all, she absolutely adored being a grandma to my son, Teddy, and went out of her way to make sure last Christmas was the best Christmas for us.

Shortly after I received the news of her death, I decided to make the trip out to Wisconsin for the funeral. Many family members and friends showed up.

My trip to Wisconsin dredged up rather strong emotions I did not know I had previously. Random memories of people that I have lost along the way bubbled to the surface. I struggle with depression and severe anxiety and have for years. The culmination of recent events simply compounded what I was already feeling. In fact, I became overwhelmed and had an anxiety attack after not having an episode for a long time.

I just needed to reset. To unplug. To reconnect with myself. To recenter. To recharge.

About two years ago, I was really into Bikram yoga and attended classes religiously. However, I struggled with maintaining my balance throughout each pose. You see, I was never particularly athletic. I was always the wobbly one in a sea of yoga students who probably could balance on top of a blade of grass if given the opportunity.

I was approached by the instructor with an offer of one-on-one practice. I took him up on it.

After we went through a few poses, I decided to go out on a limb and asked him a few personal questions. It turned out that he used to work as a financial manager before becoming a Bikram yoga instructor. The death of his wife of many years served as the impetus for his career change. He wanted to do something that he truly loved.

"After all, life is too short," he said.

"Life is full of restarts," he then added after a brief period of silence.

He then shared with me a story from when he was growing up in England. He was learning how to drive a car with manual transmission and would struggle on hills. Every time he would reach near the top of a hill, he did not apply his foot on the gas pedal properly to get the appropriate amount of power required to actually get over the hill. The engine would die. He would then turn the ignition over until the engine hummed. Then he would try again. And again. And again. Then one day, he was able to drive the car on hills without an incident.

Indeed, life is full of restarts. I just have to remind myself to also be gentle with myself. Not expect too much of myself. Just trust the process.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Becoming a Kid of Deaf Adults (KODA)

"Are you deaf?"

A tween boy asked using sign language right outside the elevator and then shyly looked up. His eyes just barely met mine. He had just seen me sign to my four-year-old son, Teddy, in the elevator that took all of us down to the Metro platform.

I smiled back at the boy. "Yes. I am deaf. Are you?"

He signed right back, "No. I am hearing."

We then parted ways since the boy's train had just arrived.

"I sign too. You are deaf. And Daddy too. So, I am deaf too," my son declared as we were waiting for our train.

I quietly smiled to myself. Teddy did not always see things that way.

Approximately two months ago, Teddy wanted to speak on a phone like "everyone else does" because he was not "like [us]"-in reference to my husband and me-but, rather, was like "them". According to him, we were simply "different."

I told him that at just four years old, he was not about to get his own phone. What did he need his own phone for at four years old? Who was he going to be calling other than family? And let's admit it. My son can be rather rambunctious at times. I am afraid that he would break the phone.

We tried various solutions that included enabling the microphone on our videophone devices and laptops with videoconferencing software such as Skype at home. It no longer was going to do it for Teddy. It was "different." He wanted a phone-like his grandparents. Like his friends and their parents at the daycare. Like everybody else but us, he would again point out.

Since I was looking to replace my smartphone anyways, which I use pretty much only for e-mailing and text messaging, I decided to switch from a data-only plan to a pre-paid plan that also included some minutes. That way, I figured, he would be able to get his phone "fix" as needed without actually owning a phone.

Teddy also expressed his preference for the spoken English language. According to him, it is just easier.

Who could blame him? After all, he has seen first-hand the ignorance and various communication barriers that we have had to contend with while shopping and ordering food in restaurants.

However, he was sweet enough as to reassure me at the same time by telling me that he would still sign in order to communicate with us--his Mommy and Daddy.

It also made sense to me that for someone who can hear like my son, the spoken language would seem to be more natural. After all, almost all of his friends can hear. He also attends a daycare where the English language is exclusively used.

I took no offense at what my son said and accepted the fact. Just as long as we still communicate and have a relationship. After all, I want to know my son even though I will always love him simply because he is my son. That will never change.

A colleague at work asked me last week, "When did your son realize you are deaf?"

Actually, my son has yet to fully understand that I am deaf and what being deaf really means. Being deaf has two dimensions-the hearing loss (deaf), and then there is the cultural component (Deaf with the letter D capitalized).

For him, deafness is simply about the language difference. According to him, we are just Mommy and Daddy who signs. Other people have mommies and daddies who don't sign. Simple as that. At least, for him, it is.

He still whispers into my ear. I have to remind him that I cannot hear him and that he would need to sign. "But then it wouldn't be a secret then, Mommy!" he would protest. "People can see our signs!" I would then gently respond with, "Well, you could always sign smaller, or we could move to a different room."

I feel fortunate for having my son and watching him develop his own identity. Will he identify himself later on as a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA) or simply as someone who is hearing? Only time will tell. One thing for sure is that he will be my son no matter what he chooses to self-identify as.

Growing up in an all-hearing family has been a blessing in disguise. I did not always feel that my family understood me. At one point, I never wanted any advice from them simply because they were hearing. After all, we experienced life differently.

However, I have come to realize that my family tried and loved me the best they could or knew how to. One of the best gifts that my family have given to me is that you need not to be the same in order to try to understand, connect with, and love one another.

It is a lesson that I hope to impart to my son.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Mud and Pink Tutus

"A few girls at school and their mothers have matching necklaces. Could we get matching ones as well?"

My son, whom we shall call Teddy, looked at me with his inquisitive eyes.

"Sure!" I tried to find mother and son necklace sets on Etsy, which is my go-to place for all things unique. Nothing quite fit the bill. The mother and son sets were in the form of a necklace and a matching keychain rather than two matching necklaces as my son wanted. I expanded the search to also include mother and daughter necklace sets.

"What do you think of this one?" I showed him a picture of a necklace set that had a silver circle with a hollow star shape in the middle along with a matching star charm.

Teddy beamed and said, "That's the one I want!" We then put in the order for the necklaces. He then rushed off to play with a spring in his steps.

Finally alone, I mulled over the implications of mother and son sets being a necklace (which is presumably for the mother) and then a matching keychain (for the son). I didn't see any reason why there couldn't be two matching necklaces for both the mother and son. After all, there are boys and men who wear necklaces.

I have a rather liberal understanding of gender and never raised my son with strict gender definitions. Ever since he was a baby, I encouraged him to explore to see what he liked. With an exception for the occasional doll, he was drawn to clothes and toys marketed to boys and identifies himself as a boy. He likes anything that is loud, fast, and has wheels of some kind. Orange is his favorite color. He also has his own pretend kitchen and enjoys "cooking" for the family.

I love my son for who he is and want for him to grow up to be his own person. I never quite understood what the obsession with genitalia is all about. After all, the body parts that we are born with does not always determine our gender.

When Teddy was in utero, my husband and I were told that he would be a boy. However, I would tell my husband that the only thing that we really knew at that point was that our son was simply a biological male. We would need to wait a bit longer to find out his gender and what his tendencies would be.

So far, it has been quite a fun ride! I really enjoy getting to know my son as he is and look forward to sharing the "star" connection with him as well.

Photo Credit: SashJewelry

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

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Hineni. Here I Am.

"How are you?"

People often ask that question in passing.

And the so-called socially appropriate response is usually something in the affirmative regardless of the truthfulness of such statement, such as:


"I'm fine."

Then when people ask me how I am doing, I give an answer that mirrors how I am actually feeling that particular day.

Well, I can safely say that I have attracted more than my fair share of raised eyebrows.

What does that then imply about our social norms?

That there was no expectation of a truthful response in the first place.

At best, the question becomes a rhetorical one rather than a real question.

I have always found this to be rather strange. Why even ask the question at all in the first place?

When people ask, "How are you?", they are really, in their own way, acknowledging the person before them, even though they may rush off shortly after imposing the question.

When I was in undergrad, I majored in sociology and fell in love with the story of how members of certain African tribes would greet one another by saying in their local languages, "I see you," which is then met with a response of "I am here."

How more beautiful can that be? Such opening discourse provides for a basic recognition of one another and hints at a deep acknowledgment of the other person at the same time.

This brings to mind one of my favorite Jewish prayers-Hineni-which translates from Hebrew to English to mean, "Here I Am." Hineni goes beyond mere physical presence and implies emotional and mental presence as well.

By truly recognizing the other person before us, we are able to engage at a deeper level beyond such superficial openings. That kind of engagement requires us to be emotionally and mentally receptive to the other person. It is not enough to just be physically present.

Whenever I ask, "How are you?", I am prepared to receive a real answer.

When I am short on time and/or unable to engage at a meaningful level at the moment, I instead say, "I see you."

Saturday, January 18, 2014


Why now?
After all, there are people who have been blogging for decades. So why now?
You study me quizzically as you take another sip.

In fact, you might even regard me a latecomer to the blogging scene.

The truth be told, I have never been the one for small talk. In fact, I can't stand small talk. But I'll talk for hours about life. Life is too short to waste time discussing trivial matters. And whenever given a choice, I would rather be with a close friend or two than among a crowd of people I barely even know. In some social settings though, I have to pretend, and play the small talk game. Some people call it the art of diplomacy.

At this point, I might as well call you a friend. After all, we will cease to be strangers before we know it. The beautiful thing about this arrangement that you and I have is that we don't have to pretend or maintain whatever illusion we want others to have about ourselves.

Last week, I went to my regular counseling session. I resumed seeing a psychotherapist to work through my anxieties and grief after my grandma died. My grandma had been very much like a mother to me in many ways.

As I went through a list of people who died since one of my best friends committed suicide when I was seventeen years old and she only sixteen years old at the time, I told my therapist, "I am in my late 20s and didn't grow up or even live in a war zone. No one I know at my age has had to face so many losses early in life."

In fact, I hesitate getting close to anyone out of fear of losing yet another person that meant something to me. As a result, I unknowingly started to build defenses around me.

My therapist quietly responded, "What you have experienced in life has nothing to do with you at all. These were rather unfortunate events. In fact, we don't even know when we or anyone will die. Instead, all of those people in your life who died actually gave you what perhaps is the biggest gift in your life."

"A gift?" I was incredulous.

"Yes, a gift. A gift of life. They are in fact giving you a gift of empowering you to live your life even more freely by encouraging you to fully accept death as a fact of life. It's just that you have had more practice than some people."

I thought about it. It was certainly something I had never considered previously. But it did make some sense.

After all, us Jews subject ourselves to a total abstention from food and drink every year during the holy day of Yom Kippur. Why would anyone, including myself, in their right minds put their bodies through that?

On Yom Kippur, we are told that G-d decides who will live and who will die in the coming year, and that death could come for any of us. The physical uncomfortableness that we feel by fasting serves as a reminder of our mortality. In fact, Rabbi Jacobs-Velde who compared Yom Kippur to a ritual death of sorts and said, "[Yom Kippur] gives us a way, especially in our culture, where we are so death-denying, to come to terms with what we are doing with our lives." In other words, we are given an opportunity to start over, make amends, and strive to do better.

Then what does it mean to live more freely?

My mind immediately conjured an image of myself when I was a little girl. My father often would take me to the neighborhood park to play. My favorite thing at the park were the swing sets where my dad would push me for hours. I would laugh and ask for my dad to push me harder. I thought if I went high enough one day, I would become a bird and be able to fly to the top of the tree. From the tree tops, I would then watch the world go by. Free. Away from the worldly constraints.

When we are talking about living freely, we are not talking about becoming a bird and being able to fly. We are really talking about living authentically. Again, what does living authentically really mean anyways?

It's a question worthy of examination. There probably will not be a simple answer to that question.

But through our conversations, we can learn from each other.

My grandma, circa 1942

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Let's Meet Up for Coffee!

Wherever you may be in the world, let's meet up for coffee.


You, my dear reader.

Coffee, café au lait, latte, cappuccino, tea, or even hot chocolate. Whatever strikes your fancy.

Because I have a story to share. Mine. And I'd love to hear yours and get to know you as well. In fact, everyone has a story.

We are faced with intersectionalities in life that shape our experiences and therefore makes us the people we are today. At times, we either are put into roles or choose not to allow others to see us for who we truly are.

After all, most of our lives revolve around our interactions with people and how we present ourselves to others.

And we are still getting to know ourselves better all at the same time as we continue to embark on the journey we call life.

We need not to agree on everything, but we can have a peaceful discourse. We can talk about whatever is interesting to us at the moment.

Struggles and joys of parenting. Gender identity. Religion. Global warming. Living simply.

No topic too little or big or even taboo. Things should be discussed openly and in a respectful manner without fear of reprisals. No one should ever have to apologize for having an opinion.

I am not going to lie. I can be rather eccentric at times. I do not presume to have all the answers in life. In fact, I struggle and wrestle with various issues.

Even though we are different people, I have learned over the years that we are really more the same than we think we are different.

All of us have fears, dreams, and hopes.

All of us want to be loved and be happy.

There is no rush. We have time. While we are at it, we might as well as wear those funky Converse shoes we have had lying around in our closets for some time now and have some fun. Even laugh. Just let things be and not take ourselves--or life--too seriously. Life is simply too short.

If you would like to share something, please feel free to send me an e-mail. Who knows? Maybe I'll even have a guest blogger here from time to time.

So begins our conversation. Until the next time.