"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.