99. Perspectives

99. Perspectives

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters


Perspectives

The child supplies the power but the parents have to do the steering.

~Benjamin Spock,
Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care

“You’re so lucky. That means you can make as much noise as you want, and your parents can’t tell you to be quiet!” raved the kids at recess.

“Well, no, actually, my parents can feel the vibrations when we run around,” I would start to explain. But in elementary school, no one cares about the ways you are the same; they want to focus on how you are different.

“Say something in sign language,” someone would interrupt. Alternatively, kids would wave their hands frantically in the air, fingers flailing. “Did I say anything? What did I say?” After dissolving into laughter, the next question was usually if I knew how to sign “asshole.” My classmates were left disappointed when I didn’t, due to the fact that my parents avoided using the word “asshole” when having a conversation with their daughter.

To my friends, I was lucky to have deaf parents because it meant more freedom. I apparently lived a life in which I regularly stampeded around the house, cursing a blue streak as I went. The reality was much more ordinary. If I jumped on my bed, I would soon hear heavy footsteps on the stairs, coming to catch me in the act. Any time I whispered an obscenity under my breath at the dinner table, my father was the first to notice.

With adults, I was lucky for a different reason.

“It’s such a blessing that you girls can hear,” my Aunt Carol would say. “I don’t know what your mom and dad would do if they didn’t have you three to help out.”

I knew what my parents would do. They’d go on tropical vacations and live in a bigger house. They’d spend less time driving us to basketball practice and sleepovers, and more time relaxing in their mansion. They wouldn’t have to deal with bank tellers trying to conduct transactions through their eight-year-old daughter. They would point at the menu to order food, instead of being ignored as the waitress recited the daily specials to their children.

“I don’t know why you don’t become an interpreter,” my grandmother would say every time we visited her Illinois farm. “You have such an advantage knowing the sign language, and you’ll never be out of work. With your mother and dad being deaf, you know it better than anyone. I’m too old to learn it now.”

Never mind that my dad had been deaf since his birth in 1955, when my grandmother had considerably nimbler fingers. Never mind that interpreting for a living would be suffocating, and I would feel an inescapable responsibility to my job because I had deaf parents. Parents who never thought I should be satisfied with convenience. Parents who always told me to dream big and make it happen.

One day, Dad drove me to pick up my car from a mechanic. As we stood in the lobby, signing and laughing about something insignificant, I felt the familiar sensation of being watched by a stranger. This time it was the desk clerk, a large, bald, imposing man in his forties. After I paid my bill and we turned to leave, the man stopped me.

“Is that your father?” he called, just as I pushed the door forward. Dad was already on his way toward the car, and I was anxious to catch up.

“Yes,” I said.

“He’s deaf?”

“Yes. Both of my parents are.”

He paused for a moment. I waited for the sermon he was about to give me—the one where he told me how wonderful it was that I helped my parents, how lucky I was that I could hear—the speech I had heard on a continual loop for the past twenty-six years.

“That’s beautiful, what you have,” he said. “My daughter is sixteen years old, and I can’t even get her to speak to me, let alone laugh with me. When I watch you and your father, it hurts, because I want that more than anything with my daughter. You’re lucky to have that kind of a relationship.”

I stammered something meaningless and thanked him, then went out to the parking lot. In less than five minutes, a complete stranger had managed to hit on one of the many genuine reasons that I did feel lucky to have my parents. In my entire lifetime, friends and family still couldn’t see what this man saw instantly. I am lucky, not because I can take advantage of my parents or interpret for them. Not because I hear, and they do not.

I am lucky because my parents taught me to believe in my own power. I am lucky because my parents never told me that I couldn’t (or shouldn’t) do something because it would be too hard. I am lucky because my parents did not lead me to believe that my hearing privileged me in a way that their deafness had failed them. Instead, I had the opportunity to learn that the deaf culture is rich, varied, and full of abilities. I am lucky because now, as I become an adult, I see possibilities where other people see limitations.

When I caught up with my dad that day, he asked what had held me up.

“That man told me that we were lucky,” I told him. My father put his arm around my shoulders and squeezed.

“He’s right,” he said. “I would never trade any one of my daughters for anything in the world.”

It dawned on me later that I hadn’t told my dad why we were lucky. I hadn’t needed to.

~Lauren Fitzpatrick

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