Deafness in the Family: Deaf Family Member- How I Learned From My Sister
Deafness In The Family
by Jackie D. Kimball
When I read the HUBMOB topic, I thought ", Aha, this is going to be easy! I know plenty about the subject of deafness, and I certainly relish the chance to participate in Deaf Awareness Week." I knew what I would write about...my sister,of course. My younger and only sister is Deaf, and she has made her way in the world very successfully. I am deeply proud of her, and her achievements. So I whipped off an e-mail to my sister, making sure I had her permission before I wrote about her.
When I got her reply, I realized I don't really know as much about the Deaf culture as I thought I did..I have been around Deaf people all of my sister's life. They are an impressive community of people and fun to be around. Still, if you read my sister's reply, you can see why I suddenly sat back and realized, that maybe I'm in over my head. I had suggested she join and write, but she didn't address that. Below is my letter, and her reply a few hours later.
A Letter That Made Me Stop and Think
This week in hubpages we are writing about deaf topics in honor of Deaf Awareness Week. May I write about you if I don't reveal your name? If not I will say I have a relative......It is okay if you say a big fat no, but I am so proud of you and your many accomplishments!
Yes you may mention me -- just say "my brat sister is Deaf" - just kidding about brat... Do me a favor -- capitalize the d in Deaf. It is because we, the Deaf, have our own language which is American Sign Language, because we have similar beliefs,and because we have norms. With language, beliefs, and norms -- it is a culture -- thus it capitalizes the d in Deaf.
Living With A Deaf Family Member
As you see, from the correspondence above I may not have the clearest understanding of what I usually call the Deaf community. Sometimes my sister talks about the Deaf World. (Notice that I capitalized Deaf, and will do so the entire article, because my little sister says I am supposed to, and she should know.....)I appreciate that. She tolerates a lot of mistakes I make in communication with a wry smile, but in this case, she didn't want me to embarrass myself. (Thanks,Sister!)
To get more insight on deaf culture, I did a bit of site hopping and noticed that the Deaf community does consider that because of their beautiful language of hand gestures ,beliefs, and norms,that they are a culture. I can definitely see why. The Deaf also have customs, and rules of behavior. There are culture expectations such as greeting and leaving, getting attention to talk, and what is or is not rude.
So I again aplauded myself that I had chosen to write about my sister.Her...I know.Our family interactions are about the same as her Deaf friends that have hearing family members. We all must educate each other , and be understanding about each other's cultutre. In my opinion the Deaf are more patient with the hearing than the hearing are with them.
Now, understand that my sister considers herself as nothing special, just an intelligent ,hard working middle school teacher. That she is, but she is so much more to me.
She probably sometimes thinks,"What's the big deal?" I'm just your little sister. But she doesn't know when she was a toddler how bleak we thought her life would be. There were few educational entitlements back in about 1962 when she was diagnosed as Deaf. The best thing my parents had heard of was Baton Rouge State School for the Deaf almost three hours away. This was a boarding school, and it broke everyone's in family's heart to think of seeing her only on the weekends.
She was the baby of our family and we doted on her. As the baby, she would have been spoiled no matter what. Because of what we (then)thought to be a handicap, we probably gave in much more than we should have. There are a few things we siblings gave in and did for her that we still laugh about today. Alas, she would kill me if I told! I chuckle just thinking about it!
Mama had brochures about the school and it's curriculum, and she and Daddy poured over them often .Very early on, my parents agreed that she would probably be enrolled there. Mama wanted the richest learning experiences for my sister. She devised learning exercises for her, and also corresponded with Mayo Clinic for other lessons. She spent hours working with my her when she was a toddler.
Right away, we could see that she was above average in intelligence, and doctors confirmed it. I sometimes watched Mama and my sister, and I was just amazed to watch her logical thought process. She still is a very logical person, not easily agitated and this trait has served her well when dealing with unlearned and accidentally rude hearing people.
My sister was always the center of attention everywhere we went. She had the biggest brown eyes, and a pixie haircut. She was a charmer, and knew how to get a smile from anyone who was around her. When I think back on those days, I'm sure that her charm was her confidence and sunny disposition, and not the novelty of Deafness. Children in our circle were fascinated that though she could not hear at all, she understood our facial expressions and gestures enough to play and interact with everyone..
The truth is, that after a few years, we rarely thought of her being Deaf. She was just our adorable and a bit spoiled baby sister.We didn't feel a bit guilty to go tattle about something she had done , and she got in trouble just like the rest of us. My parents expected all of us to have a "can do attitude" including my sister. I've seen Daddy working on the car , and she would take the tools away from him, wanting to see if she could fix it herself.
We kind of made up some of our own signs as we didn't know sign language. She made up some ,too. So with gestures and our own signs, we got by fine. We family members are still guilty of this to this day(She's fifty now!) but she is tolerant and loving about it.
She and I shared a room from the time she was a year and a half until she went to the boarding school. If she was napping, I could still play my 45 RPM records and not disturb her.We would play dress up when she was three, and she would model my over sized clothes and wear my lipstick.We have pictures of her wearing my eighth grade Jr. High prom dress with her upswept hairdo.It gives me a warm fuzzy when I see that picture. Once again,she got her way that day! Ordinary days with an extraordinary sister. But she would say just an ordinary little sister.
As the days grew closer for my sister to go away to school, our sadness made the home atomsphere somewhat gloomy. She would have to stay thirty days, that first time, and then she could come home every weekend. Those thirty days loomed ahead like a dark shadow. My sister seemed to understand that she was going to school, as we got new school clothes every year and this time she did,too. I have never asked her what she thought,if she even remembers, about what thoughts she had when my parents drove away and left her at the school three hours away from all she held dear.
I do remember how it was at our house. My parents seemed to just go through the motions of living. Not much laughter and conversation at the supper table was much quieter. Sometimes I scooted over to her side at night just trying to get even a smell that might be connected to her. She wasn't dead, but thirty days without her seemed like a year.
The first time she came home from the school was a joyous day. I had to go to school that day, and she was all I could think about. Again, there are funny stories I could tell about that weekend, but I'd get in trouble with my sister! Let's just say that she had learned to use the manual alphabet , and she loved spelling "NO!"
She adjusted very well, and quickly as far as I could tell. She made friends, the teachers loved her, and she was a quick learner. The family looked forward to our weekends with her, and were sometimes disapponted when she asked to stay for particular activities that were held on the weekends for those who didn't go home. Mama said that was a good sign that she was happy. I think my sister,even at that age, made a choice to be happy.
Throughout her school years, she excelled academically, was in the homecoming court four years in a row, voted MVP in basketball, held many offices, and was a cheerleader all of her high school years. She graduated as valedictorian of her senior class, and received a scholarship to Gallaudet College for the Deaf in Washington D.C.
After studying a few years at Galludet, she moved back to Louisiana and attended LSU. She worked at the Baton Rouge State Times Advocate and made more money than her parents. During this time, she became Miss Deaf Louisiana 1984/85, She spent a short time as an actress playing the lead role at La Petite Theater in New Orleans in the smash hit played in the movie by Marilee Matlin, Children of a Lesser God.
She again attended Gallaudet and received her masters in education . She now is a wonderful middle school teacher in a school for the Deaf in another state.She has held many offices of leadership in the Deaf Community and is an active civic leader in many causes that interest her. She and her Deaf friends have traveled all over Europe and have stayed on numerous tropical islands. I think she likes one or two states having visited every state in the United States. She is an avid geocache fan. and has found caches in many interesting locations. Nothing, I mean nothing stops her if she makes up her mind to do it!
I am proud of her for all that she has done with her amazing life.
Deaf Awareness Week -A Good Time to Learn More About Deafness and Deaf Culture
DEAF IN THE FAMILY
Our family was and is a very close 'let's get together Saturday" kind of family. We all accept each other unconditionally. We have accepted my sister's Deafness from the time she was a tot as just part of who she is. She is our sister, just one of the pack. Plus, she patiently waits while we laborously sign and spell to her and never calls us stupid!She accepts us as the hearies who love her no matter how we fumble our fingers as we talk..... (I'm horrible at it!)
DEAF IN THE HEARING WORLD
You want to make my family mad? Say something negative about how hard being Deaf must be. Ask us a stupid question about her like she is not there while she is reading your lips.Once my mother mentioned to a lady that my sister's letter said so and so. The lady said' "Oh, she can write?" Now how ignorant is that? Deaf people put up with remarks like that and try to be tolerant of us. The hearing world should educate themselves that being Deaf is a part of who they are, and most of the Deaf do not consider it a handicap but rather just an interesting part of who they are..
The Deaf have Deaf Pride. My sister is happy that she is Deaf, and she wouldn't change a thing.She is an awesome teacher for her deaf students. She drives,travels, goes geocaching,has her own family of fellow Deaf friends, owns her beautiful home,and makes a very nice income . Anything you can do, she can do. That's her mindset!
My Little SisterClick thumbnail to view full-size
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