I was staring at a painting in my studio, hung with six push pins. I hung the paper up today, painted it and collaged it. It’s a large piece of thick water color paper, 50” x 48”. I started it and finished in one day, which is impractical. It’s delicate paper, it’s large, where will I store it? If only I had another show lined up or someone to buy it? I need to start working smaller. I love working big, but I need to work small. I went on a walk today, up the trail, past blue bells and hedge parsley. Past the decaying tree stumps, getting smaller than they were last year. So many kinds of little green plants, clovers, grasses, dead leaves on the ground in ruby red and dark brown. The air was cold, my hands freezing. The sun was out, the sky so clear, I thought it would be warmer. It was my last day of having three-year-old children. My last day I could get away with calling them babies. I love Jack and Fiona so much, they have turned out to be good kids. It’s hard to believe when I reminisce of the past, of Jack and Fiona as infants, of life before they were born, my mind is filled now with beautiful memories. The sad memories of my most difficult times have diffused, leaving a stain, but not a strong stab to my heart. I have healed in the past four years. I have a collection of paintings that document feelings I’ve gone through. Lines and color, paper and canvas, lots of the work framed. My studio needs to be cleaned, to make space for my new collection, my new work, from the new me. Or the same me? The original, more confident, less broken me? I don’t know. I just know that this year I have changed.
Sitting outside, in the back yard, Jack and Fiona are at Costco with my husband. I have to take a break, reflect on what I wrote this morning. It’s almost spring and flowers are beginning to dominate bare branches, I love winter flowering trees. I love the moist ground, still wet from winter rains, the decaying leaves, the new bugs and spiders, old webs that didn’t get knocked down in the winter winds, and the sun feeling closer than it has in months. I think of fertility and my experience. I wonder why I clung to beauty and that it was the goal for so long. I have judged myself daily, comparing myself to an unrealistic idea of what is beautiful? Fertility is beautiful. Being born into a beautiful new thing. I am so far from that sweet smell newborn babies have. I am so far from that beauty because I was not fertile. The image of healthy, glowing, pregnant woman? Or that sweetness of just having given birth sweet smell of placenta, baby poop, an open vagina, all bloody, sweat, and the image of the beautiful woman and her beautiful baby lying on her chest? I wanted that. I wanted to be that woman, just like a flowering winter tree, bringing new, undamaged life into the world. Natural and unscathed, “it happened so quickly, we barely tried” I would say. After the birth I would be glowing, my picture would get 1000 likes on Facebook. I would have taken the naked pictures when I was pregnant, and I would be allowed to share them on Facebook because I covered just the right spots and a naked pregnant woman is a subliminal message that propels mankind. This post would get 2000 likes. I would be a Goddess. Why are we obsessed about this? About being this? Why was I? Why was I ashamed that I could never be that goddess, my uterus broken, I was up in age, I shouldn’t even be trying to have children, “It’s not fair to the children for women to have IVF at 39, they won’t live a long enough for the child.” I read this once on Face Book. I was so upset by it and it became my truth. I was disgusting.
I went to Fiona’s IEP yesterday. Everything went smooth, she was offered the same services as she received last year, attendance at a Total Communication preschool and speech therapy. Fiona is right on track with most of her language skills. She’s having trouble producing letter combinations of letters she can not hear, which is normal for children with hearing loss. They must memorize how to make the sound through speech therapy, the hope is that they will eventually know how to make the sounds. I asked if it will be easier to do once Fiona can read and they said “definitely”. I mentioned Fiona attending a typically developed preschool a few days a week next year to prepare her for kindergarten and the representative from her school district thought it was a great idea. I said, even if Fiona can’t hear or understand a lot of what’s going on, I was reassured that it was still beneficial, socially and to prepare her for kindergarten, the hearing world. I had forwarded the piece I wrote about Fiona and my upcoming IEP to the meeting attendees. They commented they were surprised I had so much anxiety about the IEP. They assumed I assumed Fiona would get the same services again. I didn’t know. After I left the meeting I realized Total Communication wasn’t brought up many times, and when it was I was the one bringing it up. I didn’t have a chance to gloat about my graduation from the beginning series of sign class and that now I’m an intermediate signer! I am so glad I was introduced to sign language and that I had the opportunity to take a great class. It’s the best way to fully communicate with Fiona, using both sign and auditory. I realize they are preparing Fiona for the real world, and they do train teachers in mainstream class rooms how to best teach deaf and hard of hearing. The class room experience is adjusted to make it as optimal an environment for a child with hearing loss as possible. And I know in the real-world people won’t know sign language or that they must get eye contact with Fiona for her to understand what they are saying. Fiona misses things, constantly. I wonder, why should she have to be in a non- total communication learning environment at all? She’s going to have such a more difficult time learning the same material? Fiona can’t rely on her hearing aids and FM system 100% of the time. She deserves to get the lessons as efficiently as all her class mates. The only way that deaf and hard of hearing kids get equal education is with a deaf and hard of hearing teacher. This will give them the best chance of succeeding in college and getting a good job and making it in the hearing world.
I made valentines cards with Jack and Fiona this past weekend. I used my good paper, a roll that used to belong to Nathan Olivera, who was a famous bay area painter. Just then I picked up my phone and dialed my sons school to tell them that, that I made the cards out of a famous artists paper! The phone rang, the voice mail picked up and I hung up! I wanted to tell them that I was very disappointed that I was the only parent to make homemade valentine’s day cards with their kids. We were given instructions last week to make Valentine cards for all the kids. I was expecting Jack and Fiona to bring home an assortment of uniquely different cards from all the kids. I imagined some with little hand prints and some painted all over, some square, some in the shape of hearts. I imagined talking to Jack and Fiona about the cards, asking who gave them to you? But instead they came home with a scatter of tiny store-bought cards, a few bags of candy hearts, Band-Aids and stickers. It’s the thought that counts and Jack and Fiona loved their homemade boxes and bags filled with valentine booty. I wonder why the parents didn’t make any cards? Jack, Fiona, and I had such a good time together over the weekend making the cards. I laid out a giant piece of paper on the table first. I drew heart shapes all over it, my original idea was that jack and Fiona would fill in the hearts, but as many painting projects go we, yes of course I helped them, started painting all over the paper. I cut up lace and we glued it on. Then I took the paper out to the deck to dry. I thought it needed more so we painted more, we splattered paint, jack and Fiona took off all their clothes and rolled in the paint. They had a blast! Then I sprayed them off with cold water from the faucet. They thought that was really funny! The next day Fiona and I went to the store and bought tons of glitter and glue! In the cracks of my kitchen table glitter sparkles still. I cut out hearts from our giant painting on Nathan Olivera paper. Laid them all out like a factory production. Jack poured a whole container of glue and whole container of glitter on one painting. Fiona worked on many, she did a great job! I was left to glitter the bulk of the cards myself, but I’m not complaining. I love glitter! I don’t use glitter in my studio, I will not use glitter in my studio! But I want to! The Valentines cards dried, and they were beautiful! The hearts were all different sizes, rough around the edges! But beautiful. I was so proud of our cards! I know that Jack and Fiona were too. That must have been cool to have the most amazing valentine’s day cards at school! I just keep wondering though, why didn’t anyone else make valentine’s day cards? Aren’t these the lessons that kids remember forever? Making things for people, giving things away, spending time being creative with your parent? I took a bath yesterday afternoon, I let Jack and Fiona watch T.V. all day after school. They ate a whole box of popsicles! I saw the box hidden under a step stool this morning as I was making my breakfast. But they let me take my whole bath without interrupting me! As I lay there in the bath I saw images of our Valentine’s day cards floating around in my mind. They were all about love and giving love, making people smile, sharing creativity. I am disappointed that no one else took the magical journey I took with my four-year-old twins but I’m glad we did. It is a memory that will last forever and a tradition I will keep every Valentine’s day until they get too embarrassed to pass out funky homemade valentine’s day cards which I hope will be never!
“The white man is bad, he’s making the black people work for free, they are slaves” I say. “Remember”, then I stop, I was about to remind Jack of the clip of news he walked in on, that I turned off immediately, but not soon enough for Jack to ask me questions. “Why are those people doing that?” He asked. “Because they are racist, the guys in white are bad.” It was the morning after the Charlotte riots, when the white supremacists were upset because the city of Charlotte, NC, decided to take down a statue of Andrew Jackson, because he was a slave owner and the statue is a symbol of white supremacy that was erected after civil rights were won. Theory being, to keep the fear of what was, of southern white privilege. I don’t like using the words black people, white people, I never have. I’m white and live, unfortunately in a very white county. My kids are turning four years old and I’ve taken them across the bridge to the East Bay or to the city as many days of the week as possible. I don’t want them living in a white privileged bubble, even though that’s where we do live. As I read the story of Harriet Tubman, a book Jack picked out at the book store yesterday, I am having trouble simplifying the story enough for four-year old’s. I don’t like saying “Black people” because I’ve never talked like that, as if that were something I needed to point out. I try to read the story, which is an amazing children’s book, all about the underground railroad. Jack and Fiona can understand hiding and escaping. Harriet Tubman was a hero, rescuing people. “Are those bad people” Jack asks during the underground railroad scenes. “No, some white people were good, are good. They helped the slaves escape.” Slavery is a horrible story, as I sit here and write this I start to cry. Terrible things happened in our country. I change the subject from skin color to freedom, civil rights, and how important it is for them to vote when they turn 18. Jack says, “and when we turn 5 we’re going to kindergarten.” I end on Harriet Tubman was a hero and you guys can be heroes too. Protect civil rights, equality. They both understand what equal means and give me many examples. They get it. I wanted to explain to Fiona she is getting services for her hearing loss because of battles won for people with disabilities but I think that she’s too young for that lesson. It’s hard to know what kids are ready to learn about, but they are curious and want to learn. I am bad at filtering information, I just hope they don’t think all white people are bad! But I think because of our countries history and living in such a white county it’s natural to have suspicions and I would rather my kids know when someone is being racist than ever think it’s o.k. to talk bad about someone because of what they look like.
The middle of February, Saturday, mid-morning. The neighborhood is quiet, echoes from children’s voices are silent, the park empty. Airplane engines rumble, a weed blower buzzes. Birds chirp as the sun is covered by a thin cloud. A cool breeze blows and a dog barks. It hasn’t rained in weeks; the drought continues in California. My dog sniffs around me, looking for a scrap of my tuna sandwich I just finished eating. My house is quiet. Jack and Fiona are at the park with their dad. I needed this break. The month of February this year has been a period of rapid change for me. Fiona’s ear infection is still not better, she still winces when I put her hearing aid in. The second bottle of antibiotics smells disgusting. Even before I open the bottle I get nauseous. Tomorrow is the last dose.
Last night we went down to do story time and bath time. Fiona took off her hearing aids to take her bath. Often, it’s so late and I only have energy to read one story before tuck in time. I usually don’t put back on her hearing aids unless we are going to be reading for a while. She asked me to put them on last night. “I want my hearing aids on” she said. We were all already sitting down and half way through the book. I was too lazy to get up and get the hearing aids. “Tell me about this page” I said. The book was Mouse Count and Jack and Fiona started counting the mice and telling me things about the pictures. I was able to sign the whole story. Fiona and Jack both paid attention to my hand shapes and Jack practiced the signs. Only a couple months ago whenever I would practice signing Jack would say, “No don’t sign mommy, don’t practice sign.” I think he was jealous because Fiona used to practice with me when I first was learning. It’s wonderful to see Jack using signs. He’s such a cool brother.
I am moving on to the Intermediate section of the SEE sign curriculum. I remember when Fiona was a baby and I was first introduced to sign I knew I wanted to become fluent. When I first started to learn words I said to myself, there is no way, I’ll never learn this, and take care of twin babies. It was difficult and frustrating. I always had one baby in my arms, at least! Plus, dirty laundry, or a diaper, or food. I tried to use my baby signs I was learning, but it was difficult. It worked best during a meal time when they were in their high chairs. The first three years while Fiona was in the Infant program for kids who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, or have mobility issues I focused on the basics. I learned to get eye contact with Fiona any time I wanted to talk to her. I trained her to wear her hearing aids. There were periods, especially between one and two years old where she didn’t want to wear them, or she would take them off and take them apart. That was difficult. I had to crawl around on the floor listening for the buzzing sound to find them. I studied sign at Fiona’s school and learned many common words about daily routines.
When Fiona turned three years old she transitioned into the Early Intervention preschool program. I had to prove to the school district that she needed to remain in a Total Communication program, that sign was just as important as auditory education for my daughter and my family. One of the teachers came to my home to observe me, how I used Total Communication. I was so nervous I couldn’t remember any of my signs, I wasn’t very fluent as it was, at all! I had only been studying for maybe a year. I was afraid I would be forced to put Fiona in a typically developed preschool, the school board had emphasized to me how important it was for children with hearing loss to learn language from their peers at school. I visited regular preschools and knew Fiona would not be able to understand what anyone was saying most of the time. The environment was too loud and chaotic with one teacher to 12 kids. (they have an assistant teacher too) I proved my case and Fiona was admitted into the Early Intervention Preschool last February.
On Friday I have my IEP (individualized education plan). I am not nervous as I was last year. The sad truth is, what Fiona and I have discovered this month, is that she can’t hear. Well that’s not accurate, she can’t understand what people are saying to her unless everything is optimal. She makes due, she’s amazing. We have a birthday party to go to today and chances are she won’t understand what any of the kids are saying but she’ll understand enough to get by and have a good time. Her hearing aids help a lot, Fiona and I both are very aware of this. But the rule is, consistently if I don’t use all my tools I’ve learned in communicating to a deaf or Hard of Hearing person I will have to repeat myself to Fiona. It’s that serious of a hearing loss. I have a bad habit of talking to myself. Fiona asks, “What did you say” every time I do this around her. One of my good friends has hearing loss and when I talk to myself around her it drives her crazy! I must really work on this.
The recent ear infection has affected Fiona’s hearing more. It’s like that ear is almost deaf now. It’s been frustrating and emotional for Fiona. So, at the IEP next week, I want Fiona to continue in her current class. It’s very important for her to be in a total communication class. But she’s turning four this month, only one more year of preschool. It’s scary, I know she’ll be fine and she’ll do great at regular school. Most kids with hearing loss do fine in school. But it’s a hard road, it’s not easy and auditory only, unless the child has a mild hearing loss and the amplification really helps a lot, I don’t think is a good idea ever. There’s a lot of focus on speech therapy, which is awesome, but I still notice in the way many of Fiona’s words sound that she’s deaf. Every word that has a letter that has a frequency she can’t hear, she says the way she hears it. She can’t hear many letters even with her hearing aids on, I think. Speech therapy trains children to memorize the sound of those words so the child can pronounce them correctly, and spell them too. It’s a lot of work. I haven’t been the best at focusing on Fiona’s speech at home, I feel like I’m pestering her, or pressuring her.
I use the signs to reinforce those letters, like F and P. I use signs to reinforce what I’ve said. Sometimes I say the sentence first. Jack always understands the first time. Then I repeat for Fiona, then I use my signs to reiterate a third time. This always does the trick. In the real world there won’t be many people who will take the time to communicate with Fiona in this fashion. I even get frustrated and exhausted keeping up with this every day all day long. But then I feel guilty. Poor little girl, she’s the one with something different than everyone else. Something that makes life that much more challenging. So, I guess I’m not as nervous about this IEP because I know what Fiona needs and I’m sure she will be able to finish preschool at Early Start. This is the best thing for her. I also know that I will continue in my sign language studies becoming fluent with Jack and Fiona right there with me. As they get older our house will be a Total Communication household just like I planned from the beginning. Fiona will always have a safe place to come where people understand and support her.