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I’d like to think that I was a unique individual from birth. I learned, at a very young age, that my family was different, but my parents instilled a sense of pride in me. Everything I was, no matter how it compared to others, was something I could wear proudly. My mother is deaf, and this never struck me as strange.
However, in second grade when children still loved to see their parents anywhere they went, mothers and fathers would come into class to read aloud. My mother doesn’t know American Sign Language (ASL), nor does she need it. She reads lips with crisp perfection; even I couldn’t help but to imitate it in my early years. She also speaks clearly, of course with a slight accent, but as time goes on, it lessens. I never heard any strange accent, only the sound of my mother’s voice.
This isn’t what my peers heard. They mocked her openly in front of me, and asked why she sounded so weird. What a blow this was, the first time that anything about me was “strange” and unaccepted. I wasn’t ashamed, though. To this day my mother remains an incredibly accomplished woman and writer. I get my language abilities straight from her. (Unfortunately, I acquired my father’s penmanship.)
What’s strange is that I think I brought a book with a deaf character. But what was different between talking to my daughter’s class and my son’s class is that in my son’s class — I opened with an explanation of the deafness rather than letting the book do the talking.
I accept that children and even some adults will look at me in a strange way when my mouth opens and the words spill. But I do not accept my children’s classmates making fun of me in front of my kids. That puts the burden on my kids for something that has nothing to do with them.
After a great experience in talking to two first grade classes this year, I hope to speak to more. It was college / career week. So I volunteered to talk to the kids about going to college, how college helped me on my career path, adjusting to college and making a career. I explained some of the barriers and how technology has erased many of them.
I believe education is the path to understanding and acceptance.