Wednesday, November 7, 2007

DEAF...Linguistic Ironies(NOT FOR KIDS TO READ)

It's easy to say the word "DEAF" until you need to start applying it to your own kid. I received the diagnosis of Jordan's profound hearing loss in Italian and learned to refer to Jordan's deafness in the Italian language. My son was "sordo." So, for the first six months of Jordan's being DEAF, I went around calling him "Sordo" to explain why he was wearing hearing aids to all of the people who looked at him with the "what are those things in your kid's ears" look.
Reality struck when I returned to Baltimore for the first time and Jordan had his hearing aids, so that when people gave me "the look" I automatically responded "He wears hearing aids because he's ----." I will never forget that moment in Mike's Pizzeria in Pikesville, I ran into my good friend's mother who was seeing Jordan for the first time wearing hearing aids and I blanked when I had to say the word "DEAF." I got so angry at myself for not being able to say "DEAF," at that moment because this was part of my son and I certainly didn't want him to grow up reacting to a label that was no longer a label, but an identity. So, I threw back my shoulders and said, "Jordan wears hearing aids because he has a profound hearing loss, he's DEAF." The more I said it the more it rolled right off my tongue.
When people can't say that my son is deaf, I say it for them and when kids, we had this experience at baseball camp in the States this year, call my son "death," I correct them.

The true power of the spoken word never really hits you until you start living your life in another language. Tuscany is famous for its use of blasphemous, crude, really bad language (not merely for its quality wine, rolling hills and medieval streets) and I can hold a conversation with the best of them. "VAFFANCULO, CAZO, PEZZO DI MERDA, FACCIA DI CULO!" Jordan can be heard screaming these words at the Playstation and I can be heard screaming at him in response, but they just don't affect me in the same way as if he had said, "FUCK YOU, FUCK, PIECE OF SHIT, ASSFACE!"...which is what those words mean. Why does this not phase me? Because the first time my son used the word "Vaffanculo!" I was sitting in my bedroom and Jordan was outside the door with Agnese(Agnis), his eight year old friend (just to give you an idea of how young they start playing with curse words here)and she was teaching him the words that he was having difficulty pronouncing. FRUSTRATING MOMENT that my kid had to be taught curse words and couldn't pick up the incidental language. (Frustrating but not a terrible thing)

All of this began to change after he received his cochlear implant. He would come home with a new curse word a day, so that I knew his social skills were growing. (Obviously he was learning quality words as well, but I am always more interested in how he interacts with his peers and if his peers are using the language, he needs to understand it). Then came an interesting incident at the dinner table about two months ago. We were sitting there eating pasta and he said, "FUCK!" My first instinct was to reach out and smack him, my second reaction was "WOW, my son just cursed in ENGLISH!!!!" Words in our native tongue are extremely powerful, much more so than in another language so let's just say he got an education in what he ABSOLUTELY COULD NOT SAY IN ENGLISH!

Back to linguistic ironies and the cochlear implant...the other day I was typing on the computer, struggling to send a message to CI CIRCLE and ignoring my son who was screaming for me to come in to give him a hug goodnight. Through my typing delirium I heard the words, "MOMMMMMMMMM, GET IN HERE AND GIVE ME A HUG! WHAT ARE YOU DEAF?" Well, that snapped me to attention and I walked right into his room. He then said, "Do you need a cochlear implant to hear me when I call you????" WE've come a long way from not being able to say the word, "DEAF."


Christian and Lily's Mommy said...

Thanks so much for sharing...both my husband and I are struggling with the "label" of deaf with our boy.....

Sharon Pajka,Ph.D. said...

Jodi, you continually crack me up! Identity is so important for everyone. Your blog's title is an "American" "Mom"-- two powerful and important labels that you give yourself. We've been taught not to label others but then you have a little one who really can't label herself or himself, so what do you do?!?
There is an on-going debate in my department about a particular word that really bugs my co-worker but doesn't bug me at all. I remind him that it isn't the word itself that is tainted, it is how others perceive that word that becomes hurtful.
With Meniere's Disease, my hearing fluctuates but I still very much identify myself as a hearing person who has some bad hearing days. Of course, I wasn't "Hearing" until I started mingling in the "Deaf" world. My students have told me that they don't think of me as "hearing" because I am fluent in ASL... and they could care less how others define that word. Their use of the label has nothing to do with the sound coming in (or not coming in) my ears.
You continually teach me to be open.