ASL classes

A journalist contacted me recently, asking if he could get my perspective as a deaf journalist about the news media’s coverage of the deaf community.

“For the interview, we could video chat and use Google docs to do a written interview,” he wrote. “I’m also learning ASL but I don’t know enough to conduct an interview in sign just yet.”

How did he think the video chat would work?!

When I responded, I explained that the topic was complex because there are different deaf communities, of which many aren’t aware. I also told him I don’t know ASL, if that was any indication.

He said in his ASL class, a large aspect of the curriculum is learning about deaf culture and the deaf community, which he’s found fascinating. “Do you use a different signing language?” he asked. “I was not aware there were others used in the US.”

I don’t know how many classes he’s had so far, but there’s a disconnect because ASL stands for American Sign Language. As in, the only one used in the US. If you go to another country, you’re shit out of luck.

In my next email to him, I told him that ASL classes focus on Deaf Culture, are inherently biased, and often promulgate false information. The deaf community is actually comprised of two separate communities – the Deaf community and the deaf community, or as some refer to it, the speaking deaf community.

“That you automatically assumed that I sign, even if it’s not ASL, is a perfect example,” I wrote. “ASL is American Sign Language. There are deaf people who sign and many of us who don’t. People automatically assume I sign just because I’m deaf, but I was raised to speak and read lips. I have many friends who had auditory-verbal therapy, which means they can hear/understand without lipreading.”

To his credit, he said he hoped I didn’t find his assumptions offensive. “My teacher does exactly as you said many ASL teachers do, which is propagate the idea that all deaf people sign,” he added. “My professor actually tells us that deaf people prefer ASL to learning to speak and lipread, which is clearly not true. I apologize for automatically categorizing you as someone who uses visual language.” He said if he hadn’t offended me, he still wanted to send me some questions. I said ok.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to deal with the ramifications of ASL classes. Sure, it’s in the teachers’ best interests to make it sound like more people use ASL. But all teachers have a responsibility to be accurate. Part of the problem lies within Deaf Culture, unfortunately; threatened by the advent of technology like cochlear implants, and the decreasing numbers of people who sign, they believe in the propaganda.

In this kind of situation, I always think about parents of a newly diagnosed deaf child. If they’ve taken an ASL class or know someone who has, they won’t realize all the options available to them. How can you truly make the best choice for your family in this case? Keep in mind, 90% of all children born deaf have hearing parents. If parents choose cochlear implants and oral education, then the child can be part of the family’s culture and community. When they’re raised with sign, they are effectively shut off from many members of their family. I’m part of a deaf community too, just not the capital-D Deaf community.

This is why, as a deaf journalist, I feel a responsibility to speak out when I see misconceptions and misinformation about deafness. They provoke in me such a visceral reaction, and I’m in a unique position to educate.

The journalist learning ASL sure got a lot more than he bargained for when he contacted me!

The Princess and the…alarm clock?


One advantage to being deaf is that when I take my cochlear implant and hearing aid off, I can’t hear a damn thing. On the flip side, this means I can’t hear an alarm clock.

This is when having a hearing husband comes in handy! Literally. A gentle nudge by my partner is the best way to wake up. Hear THAT, Folgers?

But what if he’s out of town or I am? Then it’s time to bring out my special alarm clock that vibrates. This is the one I used to have; it clipped onto my pillow case and worked great. It lasted a long time before it broke and isn’t made anymore.

Luckily one of my deaf friends had asked the hive mind for a portable alarm clock recommendation. I ended up purchasing this one: It has no clip, the settings in minuscule print, and even the vibration is annoying. Instead of vibrating at five second intervals, it goes off every second.

Every. Second.


Let me tell you, this is NOT a pleasant way to wake up. In fact, when I need to use it, for some reason I can’t sleep at all. Even if I’m super duper tired. Like my body is rebelling: “That damn clock! We’ll wake you up naturally by not letting you sleep at all!”

Is this the deaf version of The Princess and the Pea?

I read; I travel; I become – Derek Walcott

If you ever see me without a book nearby, there’s something wrong – like my eyes have been gouged out or I’ve turned into a zombie.

I’ve always been a voracious reader, sometimes too much so. I remember on a family trip in California as a kid, we stopped in San Luis Obispo. My parents encouraged my sister and I to get out of the car and explore the town with them, but I refused. I actually stayed in the car to read my book. Grown up me is appalled. Even I know there are limits.

One of my fears is having nothing to read. I’m a fast reader but can’t always predict when I’ll have the time to finish a book due to life getting in the way – which makes it hard to know how many I need. I used to bring a bag full of books when driving somewhere for vacation and still worried I’d run out. If I was flying, it was a real struggle deciding how many books to squeeze in the suitcase.

Now I have a Kindle. It’s seriously changed my life.

Don’t get me wrong; I still love — and in fact, prefer — an actual book. There’s something about turning paper pages and feeling the weight of the printed word in my hands.

But now when I travel, I’m not as stressed. Whether it’s a library book, freebie, or one I’ve purchased, I have a whole list of them waiting to be opened. If I run out, I just have to find WiFi and instantly download more.

Lately I’ve also been reading more books on my Kindle even when I’m not traveling. It’s so easy to carry around wherever I go; I don’t have to worry about the Kindle fitting in or weighing down my purse. I especially appreciate having it handy during waits.

This is on my mind as I prepare for an upcoming trip. I currently have 11 books downloaded waiting to be read, which means I’ll have room for, what, three pairs of shoes?

Sh*t happens

This is what happens when you’re deaf.

While packing for a trip over Labor Day weekend, you open the upstairs closet to get something. After lunch, you realize you haven’t seen your cat for a while. Come to think of it, you thought it was unusual that she didn’t come when she heard certain sounds. You wonder if you should check on her, but shrug it off, telling yourself she’s ok.

After your family arrives home mid-afternoon, your daughter asks, “When’s the last time you opened the closet door?” You ponder this and honestly can’t remember. She repeats the question — more insistently each time — without telling you why she’s asking. Finally, it clicks in your head: You accidentally locked the cat in the closet! The guilt! The GUILT!! It feels like you’re being attacked by a gang of Jewish mothers!

So not only did you not hear the cat enter the closet during the oh-so-brief time you had the door open, but you failed to hear her meows, which your husband and daughter heard when they were upstairs. There’s consolation in the fact that this was discovered before you left town.

Unfortunately, because she was in the closet for so long, there was a telltale odor. Your husband looks for evidence but can’t find it, and you have to get on the road.

Fast forward to the day after your return. You feel like you’re being punished for your (accidental) negligence when you open the closet door to do some detective work. What they say about other senses being enhanced when one is missing is clearly true: You would so much rather be smelling freshly baked cookies, or quite frankly, even smelly socks. Finally, after pulling out towels and sheets, you find the buried treasure. Somehow it’s not as satisfying as a chest filled with gold.

Moral of the story: Listen to your instincts – no hearing devices needed!

Happy Mother’s Day to me

I was awake but lying in bed when my 11-year-old son bounded in, gave me a hug, and said, “Happy Mother’s Day!” He immediately followed that with, “Dad told me to come in and tell you.”

That pretty much set the course for the rest of the day.

When my 14-year-old daughter eventually deigned to come downstairs — after Aaron had made me breakfast — she wished me a casual Happy Mother’s Day and walked away without giving me a hug. She’s not a hugger, but she knows I am.

After needling Doran to help make breakfast, Aaron told him, “This isn’t Wives’ Day!”

Aaron made all three of my meals, did the dishes, gave me a gift, ferried the kids to their activities, and did a CostCo and grocery store run.

Doran gave me my gift on Friday; he couldn’t wait until Sunday. He made it in school, but I use the word “made” loosely. The teacher took his photo, and the adjacent frame has printed words that describe mothers (rather than having the kids come up with their own). The frame is made out of popsicle sticks. All Doran did was put the sticks together, color them, and write “You rock! Happy Mother’s Day!”

Samara made me a pretty watercolor card, which she made Sunday morning. That afternoon, she made me (by her own admission) a creepy cat picture and a watercolor laminated bookmark.

All this is to say I’m not ungrateful. I just wish the kids had put forth more thought and effort into appreciating me and all that I do for them. Before bed, Aaron asked how my Mother’s Day was. I told him it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. He nodded, unsurprised by my assessment. He told the kids that next year they’re taking the lead. They’re old enough, and they know better.

But do they really know all that I do for them? This week alone, in addition to my freelance journalist work and my own shit, I have to:

    Plan this week’s meals
    Go to the grocery store to get food for said meals
    Drive a carpool to middle school 3 times
    Take Doran to/from his back-to-back music lessons
    Go to Doran’s Open House
    Take Samara to/from her cello lesson
    Take Samara to/from her viola lesson (which I had to schedule)
    Drive Doran to Hebrew school
    Get Samara two new strings for her viola
    Return a dress for Samara
    Go to the library to return an overdue movie for Samara
    Possibly pick her up at school after quartet rehearsal
    Take Doran to/from his Red Cross Babysitting all-day class
    Make dinners
    Do the dishes (because husband won’t be joining us for dinner for half of the week)
    Make sure both kids do their chores (in other words, needling them incessantly)
    Make sure Doran practices his instruments
    Make sure they’re on time for school
    Monitor Doran’s screen time (because he’ll become a zombie otherwise)
    Intervene in any sibling fights
    Make sure they’re in bed on time (in other words, nag them repeatedly to shower & get upstairs before it’s too late)
    Straighten/clean the house/get on their cases for putting things away

I’m sure there’s more, but you get the idea. And this list doesn’t include the other part of being a mom: Providing a steady loving presence and listening ears, yada yada yada. Of course I’m able to do most of this because I work from home — which I mainly do because of them. A list for a mom with a child who has special needs would be even longer and tough to detail. My mom, for example, drove me to Children’s Hospital in the city of Buffalo from our house in the suburbs every day for four years just so I could have a one-hour speech-language session. She worked tirelessly with me and my sister — both of us born profoundly deaf — to teach us to lipread, talk, and catch up to our peers on all levels. She went back to work as a (paid) teacher when I was about 12 and then her life was much crazier. She remembers those days being endless.

I know I’m not alone in feeling ignored; it’s a universal fact that we moms are under appreciated. I know I certainly appreciate mine more now. And it shouldn’t take Mother’s Day for our kids to step up, but I don’t want to have to wait until they’re adults either. Gone are the days in which their schools take the lead in having them make gifts or write a fill-in-the-blank sheet on what they know about their mom. They’re both creative enough on their own; I recall past gifts like a coupon book for hugs, cleaning, etc.

Lest you think I’m all about complaining, I know how lucky I am to be a mom. I love my kids and can’t imagine my life without them. When I return from a trip, I can tell they’ve missed me. But it shouldn’t take an absence, a Hallmark holiday, or even a reminder that life is too short to really show and tell our moms how much we love and appreciate them. But we all need occasional reminders, so when that Hallmark holiday comes along, for the love of God would you please oblige?