I had a most amazing experience yesterday at the gym. I had the opportunity to use my signing skills to communicate with someone who is deaf. He had been trying to communicate that a certain machine wasn't working well and then another gym member used the machine next to it with the same luck. When I signed "Same?", he was rather pleasantly surprised to see that I was a fellow signer. Below is the start of our conversation, as it was actually signed. (ASL syntax is not the same as English, so it may seem awkward to read, but actually makes good sense signed.)
Him: "Same. Sign little?"
Me: "Little. My daughter deaf."
Him: "How old?"
Me: "Two." reaching for my phone, which has a picture of both Lily and Lorelei
Me again: "My daughters."
Him: "Which one?"
Me: "Little. Hearing, medication, no hearing. Deaf. Oh well. Mommy learn sign."
Him: "Thank you."
I never imagined being thanked so earnestly for learning to sign for Lily. It really meant a lot to me, especially coming from someone who is deaf and uses ASL to communicate. I'm not yet to the point where I can think that deafness is not a disability (which is a common viewpoint for the Deaf community), but I am at a point where I think disabilities are only as limiting as we let them be. Using sign language to communicate with my deaf daughter makes just as much sense to me as using a wheelchair for my daughter who is unable to walk. Yes, it takes a lot more effort to learn, but it has so many benefits that learning is beyond worth it. And, once more, it's what Lily needs. Isn't it my job as her mother to give her what she'll need in life?
The fact is Lily IS disabled. Even beyond her complete hearing loss. She also has cerebral palsy and enough difficulty breathing to require ventilation via a tracheostomy and she's oxygen dependent and severe developmental delays across the board. That is a disability. It's certainly enough to qualify her for a disabled parking hang tag. However, NONE of that makes her UNable. And there is nothing wrong with being disabled. It's just a word, a word that describes the fact that Lily isn't like the rest of us. Lily is amazing. Lily can still do just about anything between adaptive equipment, adapting circumstances to meet her needs including taking extra time when needed, having people around her who support her, and the sheer will power to want to do it.
Yes, Lily will have to work for everything she needs, but she doesn't know anything different. And I refuse to raise her to see her disabilities as limiting. Because that's another part of my job as her mother. To show her that she is able and should dream, and work toward the dream, of whatever her heart desires. To hold her hand on the journey and cheer her on. To be there when it gets hard and remind her that better days will come. It doesn't matter if she wants to be a mother, a doctor, or a janitor... if her heart desires it, she'll find that path.
About my exchange with my gym friend... I also had my first opportunity to tell someone my name via ASL fingerspelling. It was fun and memorable. The whole exchange took less than fifteen minutes, but I'll remember it for the rest of my life. I used a skill that I've been developing for Lily to have a meaningful exchange with another person. It's really opened my eyes to what signing with my daughter will be like eventually, as she learns more signs, and it definitely made me hungry to learn so much more. And being thanked was really just the icing on the cake, because my heart is so full of joy for what Lily DOES have... a family who loves her dearly.