Grandparents Joining the Journey
As I raised my two children I always hoped that one day I would be lucky enough to become a grandma. My lucky day came four times over the last four years with the births of three granddaughters and a grandson. Now, I’m not just “mom” I’m “GranJan”. As “Gran Jan,” my life has changed in so many ways, and in one way I never expected.
My granddaughter Jocelyn was born deaf. Her diagnosis has had quite the impact on everyone in our family. For me, it’s challenged me to think about how I can be the best grandma to my deaf grandchild. From that spring morning three years ago when my daughter called to say that Jocie had failed her newborn hearing screening, to our recent H&V trip to Sea World, I’ve learned a lot as a grandparent to say the least. Today I know more about hearing aids, FM systems, genetic testing, sign language and acceptance. I learned that you’re never too old to learn new things. Here are some of the steps along my journey.
Seek Out Answers: As a former college professor and elementary school teacher, I thought when I retired that I was done with research. I’ll never forget that day when I found myself searching for answers about deafness. As I Googled “Connexin 26”, the genetic cause of Jocelyn’s hearing loss, I was amazed with all of the results, for something I had NEVER heard of before. Researching for answers has helped me accept that my granddaughter is deaf. Other grandparents may find their own path.
Stay Involved: I have also found that staying involved in Jocelyn’s day-to-day life helps me understand more and more about her life as a deaf child, what her parents experience raising a deaf child, and the role I can play as a grandma to her. It helps that I live close by and can interact with my granddaughter on a regular basis, but even for grandparents who can’t be there every week you too can find a way to support your deaf and hard of hearing grandchildren, and their parents, through this journey.
Keep Learning: I have gone back to school taking sign language classes and I now have a sign name given to me by Jocelyn. She is quickly surpassing me in my knowledge of ASL, so I’ve bought Signing Time DVDs to practice, and I sign billboards while driving down the road. If your kids are using other methods with your grandchild, learn what you can do to support all of them.
Find Adult Mentors: I spend my free time interacting with deaf adult groups and attending their events as I strive to learn more about deafness and deaf culture. It’s not always easy to communicate but it’s definitely a learning experience and an important and special time for me.
Join H & V: I’ve become a member of Florida Hands & Voices and show my support whenever I can. I attend our meetings and am responsible for bringing the donuts and coffee each month. I read The Communicator regularly and I take part in fundraisers and events. In fact, just this year I attended the National Hands & Voices Conference in Maine. As a grandmother, I was curious as to how I would perceive this conference. While I moved from session to session the same thought came to me again and again, “Parents, you are not alone. Other parents, teachers, administrators, specialists are there to give you a helping hand with your deaf or hard of hearing children.” It’s so important that parents know this and as grandparents we can be the ones to give additional help, encouragement and love on the home front.
The Importance of Little Things: I’ve learned many little things about interacting with my deaf granddaughter. For example, I can put in her hearing aids and I know about speaking clearly and facing her when I am communicating with her. I take great joy in her accomplishments. I’ll never forget when she first repeated the word “dada” to me or when she first signed her name. I find simple ways to engage her, like doing flashcards together and sending her online animated greeting cards so she too can get email.
I know I have a lot more to learn about having a deaf grandchild and I’m delighted that as Jocelyn grows up she is becoming my teacher. My grandchildren have made my life richer, more fulfilling, more purposeful and lovely. I thank my granddaughter Jocelyn for making me a better grandma and introducing me to the deaf world. She makes me proud of who she is and what she will be one day. She makes me proud to be her Gran Jan.