In a Perfect World
All You Need Is Love
Leeanne & Dane feeling the love, 2011
A few years back, I ordered Dane one of those intelligently witty t-shirts out of a special catalog—the kind you get heaps of at the holidays. It read “Ask Me about My Vow of Silence.” I thought it was hilarious, at least I hoped it was hilarious. I was pretty sure most people would think it was rather funny, you know, in an ironic sort of way, given Dane’s deafness.
Since he never wore it, not once, I’ll never know if it played. Dane said it was too small (it probably was) but I think he was sparing me. It was my kind of funny, not his. Today, this t-shirt sits in a dresser drawer along with a lot of other things that didn’t make the cut when he moved away to college. This category includes a nearly complete wardrobe of other eye-rolling gifts of clothing, numerous unread books, several once-played games, and lots of precious things I choose to believe he will hand down sentimentally to his children starting with those ceramic frogs lined up patiently on his shelf. Honestly, his room is still packed with his stuff. I’m not sure what he took away from here exactly.
The Take Away Message
Indeed, what did Dane take away from growing up in this “hearing” family? What kind of influence did I have on Dane as his mother? More good than bad, I hope, but looking back I know there were things I could have done better. As parents—ok, all together now—we do the best we can with the knowledge and wisdom we have at the time. Then we pray for an abundance of grace or early on-set Alzheimer’s.*
Once when he came home for a few weeks during the summer, I gathered up my courage and asked Dane how his dad and I—as hearing parents—had done raising him as a deaf child. I hoped to include his response in The Book of Choice** but feared it might still result in a call from Social Services. So I braced myself humbly and resolved to hear him out. I’d already survived his assault after a Biology II class when he demanded to know if I’d taken drugs that caused his deafness while I was pregnant with him. And he had survived the time I slapped his mouth for swearing… although I missed his mouth and hit his nose…which spurted blood everywhere…while we were driving…with God and his two horrified younger siblings in the backseat witnessing (this would the call from Social Services I’m still waiting for). We’d both survived his running away (for a few hours) and me kicking him out (well, actually, that didn’t work) during the turbulent teen years.
Whatever he threw at me now, I knew that reacting defensively with a lot of rationalizations or justifications about following misguided advice (both professional and personal concerning the sign vs. oral communication stuff) was a cop out. Sure, we believed we were doing the best we could at the time, but at the time the prime directives seemed to be coming from a lot of people who weren’t Dane’s parents or Dane himself. I had a lot to tell him about all of this, about why we made the choices we’d made for him. It seemed like the time for him to know all the backstory. But something held me back, and held me up so I could stand there and take his answer like a man…make that mom. I kept quiet; it was time for him to do the talking.
After quiet introspection, Dane said “you always loved me…no matter what…that was the most important thing.” He said some other things that felt very validating, but his main point was that he felt loved. Not that love is all you need, however a song like that sells, but bigod we all need love first and foremost. And this was the abundance of Grace I’d been waiting for, and it was Dane himself who gave it to me. I thought back on all the days that had gone by with nothing more than a quick goodnight kiss of love (“now please just go to sleep!”); how often the constant strain of work, school, and parenting left all of us feeling entirely depleted. I’m talking about the kind of depleted where you find yourself unable to protest when the kids fix themselves a bowl of cereal for dinner because they’re tired of waiting for you to put a meal together. I’m talking about the kind of depleted where you find yourself actually selecting vitamin-enriched cereals at the grocery store based on their dinnertime potential (FYI: you will search in vain for raisins, nuts and superhero).
Yes, loving Dane (and his brother and sister) was the easy part. Happily, it was also the most important part from my son’s point of view. No doubt there’s still plenty of complicated material left for future therapists (Dane’s, mine, his dad’s, his hearing siblings’, his former teachers’, his current teachers’, his future spouse’s, etc…) but love seems to have an override function. Love takes the special vase that your child broke then glued back together all clumsy and uneven so it becomes more beautiful to you than it ever was before. It unpacks the runaway’s duffel bag without recrimination then makes the runaway some cocoa…it forgives the bloody nose and turns the incident into a story you’ll laugh about later. Love asks you without words if deafness can sometimes be a vow of silence designed to help you see things more clearly.
**The Book of Choice: Support for Parenting a Child Who Is Deaf or Hard of Hearing Available from Hands & Voices, see our products page.