Of Fences & College Freshmen

By Leeanne Seaver

When you drive fast enough, you can see through the fencework along the roads to the things behind them. Children on a swing set, a swimming pool, rusted out cars or a rose garden reveal themselves to you almost clearly. I noticed the wide banks of the Mississippi River were muddy instead of underwater during the late summer drought here in my newly adopted state of Illinois . I watched the herons poking through the slurry as we slowed to a stop at a traffic light. Then they completely disappeared, and I couldn't see anything except the slated fence right in front of my face. At a standstill, I was reminded that there was something between me and the scenery beyond that I hadn't been focusing on: a fence.

Leaving my son at college last week has brought me to another kind of stop, and a look at what I can and can't see from this new vantage point. I now have time to ponder how he grew up so quickly, and the speed at which I've moved through the last nineteen years raising this deaf child. Certainly, I have been focused on his needs, as well as those of my two hearing children and husband. I also have another career aside from Hands & Voices. All of this has required an extraordinary juggling of agendas and obligations. There has not been much time to stop down and assess it-after all things in motion tend to stay in motion. I multitasked through all of it.that is what moms and working women do.

If I ever wished I could stop and take a macro-view of our decisions relative to parenting a deaf child, the concerns of the moment often overwhelmed my desire, replacing it with anxiety over his:

  • language
  • lack of language
  • communication modality
  • communication methodology
  • literacy
  • expressive communication skills
  • receptive communication skills
  • social skills
  • social life
  • self-consciousness
  • insecurity
  • emotional health
  • too much work, not even play
  • too much play, not enough work
  • amplification
  • lack of amplification
  • frustration with amplification
  • lost amplification
  • cost of amplification
  • hearing friends
  • deaf friends
  • lack of genuine friends
  • educational achievement
  • lack of academic progress
  • clueless general ed teacher (some, not all)
  • teacher's low expectations (some, not all)
  • apathetic, uninspired deaf ed teachers (some, not all)
  • unmeasurable IEP goals
  • unimplemented IEPs
  • ineffective IEPs
  • unattended IEPs
  • lack of personal investment in his IEP
  • self advocacy
  • learned helplessness
  • bullies
  • being a bully
  • misunderstandings
  • being misunderstood
  • communication in classrooms and auditoriums at school
  • communication in the hallways, lunchroom, bathrooms, and locker room at school
  • access to communication on the school bus (especially during the dark fall & winter hours)
  • access to communication while in the backseat of my car
  • communication with his hearing siblings
  • siblings' resentment of the attention he gets
  • communication with his grandparents and extended family
  • lack of experience and naiveté
  • lack of role models
  • sense of entitlement
  • sense of disentitlement
  • fears
  • self-identity
  • frustration with the hearing world
  • frustration with the deaf world

Ok, I'll stop there. Even so, this is a trifling of the more comprehensive list any parent of a deaf or hard of hearing child could make. Every item singly or together propels a sense of urgency towards solution or resolution. From this constant race of realization/reaction, consideration/reconsideration, indecision/decision, failure/triumph, we move through our days. Until the days are up, and he is nineteen, and he has gone.

For me, the "fence" I didn't focus on through the fast-pace and weighty consequences of our lives was that this journey with him would end. There would be a stopping point where I could no longer see through to his side of life almost clearly. To stop down and stare at that eventuality in front of me was just incomprehensible; as much yearned for as dreaded. He would be off on his own sooner than I ever imagined, a separate human being in charge of his own destiny.

A boundary between us will now grow naturally from the many types of distances that separate parents from their autonomous, grown children. That's ok. I always thought Robert Frost made an excellent point of this in "Good Fences Make Good Neighbors."

My son has launched towards a new horizon, full speed ahead. He's so ready for it, even if I'm not. In retrospect, should we have focused on the fence or the life beyond it? Did the IEP and all my other worries matter? Well, absolutely yes, or maybe not at all. The only answer that really matters is his answer, not mine. I've come to realize that in the end, it's not just about the choices we made for our children, but how we fostered their ability to make the right choices for themselves, and then honored their choices.

Copyright 2006 Leeanne Seaver for Hands & Voices

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