I have been saying lately that I feel like an old dog learning new tricks. I’m turning 40 this year (gulp), and I am currently navigating life as a husband and a father to young kids including a two-year-old deaf child — all while living in a new country.
I met my wife Anne Berit while living in Hawaii. After getting married, we spent a few years in Atlanta and welcomed our son, Aiden, into the world. In 2017, we moved from our honeymoon home in Atlanta to Anne Berit’s hometown — Bergen, Norway. I knew before moving here that I would need to learn Norwegian. That’s not an easy task in itself. I fancy numbers and pictures; languages are not my strong point.
Almost a year later, our family expanded again when our daughter, Esther Lila Peterson, was born. Esther was named after two strong and courageous women. Esther from the Bible was a woman who dared to enter the king’s throne room uninvited to try to save the people of Israel. Lila was my grandmother – a woman who raised five children on her own after her husband died too soon. We gave our daughter these names because we felt that she would also be a strong and courageous woman. Little did we know at the time what sort of challenges she might face.
When Esther did not pass her first couple of early hearing screenings, we were told that it was common and eventually her ears should open, but they would schedule more extensive hearing tests with a diagnostic audiologist to be sure.
Maybe I was just in denial before, but I remember the first time it really hit me that Esther might indeed have difficulty hearing. Anne Berit’s parents came over for dinner one night, and during that visit I realized that Esther was not responding to sudden, loud noises. It was all I could do to hold it together until my in-laws were gone. I broke down and explained it to my wife afterward–and further tests proved it to be true.
Esther was eventually diagnosed with profound hearing loss. However, we were told that she could be a candidate for cochlear implants. In the midst of this, I was suddenly hit with an overwhelming conviction that there was a huge community that I had absolutely no connection with: the Deaf community. We decided then that whether Esther received CIs or not, we would learn and teach her sign language.
Esther did receive her implants that same year, and it was through that surgery that we began to see just how strong and courageous she is. Now, about a year and a half later, she is said to have caught up with her peers in her verbal communication. That is not bad for a girl who is learning four languages: spoken Norwegian and English, and their sign language counterparts! In fact, she has begun to switch between English and Norwegian depending on which parent she is speaking with. Beyond that, she has a beautiful personality full of spunk and humor. As we say in the South, she is a ham!
Just recently, Esther had to go to the doctor for some health tests before we could fly to Oslo for her regular appointment with the audiologist. She hardly flinched as the pediatrician gave her a mouth and deep nasal swab test (yeah, the same one they use for COVID-19!). The pediatrician said that she had never seen someone so collected at her age while handling these tests. Esther is really living up to her name; there is not much that scares her!
It is her personality, along with the journey we have gone through so far, that led me to write a children’s book titled Ada and the Helpers, which I plan to release later this year. Ada is a brave, clever, and friendly young fox who has cochlear implants (custom built for foxes, of course!) While on her way to a talent show to dance, she meets three new friends who each face a certain challenge of their own. Ada helps each one to see past their limitations and discover their natural strength. They then return the favor by helping Ada in an especially harmonious way.
Beyond being a heartwarming story, the book is designed to introduce some of the ling sounds used in the development of CI recipients’ communication. It also features the ASL alphabet throughout. Maybe more importantly, it is a lesson on building self-confidence – a lesson all children should learn from an early age.
Writing this book is uncharted territory for me. Add that to living in Norway, trying to figure out fatherhood, and learning three new languages myself, I guess I can safely say that yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks… particularly with the right treats.
If you are interested in following my family’s journey or Ada’s, visit: http://www.travisdpeterson.com