Half Full or Half Empty?

Of course there were times we wanted to have a pity-party about having a deaf child, not often, but it did happen. The sadness of something that never will be, things that we love that he will never have the opportunity to hear, like music, birds chirping. Things, I thought at the time, he would never be able to do; drive a car, go into a store alone and function alone in this big world. The dangers are everywhere for a deaf child. I didn’t really know any deaf kids or families for that matter so this whole deal is new to us. We have no knowledge or experience; what we should or shouldn’t do. But then it’s that way with every parent, but at least your family can guide you along. This is a whole new world for us and we are going to just have to “wing it”. Luckily we have a very happy child, he only knows his life as it is; not as it could have been.

When Mitch was around 6 years old our family was camping at a Washington State Park. That summer they had a few ponies for rent for the kids to ride. We rented a pony, Mitch’s brother  Tyler and sister Tandi didn’t want to ride one but Mitch sure did. He climbed up and of course they only let you ride it in a circle with the owner holding tight. Mitch loved every minute of it and then this little girl and her mom came up to ride a pony. She was blind and as they put her in the saddle her mom described the pony to her. She told her he was black and guided her hand around his mane and head as she petted him. The mom was really good with her and we stood back in awe as the complete opposite was happening right before us from what were experiencing with Mitch. On one pony there was a deaf child and the other pony was a blind child; who has more of disadvantage? Mitch couldn’t hear the clip clop of the hooves, the sounds the pony makes; snorts, whining, the owner talking to the pony. But he could see the color, he knew what black was and what the horse looked like, how tall it was, the coarseness of its hair as it flew up in the wind, the fullness of its mane, its big beautiful eyes and eyelashes. I don’t remember her name but this little girl could hear the sounds; the snorts, the whining, the clip clop, the owner as she guided the pony around the circle. But she has no idea that the color black is very dark, what the actual animal looks like, where she was riding or who is even guiding her. She must have so much trust in those around her. We told Mitch the little girl couldn’t see, and her mom told her  daughter  there was a little boy on the other pony that couldn’t hear. She could hear us talk but not see us sign to Mitch. Her mom explained how we used our hands to talk to him. Mitch was fascinated by her and the fact she couldn’t see and wondered why. And she was just as fascinated about him. He just couldn’t imagine not seeing, and she couldn’t imagine not hearing. They both asked why the other couldn’t hear or see. It was an experience I will never forget; who was better off, who has the advantage, I’m sure eat thought they were the one better off. As most of us enjoy both  sight and sound, our glass is half full, is theirs also half  full or is it half empty. If you asked each one of them today they would probably say they are the lucky one. She was so happy to hear her mom’s voice and the noises around her and Mitch was really happy he could see the things around him.

One day Mitch told his dad he wanted to play Hockey. He was around 10 years old at the time. Hockey! we said, why? Why would you want to do that?  But he was very insistent so  Mitch’s dad and uncle George took him to a Canucks game in Canada one day. He came home even more excited to play. We signed him up at the local arena, bought all his gear. Then we realized that he has never been on the ice, what if he hates it or can’t skate? Too late now we are $500 deep into this thing, he is playing even if he hates it. Well his first day on the ice he came to me and said ” mom, you can’t know the feeling, its like floating” he was hooked, he took to skating like he’d done it for years. I think he played for 6 years then it becomes a whole different game, more serious and by this time he was more interested in water sports. I always say he went from solid to liquid; ice to water. One of his high school friends had a wakeboard boat  and he would go every weekend and found a new love in this sport. He did seem to excel at this sport too. He would go on to be very skilled on the water but in Washington the summers are short and only a couple of months of warm enough weather.Then his friend and family moved back to Colorado.

When Mitch was around 20 he decided to move to Colorado to live with his friend and his family so he could get away from our small town and get back on the wakeboard. I didn’t think he would actually do it as he had never driven a car to the next town let alone across the country. And now he is talking about driving his car pulling a U-Haul trailer with all his motorcycles in it across  5 states to Colorado. He must be nuts! The night before he left he was at our house, I was in absolute disbelief and utter stock. I cried like a baby, worried myself absolutely sick, literally shook with fear and really thought I would never see him again. Had we prepared him enough for the world?  The things he might come in contact with were too much for me to bear. What if he gets lost, or an accident, how can I stop him is all I can think of. He was not afraid. He was totally prepared, with his laptop in the car with his journey all mapped out and every stop tagged. He knew what he was doing and where he was going and why. I was forced to trust him at this point and let go. My husband Andy didn’t seem to have the reservations and fears that I did. He assured me that he would be fine. Well morning came, I had cried all night, and Mitch loaded up his car and drove away with me filling a river with tears. He said to me as he stood in the driveway “do you want me to stay here forever or go live my life?”  I have to say this is the only time that I tried to use the “deaf card”. Mitch! I said, did you forget you’re deaf?  This sent him in a laughing fit and he assured me that he will be fine and that I can stay in constant contact with him along the way. Which I did.  Today as I look back on this, I can be so thankful that his glass was half full and that he was willing to step outside the safe box, go explore the world. He was full of life and wanted to experience so many things and adventures away from the safety net of home. But at that time I gained a few gray hairs and shed a bucket of tears. My husband would remind me that’s how we raised him and not to try to hold him back now. But at this moment I sure regretted the independence we instilled in him.

With Mitch’s success on YouTube and notoriety around the world really gave him even more richness in his life. For some reason it seems to be “cool” that he is deaf. Would he have had the appeal if he was hearing? He found an outlet in this digital world to really explore his talents in videography, bring it to the world and actually make money doing it. We bought him a video camera for high school graduation because he loved photography. We had no idea he had the “eye”. He told me he did when he was younger but I didn’t really believe him.  So many doors have opened for him because he has explored this avenue.

When I travelled to Brussels with Mitch in the summer of 2014, while he was there producing a commercial, just the sounds of the languages around me were fascinating. One day at lunchtime we decided to go to the “Grand Place”  at an outside cafe. I wanted to sit next to this park-like spot because this young lady was there playing a song beautifully by Andrea Bocelli on her flute. When Bocelli sings it just makes me stop everything and listen, it romantically represents Europe to me for some reason.   Mitch asked me why I wanted to sit there and I responded that the music was so beautiful that I wanted to listen to it. He looked at me and shook his head like he understood but really he has no idea how music can speak to your soul. When I returned to work after that trip I teared up as I was telling one of my co-workers how the music that day really touched me, and how much I love music, the sad fact that he just doesn’t get the same enjoyment from it and never will. But in respect to that; sign language is a feast for the eyes, it lays out the story and transcends you into the mood and right into the song. I have a hard time watching someone signing a song and not tearing up. The movements just become the words and they paint the story so beautifully. There are times when I can’t help but sign when listening to a song, to me a song is complete when the beauty of sign language is added. A beautiful replacement for sound.

Mitch is definitely living his life to the fullest. He still has a long list of countries to visit and things to experience  but he has done more to date than I ever expected from him in his whole life.  My view of success for a deaf child in adulthood was a job, an apartment, a car and hopefully someone to love. To date he can check all those boxes and more.

How do we make sure our deaf kids view the glass as half-full? I don’t have any great answers but it seems to me that experiences are what fill up that glass. We were lucky that we had a child who wanted to explore and experience life to its fullest. I think this is to be encouraged not just our deaf kids but all kids.

 

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