Heaven & Butterflies

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Mitch was  around 5 years old when we had a death in the family. We were living on the farm where death is a bit more normal in our daily lives than for city families.  Cows die; calves die more often, barn cats get sick and die all the time. And Mitch loves animals.

How do you explain Heaven to a deaf 5-year-old with no concept of death, or to any child really. Certain concepts seem more difficult to get across to deaf children; they are not exposed daily as hearing kids.  They don’t overhear other conversations while busy playing nearby as the rest of the family is talking.

Deaf children are really isolated unless  signed directly to or near others who are signing.

This little pony we had gotten from some friends was not doing well and had to be put down. There were some crying kids on the farm that day and our youngest was crying the most.

He knew something was going to happen as I tried to pull him away. But he got a glimpse of the dead pony laying in the field.

Imagine, I told Mitch, this little pony is now running through the grass in Heaven. He is chasing birds and  butterflies through the fields and they keep landing on his nose playing with him. He is so happy now.

Trying to paint a picture for Mitch so he can visualize “Heaven” as a happy place for this pony was not easy. Even though he has never seen this sign before; let alone what it could possible mean, he didn’t ask. No need keeping it from him at this point.

Just the sign for “butterfly” is beautiful enough.  Put your hands flat in front of you, palms up,  then cross you hands one over the other and interlock  your thumbs. Now move your fingers to make your “butterfly” flutter; get animated.  You just signed “Butterfly”. How beautiful is that?

Being deaf, Mitch has a great sense of imagination and visualization. We know that already about him.

Of course we have no idea how that will unfold in his future, and become his future.

Getting his mind off the ordeal by drawing Mitch into the story of the playful butterfly was helping, I think. He is still sobbing  but he is now shaking his head “yes” to let me know he understands, as big tears roll down his cheeks.

We had some big hugs and then he ran off and  found something else to do.

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Cookies, cookies, cookies

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Mitch was about 18 months when we finally had a solid diagnosis of deafness. He has no hearing in his right ear and profound deafness in his left ear. He seldom wears hearing aids, and that’s a whole other story! We chose to use sign language with him and hoped he would pick up bit of lip-reading. Only 10% of speech is visible on the lips so that’s not too promising. He is too profoundly deaf to really expect him to speak, so we think at the time. Its funny looking back knowing how far and well adapted he has become but at that moment that’s what we knew. We went and bought our first sign language book and had it open on the table and studied it daily. Start small and easy we were told, don’t expect anything from him for 6 months or so. But just keep at it and it will come. Sign language is really a fun language to learn, it takes a bit to get the hang of it but at some point it starts to make sense.

Our couch was backed up to the kitchen counter and the kids often liked to stand on the couch to see what I was cooking or baking. About 2 weeks into our  signing adventure I was baking chocolate chip cookies. Of course I had signed “cookie” to Mitch a few times before but not all that much in the last  two weeks. I tried to sign to all the kids all the time, but I talk fast and it is just plain  hard to do it all the time. It’s much easier talking to those who can hear, but I’m trying.  It’s just as or maybe more important for the whole family to learn to sign rather than only Mitch. And I don’t know how that couldn’t happen, they should all pick it up I’m hoping. Maybe a bit harder for his dad since he is not the main one signing to him all day. But anyway on this given day, 2 weeks into learning signing, the smell of chocolate chip cookies is filling the house as I pull another tray from the oven. My little blonde baby who can hardly make get on the couch, climbs up and signs to me; “cookie”- “cookie”. WHAT!!  You know how to sign this already? I couldn’t believe it. Of course he got as many cookies as he wanted and more that day. Today when I bake those cookies I often remember back like it was yesterday, I can see him looking at me with his elbows resting on the counter, leaning over the back of the couch as he does his best signing his first “words”.  He was thirsty for language and ready to “talk”.  From there it just became more and more new signs everyday. It was so cute to watch his first baby signs. Those little pudgy fingers making choppy movements. Too cute. This was a truly good day, we are making progress.