I always wondered why I was chosen to have deaf parents. But at the same time I never thought too much of it. I never pondered about my life as I felt I didn’t need to, because I was grateful for what I was given.
Growing up, I never strayed from the thought that I’m just an average person who just happens to be hearing with two deaf parents. Eventually, I learned that I was different from most kids.
I never took into consideration how my experience shaped me into the person I am today. For example, I learned to speak American Sign Language (ASL) before learning to verbally speak. People tell me that I look like I’m signing when I speak to them. I always believed that I just liked to talk with my hands.
I had a responsibility to interpret for my parents and to do my best to express their words with my voice. My brother and I share the responsibility of being their ears to protect them from danger.
Of course, they’re able to survive without me. They managed just fine before my brother and I came into their lives. However, I still felt the need to protect and defend them because I felt like the world wouldn’t understand them.
My need to protect them has always made me fear the worst of scenarios. What if someone is taking their innocent silence for hostility? People can be oblivious and cruel, and my fight or flight always ends up in fight for my parents. As I grew older, I learned that I’m not able to do everything for them, and they don’t expect me to.
I was a child with undiagnosed anxiety and dealt with the inability to coherently express my feelings to my parents. This was incredibly frustrating and upsetting.
I felt like I had to compensate for the things that my parents didn’t understand. For example, if their voice is a little loud in public when everyone else is quiet, I tell them to lower it and they can take it as me being controlling.
One of the most common themes that fueled my anxiety was the stares from people in public. I’m aware that ASL isn’t something that you see everyday but there’s a point where it becomes uncomfortable. I make eye contact with people to get them to look away, but in my experience that doesn’t always work.
I haven’t put too much thought into putting myself in my parents’ shoes. People would ask me questions like, “Do your parents speak?” Sometimes I think it’s such an ignorant question. I tell them, “Of course they can, they’re not mute!” At the same time, I have to understand that they don’t have the same experience that I do.
Questions like this forced me to give growing up with deaf parents more thought, because sometimes I forget to consider what their perspective might be like. As impossible as seeing life through their eyes is, the least I can do is try.
It wasn’t until the summer before my first year of college that I became fully aware of the fact that my life isn’t normal. During my last therapy session before I started college, my therapist made me realize not only do I feel responsible for my parents, but it’s my job.
It’s crazy how such a simple observation can be so eye opening. Not everyone experiences a life like mine. Using my hands to talk, scheduling interpreters, interpreting for my parents; the list is endless.
But to me, it’s my definition of normal. Who’s to tell me what living a normal life really means?
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