A few years ago, both Leah and Lucy began asking for cell phones. (SIGH) Lucy rattled off the names of the other first graders who already had their own cell phones. Aaron and I tried not to roll our eyes. We said we would talk about it.
(Parental Huddle) What would be the best excuse? Did we even really need an excuse? Could we call and yell at the parents who had sent their 6 year-olds to school with phones? What if we said they could have phones when they could pay for phones and the monthly payment… that might put off Lucy, but not Leah. See, Leah has been working since she was four and she is not always paid in sushi.
We had the girls do the math. “Let’s say a phone costs $70,” I said. Their eyes lit up, I could see the wheels turning… Lucy was thinking, “I could earn $70!” Leah was thinking, “I already have $70!!”
“AND” I quickly interrupted their wide-eyed musings, “it costs $20 every month. What does a phone cost for the first year?” Leah started adding quickly and her smile faded just as quickly. Lucy was adding slowly, quietly, “20 + 20 = 40, 40 + 20 = 60…”
“THREE HUNDRED and TEN DOLLARS!” Leah hollered incredulously. She weighed it out, was it worth it?
Lucy’s eyes got wide with disappointment.
“Yep” I answered, “$310 and that is just for the first year. You usually have to sign a two year contract.”
Leah was thinking again, I could see it. “Well” she said, “how old were you guys when you got your first phones?” Leah was sure she had us, with pure and simple logic. Aaron and I smiled at each other. “Daddy and I had a cell phone that we shared. I was 24 and daddy was 26.” The girls looked at us like we were lying.
From out of nowhere Aaron stated matter-of-factly, “you can have cell phones when you are in the 7th grade.” I agreed. It sounded good. Besides, that was YEARS away. It seemed pretty logical, I mean I was in Jr. High once… for three long, tedious, painful years and let me tell you, I stood in line for hours and hours waiting for the pay phone when my mom forgot to pick me up day… after day… after day. (Nothing against my mom. There were 9 kids to keep track of, I mean really! Can you blame her? I don’t.)
And so it was said and so it was written: The Coleman girls will get cell phones in the 7th grade…
Ummm… that was the plan. Then, a few weeks ago I kept finding myself saying, “MAN! I wish I could get ahold of Leah before she gets home from school!” or “I forgot to leave Leah a note again!” I received a couple of adorable, slightly concerned voice messages from Leah as she arrived home, finding the house empty.
“Hi mom. This is Leah. You are not home and I don’t know what is happening! (CLICK)”
With Leah, there is no, “Call me back.” Remember, Leah is deaf. I can’t leave her a voice message and KNOW that she will be able to decipher it. Sometimes we talk on the phone. It’s limited. I enunciate and speak loudly… all of the things you are not supposed to do in-person with someone who is deaf. I repeat the important things in hopes she catches them. Have you ever played The Telephone Game? Yeah, it’s like that, but there are only the two of us playing and we’re using real telephones.
I wonder if she understands less than she lets on.
Leah doesn’t enjoy talking on the phone. If a friend calls, she doesn’t take the call. I relay the info to her through sign. It makes me think of something she told me once. I had asked her if she preferred English or ASL. She said, “I am really good at both, but with ASL there is never any question what someone is saying to me.”
When we decreed: “7th grade!” Leah never asked again. As I have said before, she is very literal. Lucy, on the other hand has continued to let us know which other 3rd graders now have phones and how she should join the ranks of phone-toting 8 year-olds. Lucy is insistent, and not just about this, she is insistent about a lot of things. (I really don’t know where she gets it!)
The week before Leah’s 12th birthday, (even though she is only in 6th grade) the rule was broken. (GASP!!!)
Aaron and I went to the AT&T store. We found a great phone with a full QWERTY keyboard, which is also rated for assistive listening devices. We bought it for Leah. Aaron added Leah’s favorite songs to the Mp3 player. He added her family and friend’s phone numbers to the contacts.
The day of Leah’s birthday we told family members to call her new phone and leave “Happy birthday!” messages, or send texts to the phone. That way when she opened it, it would be full of greetings and love.
Aaron and I knew that this gift was not on Leah’s radar. We turned off the ringer and wrapped it in a jewelry box, deep in tissue paper.
We had both of her grandmas over for dinner, as well as my sister Rebecca and her family. After dinner Leah opened her presents. She later told me, that when she unwrapped the black jewelry box, she had the thought, “I like jewelry!”
And then… she unfolded the tissue to see a phone, with a picture of her mom and dad signing “I LOVE YOU” on the screen.
Leah stared into the box and started yelling, “NO! NO! NO YOU… DIDN’T!!!! YOU GOT ME A PHONE? THIS IS… MY PHONE? YOU GOT ME A PHONE! A PHONE!” – and then she BURST into tears. Through her sobbing she continued, “I have a phone! You got me a phone! You really got me a phone?”
Everyone at the table had tears in their eyes. Leah’s surprise and gratitude touched us all.
A few days after her birthday Aaron and I noticed this card lying on the kitchen table.
Sure, many kids are thrilled when they get their first phone, but in my daughter I saw something different. Leah’s world is a world of communication where she is often left uncertain, misunderstood or misunderstanding. Once again, through her hands, Leah is now connected and sure.
(To date, Leah has only answered 1 phone call on her cell phone, though she has sent hundreds and hundreds of texts.)