Leah’s Thankful Too

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?”

An Innocent Box

An Innocent Box

"Hmm, I like Jewelry!"

Hmm, I like Jewelry!



A Brave Smile

A Brave Smile

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.

Front of Card

Front of Card

Middle of Card

Middle of Card

Back of Card

Back of Card

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.)

This entry was posted in Crazy Little Thing Called Life and tagged , , by Rachel Coleman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Rachel Coleman

The opinions and late night musings published on this blog are Rachel de Azevedo Coleman's alone, and are not ever intended to represent the opinions and sentiments of any organization or product that Rachel is, was, or will be associated with. Rachel Coleman is the creator and Emmy-nominated host of Signing Time!, the children's American Sign Language vocabulary building series. She is also the creator and host of Baby Signing Time, Rachel & the TreeSchoolers, and Rachel & Me. Rachel now serves as the Executive Director of the American Society for Deaf Children, a 501c3 nonprofit established in 1967 by parents of deaf children. ASDC is the American Sign Language organization for families who are raising deaf children. www.deafchildren.org Motivated by her child, Leah's deafness, Rachel has spent the last 18 years creating ASL products to help bridge the communication barrier between hearing and signing communities. In 2006 Rachel founded the Signing Time Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to putting communication in the hands of all children of all abilities. In 2014, the Signing Time Foundation launched a 50-Lesson online ASL curriculum called "Sign It: ASL Made Easy" that is available free-of-charge to families with deaf or hard of hearing children ages 36 months and under. Apply at www.mydeafchild.org. For those who do not qualify to receive Sign It ASL for free, they can find it for purchase at very reasonable rates on www.SignItASL.com. Rachel and her husband, Aaron, live in Salt Lake City Utah. They are parents to Leah who was born profoundly deaf, and is now a senior in college at NTID/RIT in Rochester, NY. They are also parents to Lucy who has spina bifida and cerebral palsy, and recently graduated high school. In 2010 the Colemans were joyfully reunited with Rachel's daughter Laura. Rachel is proud to be Laura's birth mom. Laura was placed for adoption as an infant in 1992 when Rachel was 17 years-old.

34 thoughts on “Leah’s Thankful Too

  1. Sarah still doesn’t know Leah got that for her birthday. Remember when she was telling me about your trip to the phone store and said how much she wanted one when Leah got one? Later she got me to promise that when Leah got one we’d let her have one so they could text. Got it ordered today. Mom’s got to keep her word, or what else is it worth? We figured it would be the perfect Christmas present for the child who really doesn’t have much of a wish list this year (for herself anyway~ she wishes lots for other people). And it’s pink.
    Love love love Leah’s Thank you card!!!!

  2. Sometimes we see tears when gifts are opened here on special occasions too, but for the opposite reason. I was so moved to read and see pictures of tears of joy and appreciation – therein was the gift. I am praying for tears of joy on Christmas day here, but if they don’t come, then I’ll reread this blog and be reminded of what I missed. Just wonderful! I didn’t have my first cell phone until I was 33 and expecting my first daughter – so I’ve got you beat there!

  3. I also had philosophy that kids didn’t need cell phones… ever! 18 was plenty early enough! I didn’t have one until I was 24 or 25! They’ll be fine! But, you know what, the world is quite different now than it was even 10 years ago. For one, we don’t have a land line anymore – it didn’t make sense to pay for one when we were also paying for a cell phone (plus all the telemarketers! ridiculous!). Since my partner has a cell phone through work, we each have our own. So when the children are old enough to start getting calls from their friends, there likely won’t be a “family phone.” There will be my phone and my partner’s phone. Having your friends call your mom’s phone is probably not that cool. Beyond that, it would be nice to be able to be in touch with my daughters whenever I or they need to be. So I’m thinking that they’ll be getting cell phones well before 18. I’ll probably be impressed with myself if I can hold out until they’re 12 like you did with Leah.

    On a side note, I have a friend who is Deaf, and he says that text messaging has been a godsend – and he certainly uses his phone (for text and email) quite a bit. 🙂 If I had a Deaf child who was unable to use a regular phone if she were in trouble or needed help, a cell phone would probably be an earlier purchase than I will make with my hearing kids (although maybe not by much. 🙂 ).

    Congratulations on your gift, Leah! I’m glad you’re enjoying it so much!

  4. I got tears in my eyes reading that… You have to be the coolest mom… You’re always able to amaze everyone at birthday’s… Leah got her phone, Lucy got Troy Bolton…. hmmm…. How will you top it next year??

  5. That is so very sweet, her smile through the tears just melted my heart! My girls haven’t asked for cell phones yet (I am sure its a side benefit of homeschooling, since they are rarely away from home on their own!) but in this day and age, I am sure it won’t be long before they are clamoring for one! Your story is one of those times where you truly believe in the phrase that to give is better than to receive 🙂

  6. what a wonderful gift. Well the world is ever changing and technology is here to stay but I do agree the younger kids don’t need a cell phone. My daughter got her first one two years ago and not by me. It is a pay as you go one and she has to pay me to pay it otherwise she is out of luck at using it. She has been very responsible with it and pretty much has paid the bill ontime.

    So what was Lucy’s reaction? Are you gonna bend the rule for her in the future?

  7. Seriously, that has to be the best thank you not ever! I love the line about feeling more responsible! THAT is what got me! Perhaps this is our one little brief shining moment of wonderfulness prior to what we’ve been warned about since birth…teenagerhood! (that’s a good word, right?)
    Great post…the feel good moment we all need prior to the holiday rush! 🙂

  8. *sniffle* Oh, man! I want to say “Wow, you are the coolest parents!” But the truth is, it wasn’t about “cool” as much as being so in tune with your kids and giving them all the chances you can to connect, to be “normal” in every sense of the word. Ok, AND it was really cool, too! 😀

    I love that Leah wrote that she feels more responsible. That’s quite a gift.

  9. What a terrific story. I’m completely against cell phones for kids as well, but you just proved that being responsible, caring parents means sometimes rethinking our own rules. Thanks for sharing! Happy Birthday Leah!

  10. I always love reading about the touching things your daughters do. Its clear they have a beautiful role-model in you and that they are very grounded, which is hard to say about a lot of kids these days.

    Congratulations Leah on your first cell phone! I bet you already know how to use it better than I can use my phone (which I’ve have for over a year).

  11. I’ve just come on board to reading your blog. I think that what you have done for your children is expectionally great. Thanks for sharing. Thanks for the signing time videos also. They are helping our family.

  12. Okay, I have a question, which may sound silly, and as a mother of a deaf child I probably should already know this, but…HOW do you use a phone with an assistive listening device (I am assuming you mean hearing aids)? I would like to know because my little girl’s daddy is no longer a part of our household. When he calls to talk to her I put him on speakerphone because her aids whistle when she holds a telephone to her ears. Unfortunately, she rarely understands anything he says through speaker, no matter how high the volume. I have been wishing that we had a cell phone that would work with her aids. How well does Leah’s work? Any advice or pointers that anyone could give me would be ever so helpful.

  13. Jana: Maybe because you know what a great kid she.

    McMama: May have made a big mistake, we got her 1000 texts per month. She used 200 in the first 24 hours. But she is learning to “budget” her texts now

    Mike: Thanks for reading it!

    Kylee: She is a very genuine girl. I think because of her deafness she just tells it like it is. No pretenses. Just honesty.

    Kei: Be sure to have the video camera rolling. I am kicking myself for not having it… could have won America’s Funniest Home Videos.

    Anita Phares: This reaction was a first. She has NEVER been so surprised.

    sonja: I know! I can’t believe I drove across the country in my VW Bus, with one of my girl friends when we were 21! Just checked in at pay phones along the way.

    Megan: LOL I forgot that Lucy got to meet Troy and Gabriella on her b-day. Well, I don’t TRY to beat the past birthdays. In some areas I am just lucky!
    PS- Lucy has also met John Mayer, Arcade Fire, and DJ Lance from Yo Gabba Gabba

    Gretchen: Everyone at the table thanked us for inviting them, because they just loved witnessing that moment.

    Sally: She is STILL beaming!

    Janel: Lucy quietly stated “Not Fair” a couple of times. 🙂 Then she started doing the math and realized there was a precedent that worked in her favor. Only 4 more years for Lucy.

    Heather: Oh I hope that was not a shining moment of wonderfulness before it flickers out at age 13!
    (Did you all click on the note to enlarge it? I had a few complaints about the thumbnails… I just assumed you all know to ALWAYS click.)

    Niksmom: It was funny, because I realized more and more lately that there are times that I needed connect with her.
    I got my first text from her today when she got home from school. The other hundred + were between her and her cousins.

    MereCat: Happy happy birthday it was!

    Claire: Ooh I like that! Yes, we make the rules and we can break them, with good reason.

    Jaclyn: What a very nice compliment, thank you!
    We do have great girls and it is always an interesting mix of managing what each of them physically can and can not do. It’s better than reality TV sometimes.

    Davita: Welcome! I am glad you found us! Keep signing.

    Julie Southern: Almost every hearing aid or cochlear implant has a phone setting it may be a T or M setting. This phone is rated T3 and M3. When you switch your “ear” to that setting it blocks out all background noise and only picks up the sound from the phone. Depending on the severity of your child’s hearing loss, she may not be able to clearly understand, or even hear the voice on the phone with that setting. (That setting stops the whistling when the phone is against their ear.)

    If your daughter has a t-coil setting, there are additional accessories than can be used as well. Leah can hear better on our home phone using this T-link, she cannot hear anything on the home phone without it. Leah also plugs that into her iPod to hear music.

    Her audiologist may have some suggestions. If your child is a toddler, you may just need to wait until she can give you better feedback about what she is hearing.

    michele123: I don’t try to make you cry, my friend, I swear!

  14. Wow! I never thought of txting be a good way for a deaf person to communicated…or a person who cant talk well (my child with 22q11).
    That is a very good story! I really enjoy reading your blog. Thats for sharing so much.

  15. Oh wow this post leaves me in great big sobbing tears. I have a neighbour who is deaf and we communicate a lot through the blackberry. I swear it’s the best thing on the planet! (course in person I use what limited signs I’ve learned from watching the first 6 ST videos.. strongly recommend them for adult crash course!)

  16. Amazing, you have an amazing family!! Everytime i get your blog in my email, I can’t wait to read it, it’s always so well written, and I always say….this time I will not cry…but it never works, i’m always sobbing by the end. this one might have done me in though, that picture of leah crying left me a puddle of my former self…and then the card, i still have tears rolling down my face!! thank you for sharing such a great moment! You Rock!!

  17. Thanks AGAIN for sharing these parts of your life. The photo of Leah holding up her phone is PRICELESS. I want to reach out and hug her. When Austin, my almost 12 year old, saw Leah got a phone he said, “WHAT?, she got a phone??”…just like they were friends in real life. Now I can explain WHY she got a phone so young. Totally understandable. You and Aaron are very thoughtful parents.

    ND’s biggest ST! fans!

  18. If it helps, we don’t know a single first grader with a cell phone (and Joey is in first grade). Nor do we know a single third grader with one. So Lucy is not all alone in cell-phone-less land.

    I’m still getting used to mine. I discovered this weekend that I have unlimited weekend minutes, and that can be useful when co-ordinating Christmas wrapping and packages with two people who are two other places (and not together).

  19. Kristen: Yep texting is key! Especially now that we leave Leah home to care for Lucy sometimes.

    Julie Bo Boolie: Julie go get the rest from the library! We teach hundreds and hundreds of signs, your neighbor is right there to help you put them together!

    Emma’s Mom: I picked the nicer photo of Leah, there is one where she is just a crumpled mess – poor thing. Maybe we should have warned her???

    Steph: Yeah just use the “Deaf Card” – I mean what can your son say about that?

    Googsmom: I’ll pass it along

    Danielle: She already has… and Alex got a cell for XMAS, so now we may never see Leah again

    Joeymom: Oh good! No first or third graders somewhere

    AZ: Ah the deaf were sending texts before cell phones. The sidekick blew it open for the deaf to communicate wireless and without a relay operator

    Jenn: You are welcome.

  20. Dear Signing Time!,

    Your web site for Signing Time! is fantastic. I try to come to your web site often. Hope you’re doing well.

  21. what is leah cell number. I would like to text her. its brad from the signing time chatts. sorry I haven’t been on them for ages. I’ve been very very busy. I have a cell phone that talks to me. its pretty cool its the only cell phone they have for the blind.

  22. Mozie Esme’s Mommy: Yes, texting is great. Leah is able to be very connected. For better or worse.

    Harrison: Thanks! I’m glad you enjoy it.

    brad: Congrats on getting a cell phone too! We don’t give out Leah’s phone number, it’s private, just for family and friends. There are a lot of Signing Time fans who would love to have it I’m sure.

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