Happy Halloween from Rachel and Leah Coleman!
Learn to sign: Mind Control, Bloody Nose, Eleven, Frog Face, Toothless, Barb, Bad Men, Arcade Game, and many more! #strangersigns
Today, a family who has a deaf child contacted me through Facebook to ask my opinion on cochlear implants and American Sign Language. This is a weekly, if not daily, occurrence and I LOVE it when parents reach out to me.
I first refer them to my blog post “Cochlear Implants: My Two Cents”
and THEN, I point them to this video, where I share how SO MUCH can change because of “One Deaf Child.” But, before you click… I invite you to read on.
TODAY, December 8, 2015 is Leah Jane Coleman’s 19th Birthday.
Leah lives in Rochester, NY where she is attending her first year of college. She received two scholarships and was awarded her high school’s Sterling Scholar Award in Theater.
Yes, I am proud to be her mother, but not just for the reasons you might assume. While you’ve likely watched Leah grow up in your very own living room, and she’s very likely shared American Sign Language with you and yours… my proudest moment happened as she and I drove to her college campus for the very first time.
We arrived in Rochester after a red-eye flight from Salt Lake City, Utah where we had just wrapped the filming Signing Time Sentences hours earlier.
We are tired. We rent a car and start toward a day of sorting out dorms, roommates, classes and the like.
We turn right and for the first time we face campus, (ahem) now “home.” Leah looking at the red, brick buildings ahead of us says,
“Mom. You know how some people believe in fate? …I make my own fate.”
I love you Leah Coleman. I cannot wait to see what you choose to do with this incredible, beautiful, brilliant life that you live. You SHINE.
You have already made a profound difference in the lives of countless families. You’ve helped countless “Alex’s” communicate with their “Leah’s.” You’ve helped eliminate so much fear that the “Rachel’s” and “Aaron’s” have had as they enter this new world of deafness.
or you can keep doing that. It’s entirely up to you.
You make your own fate.
Love, Mom aka The Signing Time Lady
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
I got up this morning and had yet to recover from my bout with the third-world’s worst stomach ache. There was no way I was putting down our daily omelet and the 2 large pieces of bread that always accompany it. We set out for the school and for the Wednesday morning devotional.
I knew what I wanted to say, but I ran a few things past Curry to be safe. It’s his long-term relationship on the line if I commit some ridiculous faux pas! I really was wishing that I could just communicate directly with the teachers and staff, without the 250 students present, because this wasn’t going to be a Signing Time concert. Turns out, I got my wish. The students were released and the staff was mine. I sent our Team to attend to the students, since all of the teachers were with me.
Curry introduced me and I went for it. I told them my name and introduced Aaron and Leah and reminded those, who had been on staff long enough to remember, that we had come in 2008 with Alex. I thanked them for having Signs of Hope’s programs in their school and I thanked them for allowing us to be there. I signed and spoke, since most of the teachers are hearing, but a few of them are deaf. I shared with them that Leah is deaf and that I have been teaching sign language in America for the past ten years. “Not in a school and not in a class, I teach on a television show. Can you imagine turning on your television and seeing a show that teaches sign language?” Most of them could NOT imagine that. I let them know that I understand and appreciate their struggle and I appreciate their work. I told them that Leah was only one year old when we realized that she was deaf, and I told them how she quickly picked up more 60 signs before the age of two. “I know that many of your students don’t begin communicating in signs until they arrive here at school and they are age 6 or 7. Can you imagine if your students were communicating before they arrived in your class? (They couldn’t imagine that either.) I explained to them the method we use in Signing Time; seeing the written word for literacy skills, seeing the object that we are spelling, and showing the sign for that object. I suggested that they teach all three aspects any time they are discussing a subject, rather than showing them a sign and then letting someone, later, teach the students the written word for it.
I showed them the 13 DVDs I brought, to add to their library. I flipped through the six Signing Time board books and passed them around so that they could see that even in the books we show the written word, the object and we teach the sign. We combine three things at once so that it sticks. I held up one board book and showed the first page, which happened to say “water” and it showed a spigot!! I’ve never been so happy to see a spigot in my whole life!! Together we fingerspelled W-A-T-E-R, pointed out the picture and then made the sign. They were up out of their chairs pouring over the books saying, “We need these!” I reiterated that teaching the three aspects at one time help make the concepts memorable.
Yesterday, one teacher was doing a lesson and she had said it was too difficult to teach the students every word, so she was just teaching them the signs. I was so happy that today, in only a few short minutes, I was able to explain quickly that you can teach deep and it saves time. While on topic, teach it all, rather than teaching the sign one day and bringing in the object on another day, and then trying to connect it to a written word at some point in the future.
I showed them the Baby Signing Time posters and the “ABC & 123” wall posters. (I brought three sets of each.) I said, “If you would like to use these things, I am happy to leave them for you, but if you don’t…” I couldn’t get another word out. They wanted all that I had brought and more!
As I wrapped up, I told them that I want them to know that our intention is not to come to class to judge or criticize them. “We are here to help in any way, whether it’s washing cups, sweeping floors, or supporting your teaching efforts.” Then, I thanked them, but not a simple “thank you.” I said, “I am a mother of a deaf child… and I don’t know how often the parents of your students thank you for your work,” a few of the teachers looked around like, “Right! As if that has ever, or will ever happen!” I continued, “on behalf of your students and the parents of your students, I thank you.” Ok, I had tears in my eyes, so did Curry, and most of the staff did as well. In less than ten minutes hearts were softened, connections happened, fears were laid to rest, and this group who may often feel underprepared, and likely, under appreciated, got the thing we most crave– acknowledgement for hard work. It was over. I was met with hugs and thanks and more “God bless you’s” than I know what to do with.
We headed to class and began opening the posters and going through the signs with the Primary 1, 2 and 3 teachers. Suddenly this trip wasn’t long enough. I was asked to do a teacher training with the staff on Tuesday, but we leave Monday. Another teacher asked if I would come speak to the parents at the PTA meeting in May. Of course, I started to wonder if maybe I could. (Dear Rachel, please remember to save your health and sanity first and foremost, yes, even BEFORE saving the deaf children of the world!) But let me tell you, we moved mountains today, mountains!
We opened up the posters with four eager teachers and I realized that I only had three sets. It was decided by an administrator that the sets would go to the three youngest classrooms and that teacher number four, would have to borrow from the other classrooms if she wanted to use them. This teacher was clearly deflated, quietly stating “my class needs this.” Her class is the class that Pablo and Carissa asked me to help with on the first day. It’s the class where Ellie and Ronai have been working one-on-one with the students. Leah has been in there 90% of the time as well. Remember the older kids that are year one? Turns out that is the Special Education class and this is the class that would have to borrow the new materials.
We were told that one of the boys had been thrown against a wall when his parents found out that he was deaf. They said, “His parents did not handle it well.” We were told that his grandparents are paying for him to attend school. He now has cognitive delays and walks with a limp. Excuse me while I weep. Sure, I mourned Leah’s deafness when it was discovered. I cried myself sick. I believed that her dreams (aka MY dreams for her future) had been ripped out from under us. I am by NO means a perfect parent, just ask my kids, but I don’t believe that I ever equated the fact that my child was missing one of her five senses with “futureless” or “worthless” or anything more than what that really is— deaf. A child who cannot hear is simply a child who cannot hear. The only drama and meaning around it is the drama and meaning that WE ADD to it. The drama and upset are not inherently there. How do I know this? Well, there are some people who rejoice upon discovering that their child is deaf. Leah has said that she hopes to have a deaf child herself. Deaf children are adopted from all over the globe and it’s my opinion that adopted children are the only ones who can know, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are wanted.
Deaf equals nothing other than deaf. So much more is added so often. And so, a child who is now cognitively impaired is relegated to a Special Ed. class in a third world country where Special Ed. is deemed the lowest priority when new and helpful communication tools are available. Whose heart it is big enough to hold all of that? That pain. That loss. What this boy’s family had before is what I have right now; Leah is a brilliant and beautiful gift, not only to me and to Aaron, but also to the world.
Today I can’t, I just can’t keep writing. I want to pretend that these things don’t happen.
Being Thankful for Leah
Thanksgiving is over…
and Leah’s birthday is today. She’s 12! (I KNOW, just go back and watch My First Signs and she will continue to live on as a 4 year-old and we can all just pretend that 12 isn’t happening!!)
The night before Thanksgiving, I was thinking about the things I am thankful for and then I thought that I could probably surprise myself by actually diving into my journals and reading how it really was. I have 10 journals, so I opened one up to see what year and what thoughts it held… The first one I opened was from 6 years ago. The entry written about the Christmas after we shot Signing Time 2 and 3.
December 29, 2002 – Salt Lake City, UT
Christmas was hard. We had nothing and could give little, even to our own kids. Aaron and I didn’t give each other gifts. Two days before Christmas my dad gave us $200. The next day my sister Julie gave us $200. We were then able to get Leah a bike and a Gameboy. She also got all of her Signing Time wardrobe clothes and the “Leah Doll” – it was pretty humbling.
After I read that I called Aaron in. I read it to him and we both sat there stunned. We had to think, really hard to even remember that Christmas. The following morning, Thanksgiving Day, I pulled my dad and my sister Julie aside and thanked them for giving us Christmas 6 years ago. Neither one of them vividly remembered helping us out. Just as I didn’t vividly remember the Christmas we really needed help. If it hadn’t been in my journal, would their generosity and our need have been entirely forgotten?
Then I couldn’t stop. Each night I have poured over my journals. It’s been painful. It’s been funny. It’s been an interesting journey, to say the least. My journals are stuffed with concert tickets, notes, postcards, scribbles from Leah, photos, and songs I have written.
I dug deeper in time, reading the details of Leah’s birth and then found this:
December 10, 1996 – Salt Lake City, UT
… Aaron said, “It’s a GIRL!!!”
I started crying, “My baby, my baby girl!”
Aaron kissed me and said, “It’s Leah.”
Leah Jane Coleman. Leah who was called Anna before her birth. Leah who’d kick my ribs, (and sometimes my heart, it seemed) Leah who pushed against my guitar during all of those shows. Leah who gave me the feeling while singing “In Silence.”
Little Leah Jane whose daddy would run his fingers over my belly and say “Here’s your spider, here comes your spider!” Leah whose heels and knees I could slide around, whose little leg would press out hard as I massaged it. Leah with hiccups- Leah at 1:00AM and 10:30AM playtime.
Leah, who I threw up every day for. Leah who I prayed about and worried about. Leah, who made me what I’ve wanted to be most for years – a mom. My little girl’s mommy.
Leah with me while I hiked in Boulder, Utah. Leah in Bryce Canyon. Leah hiking the Zion’s Narrows. She’s my little girl. My sweet little girl now and for always. I love my daughter more than she may ever know.
It’s 3:20AM and I’m crying my eyes out. You’re here asleep next to me and your dad’s on the other side of you and that’s where we will always be, right beside you.
I love you so much. I love you more than you may ever know, maybe when you have a girl of your own. Goodnight my sweet girl, pleasant dreams. I’m so glad you are here with us. I love you, I love you – I LOVE YOU!”
I went forward in my journal, looking a year after Leah’s birth to find little bits and pieces. Confused entries about Leah’s hearing. Just a line here and there. Things like:
“We don’t know if she can hear us.”
“She has fluid in her ears, but her pediatrician thinks it’s more than that…”
“We can’t get in for the ABR test for 6 more weeks!”
“Still no answer on Janey’s ears.”
March 31, 1998 Tuesday
Salt Lake City, UT
I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so alone in my whole life. I feel like there is no one I can talk to because no one would understand why I’m crying. Actually I think they would misunderstand. I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me or for Janey. I don’t want to call our families and tell them what “PK” the audiologist told us today. Half of my tears are simply tears of relief. The wondering and questions are done. A tearful release of 2 1/2 months- fears, hopes, anticipation and prayers.
I know it’s not helpful but I can only blame myself, and it’s eating me up inside. I think that in his heart Aaron blames me too. In only these past few months people have asked if Jane’s hearing loss is because of my band. And playing and practicing while I was pregnant. People ask. Or they say “boy that must be devastating with you being a musician and music meaning so much.” Do they really think I give a S#*! about my music in comparison to my DAUGHTER?
I’d never sing or play another note if it mattered. Music is nothing to me. Leah Jane is my world. She is wonderful. She is beautiful. I feel like the biggest obstacle in her way is me. I don’t know sign language. I came so close to learning it, so many times. But I didn’t. I feel bewildered. But I feel thankful that we caught it as early as we did….
….We may never know what caused it, or if she as born with it. “Deaf” is such an uncomfortable word for me to use. In a way I am glad that I didn’t know when she was born. Maybe I would’ve treated her differently. Maybe I’d be totally over protective. Everyone would’ve treated her a little different. But now I have had 16 months of Janey. And treating her like a regular kid (except that she is more awesome than most kids)…
…I know of 3 people who are deaf. I’ve had conversations with only one of them ever. I hardly know what the term means. I remember the deaf kids in Jr. High and High school. I sure could not tell you any of their names. They all stayed together with their interpreter and I never gave them a second thought.
Severe – Moderate – Mild mean so little all your life. But today, I was told my daughter has a severe hearing loss. And I still barely grasp the concept. But the word SEVERE is clanging around in my brain. SEVERE? What does that mean? And what does deaf mean? Is there a scale to measure it on? If hearing aids help you are you still deaf?
She can sign a few words now. MOMMY, SLEEP, EAT, SHOES, THANK YOU, BIRD. When I teach a sign she always “rolls it and rolls it and sticks it with a B”
She has the most beautiful lips and puckers for kisses. She also puckers when I tell her “NO” because it looks like kisses. How can I keep a straight face when she does that?
When she gets frustrated she hits her head with her hands, or on the floor.
When she’s nursing, she looks up at me then squeezes both eyes shut tight and then pops them open. She nurses, and the corners of her mouth turn up in a smile. Maybe she’s never heard me say the WORDS I love you. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter at all. She probably knows it more than most kids who hear it every day.
A few weeks ago Leah and I were talking. She asked me how I felt when I found out she was deaf. I told her, “I was distraught. I cried. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I was scared.”
Leah smiled at me and said, “That’s so funny mom. You thought it was terrible and now you know it’s not.”