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
Confused About Kickstarter? Let Me Help!
Kickstarter is a platform where Creators can launch new projects. Anyone, anywhere can become a Backer by making a Pledge and getting cool Rewards. You only get your Rewards if the project meets its funding goal. Your credit card is never charged if the goal is not met.
It is not a donation.
It is not tax-deductible.
You are not a traditional investor.
If you like a project and want to help it become a reality, you Back it and Share it with others. If enough people (aka the crowd in crowd-funding) Back a Project it becomes a reality!! Everyone wins!
We have Rewards that range from $25-$10,000 (Seriously, want a Rachel, Alex & Leah concert? That’s $10,000) And you can even Pledge less than $25 and choose no Reward. You could also Pledge $100 and choose no Reward if you wanted:)
We met our Funding Goal on July 27th, but it’s not over!
There are Stretch Goals: each additional $50,000 Pledged above our initial goal will trigger the following exciting things:
1. We WILL make an additional episode! (Episode 1 is done. Episodes 2 & 3 are funded through Kickstarter. Episode 4 is 43% funded right now when it is 100% funded we will make it!)
2. We will open additional Rewards for YOUR CHILD to appear in OUR SHOWS! ($350-500 pledge)
3. We will open another Executive Producer Credit ($1000 pledge)
4. We will open another On-screen Dedication Credit ($1000 pledge)
5. Each Backer who has pledged to Rewards of $25 or more will receive EACH of these new episodes at no additional cost (delivered digitally).
YOU get to say how many shows WE make! <---how cool is that?Realistically this means we could raise $500,000 and for a $35* Pledge (or above) you could receive ALL 12 episodes of Rachel & The Treeschoolers!! Pledge and Share! Pledge and Share!
Here, I’ll walk you through how it all works on this video with my brother, Aaron.
*25 Early Bird pledges are all gone.
Covered In Love: Our Experience With Canine Companions for Independence
The application has been filled out and it sits on my desk for close to a year. It is repeatedly buried by bills and then excavated as I pay the bills and file them away. It surfaces. I ignore it. Sometimes it feels like we might be biting off more than we can chew. Just, ask anyone and they’ll agree that Aaron and I already have our hands full.
Lucy has been struggling; it’s been two years of really unpleasant behavior. There is crying in school, outbursts at home, scratching, biting, swearing and resisting transitions. We’ve come to suspect that Lucy’s cerebral palsy may be the real culprit. As we meet parents of kids that have CP they share many similar stories, debilitating anxiety, uncontrollable outbursts.
So, the application sits on my desk another day, another week, and another month.
I do a presentation in Sacramento, California. Nancy coordinates the event and takes us to lunch afterwards. Nancy’s service dog, Whisper, is by her side during the event and at lunch.
Over lunch I tell Nancy about Lucy’s fear of dogs, how every time a friend calls to invite Lucy over for the first time she asks two things,
“Mom, do they have stairs?”
“Mom, do they have a dog?”
Being in a wheelchair, if a dog jumps up on her, licks her, sniffs her, or puts their open mouth near her… she is helpless. She can’t just turn around and walk away. She can’t push a dog off. When dogs bark she flinches, she jumps.
I’m not a dog person, never have been. I secretly believe most dogs want to bite me.
But… Whisper… Whisper is just that, quiet and almost invisible! Whisper doesn’t sniff, bark, or jump. At the restaurant Whisper doesn’t give Nancy the “you’re eating and I’m not” stare. Whisper is quiet under the table and doesn’t even seem interested in dropped food. Whisper doesn’t take a potty break unless given a command. Whisper knows more than 40 commands.
Now, I’m fascinated. This seems like the perfect dog! Nancy agrees that Whisper is the perfect dog for her. They had been pre-matched through Canine Companions for Independence. I catch a glimpse, a little slice, of what having a service dog in our family might actually be like. I’m intrigued by Whisper… I actually like Whisper!
After lunch, we walk back to our car. Before leaving, I hug Nancy and say, “Thank you so much! I’m mailing in our application as soon as I get home.” Nancy encourages us to do it and she promises that we won’t regret it. I do my best to believe her.
A Team of Three
Within a few weeks of popping that application in the mail, we get a phone call from Canine Companions for Independence in Oceanside, California. They’ve reviewed our application. We’ve passed the first step of the process and they are calling to set up a phone interview!
On our phone interview we’re nervous and not quite sure how a service dog can help Lucy. We find out that since Lucy is not 18, she won’t hold the leash. This means that a service dog doesn’t free up our hands, it ties up one hand! I try to fathom pushing Lucy’s wheelchair, managing a dog AND signing to Leah. Hmmm. We find out that the dog can’t go to school with Lucy and some of her hardest times are at school. Hmmm.
The Skilled Companion team is made up of three- the dog, the recipient (Lucy) and the facilitator (myself or Aaron) and that team can be certified to go in public, on airplanes, in restaurants… anywhere really, as long as it is a team of three.
I’m still not sure what a service dog will DO for Lucy. If we are right there… and we always are, we can pick up dropped items, and we can open doors. Are we really going to ask a dog to do that? Seems superfluous. In the interview we mention Lucy’s difficulty with transitions and how even though we fought for her to attend public school, with socialization in mind, her behavior was isolating her socially.
Our interview ends. Aaron and I look at each other confused. Was that good? Was that bad?
A few weeks go by and we receive another call from Oceanside, California. Every time they call, I get emotional, confronted, excited, nervous, hopeful, my eyes fill with tears. I see the number on my phone and scream, “AAAAAHHHH!!! YOU GUYS, IT’S CCI!!!!” Everyone gathers around to see what it is they have to say. This time they say that we are invited to come for a face-to-face interview in December! We will work with dogs, learn about the next steps in the process, and share what we hope our family can gain from this new Companion.
I book the flights, car and hotel room. Our interview falls on the weekend of Leah’s 15th birthday. We make a vacation of it- and decide to squeeze in a trip to Sea World, perfect!
It’s December, we pull up to the CCI campus and my eyes fill with tears. Geez! Why am I so emotional? We unload and check in, meet the group of other hopefuls and get a tour of the campus.
We spend part of the day in lectures. We learn the command sequence that facilitators use with the dogs and we practice the sequence and corrections on “carpet dog” not a real dog.
Then, they bring in real dogs. Aaron volunteers to go first. He loves Labradors.
Since he goes first, I have to go second. I’m nervous, and I give the dog a correction before the dog has a chance to execute my command. I take a breath and remind myself to have realistic expectations. I get another chance and do better. I just don’t want to blow this for Lucy, if it really is an option to get a dog placed with us, with her. I praise the dog and it’s real praise, I’m SO happy that the dog actually sits when I ask it to sit.
The day ends with our face-to-face interview. In some ways it feels like we are designing our dream dog… “We would like a dog that isn’t aloof, one that will approach Lucy, since she can’t really get to the dog herself.”
It seems a tall request but I have to make it, “No barking?” We are told that is an easy request, none of the dogs bark, not even when the doorbell rings. They only bark on command. I’m baffled.
We request no excessive licking, sniffing or jumping up. This turns out to be an easy request; none of the dogs do that.
“No jumping on furniture” Done! The dogs will not get up on anything without a command telling them to do it.
I imagine the future episodes of doggy-doo tracked in the house. No, the dog won’t go to the bathroom unless you give the command, they are always on leash, so you just pick it up immediately. Really? No “landmines” tracked in from the yard?
We are now clear what the dog won’t do. But what will this dream dog do for our family? Maybe, it will be that missing piece that eases transitions? Perhaps it will become a built-in best friend? Will Lucy’s focus be on the dog rather than on her fears when we are out and about? Will people talk to Lucy about her dog, “Is that your dog?” rather than talk to me about Lucy, “Why is she in a wheelchair?” Any one of those might make a difference.
Aaron asks the final question, “Why would you place one of these amazing, highly trained animals with us? We can do all of the tasks for Lucy, I mean, we already do. We would just hate to take one of these dogs when that might mean that an adult or someone else who could really use it misses out or has to wait longer.” (We’ve already been told that the wait could be a year or longer.) The Instructor interviewing us smiles and says, “Lucy is absolutely a qualified recipient. The Skilled Companions meet a different need than a Service Dog. You aren’t taking anything away from anyone else.”
And that is it. We pack up. Say our goodbyes and watch Shamu splash around.
If we pass this step we will eventually be invited to Team Training; a two-week course where we live on campus and are trained to work with the dogs. We are told that we will not be called unless there are two potential dogs pre-matched with us, that’s why the wait can be a year or more.
“AAAAHHHHH!!!!! YOU GUYS, IT’S CCI!!!!!!” I’m in the car with Lucy and Leah, headed to Lucy’s swim lessons. I turn off the radio and everyone gets quiet. “Hello?”
“Hi, this is Becky at Canine Companions, we are calling to invite your family to Team Training for two-weeks in August.”
“Really? Really? Ok…. let me check our calendar and I will get back to you.”
Sometimes I fear what my calendar has to say. The calendar shows the first week of the two is scheduled for Camp Attitude– a week long camp created for children with disabilities, in Foster, Oregon… and the second week ends with my Signing Time concert in Boston.
Ok. Family Conference!
We sit down and discuss both options and decide we should take a vote.
“All in favor of going to Camp Attitude in Oregon?
“All in favor of CCI in California?”
The votes will remain anonymous;)
I call Camp Attitude and cancel our spot. I call CCI and let them know we are coming. Lucy starts crying, “I don’t want to go! I don’t even want a dog!”
“Lucy,” I say, “it’s okay, it’s okay. I know you’re nervous. I am too. Listen, we can go and if it’s not right for us, we can choose not to have a dog. That’s part of the design. We go. We learn. We make a choice. But, remember, we’ve never had a dog pre-matched to our family. We’ve never had a dog that is trained like this. If we don’t go, we won’t ever know. If we go, we can be free to make a choice based in reality, rather than a choice based in a reaction, or an assumption and fear.”
We pack and drive to Oceanside, CA the first week of August.
As we pull into the parking lot of the CCI Campus, I’m overcome with emotion again! Seriously?
“This is real, you guys. This is real! We are here. We are in Team Training!!!”
We park, and Lucy informs us that she is NOT coming in. “Ok,” Aaron says, “whenever you are ready.” We’re pretty sure that at some point in the next two weeks she will choose to get out of the car. We unpack and go to our dorm room. It’s bigger than we imagined. We have a private bathroom, a bed, a hospital bed and a blow-up mattress and there’s still plenty of room for Lucy to maneuver her wheelchair. Sure enough, in a matter of minutes Lucy rolls in and our girls take off to explore.
They discover two refrigerators in the kitchen; one filled with cans of soda. They are thrilled. Aaron and I get the full report from Lucy, “Mom, there’s Fanta and root beer and Dr. Pepper and even Cherry Coke, your favorite!”
Leah discovers a library of movies on VHS. The girls are excited to watch them all. There’s Apollo 13, Big, Forrest Gump, Castaway, and more. They start an unofficial Tom Hanks movie marathon.
Lucy and Leah come back and excitedly tell us that in the training room there are 12 dog crates with pink or blue nametags. We sneak in and read the names: Topper, Huntley, Waddie, Malvern, Wilona, Talia, Kong, Janessa, Leann, Donahue, Leon… hmmm, we discuss which names we would prefer NOT to have to call out for the next 8-plus years of our lives. (Malvern and Wilona top the list) We’ll start our training in the morning. It’s 9am-4pm daily. We’ll have Sunday off.
The following day we have lectures. We practice the command sequences. We practice with carpet dog. We learn so much about dog behavior and human behavior.
Breakfast and lunch are provided almost every day. Volunteers come in and feed the eight hopeful recipients and their families, and the whole staff.
After lunch the real dogs are brought in. CUTE! CUTE! CUTE!
Really? We are pre-matched with one of these awesome dogs? We look them up and down.
We “ooooh and ahhhhh.” Aaron and I strategize coat colors and try to figure out what color we most prefer in shedding. (We did ask if we could get a dog that doesn’t shed… they all shed.)
We are told to try not to get attached and to try not to get our hearts set on a certain dog. The instructors bring the dogs around and we meet them. We are excited and nervous. Now, we work with the dogs. Leah keeps a secret tally, tracking the dogs that Aaron and I work with. We try to sort out which ones we might be pre-matched with.
The next day we work with more dogs, Leah keeps track. There’s one dog that I fall in love with, but I do my best not to get attached. She’s cute. She’s so white! According to Leah’s tallies we’ve worked with her most. It’s Wilona. Yes, one of the names we had originally said, would not work for us, and now it didn’t matter. She was Wilona, Willow, Willy, Wilsy and Wil. We pretend not to be super excited every time we work with her. Leah and Lucy do their best to suppress grins and giggles of joy. We try not to look disappointed when we work with another dog.
The third day of Team Training is when we are officially pre-matched with a dog. Everyone arrives to class on time. We anxiously await the announcements. They start with Lucy. “Lucy Coleman, you are pre-matched with…. WILONA!” They bring Wilona over to us and hand us the leash. I’m crying and smiling. Aaron has tears in his eyes and he roughs up Wilona’s fur. Lucy grins and buries her face in Willow’s neck. Willow licks Lucy twice and sits down by our feet. Leah has happy tears streaming down her face and signs, “I can NOT believe this is happening!” True. It is unreal.
We learn so much. Day after day we work with Wilona. She stays in our room. The first few days I watch her with an eagle eye.
Is she going to get into the garbage? Nope.
Is she going to have an accident on the floor? Nope.
I take her out to toilet hourly, just in case. Wilona sniffs the grass, and then looks at me like, “really? I just went.”
Is she going to jump up on the beds? Nope. Not unless we say, “JUMP”.
There is no barking, even when we say “SPEAK” she looks at us warily, as if to ask “are you sure?”
Day after day, night after night, she’s a perfect angel. At some point we realize that Lucy has only had one outburst in almost two weeks. We are living in a new place. We are surrounded by new people and eight dogs… and Lucy is doing great!
We tell Willow to JUMP up on Lucy’s bed. Lucy falls asleep with one hand on her dog. Lucy falls fast asleep and doesn’t ask us to “snuggle”. Our daughter hasn’t fallen asleep without her nightly snuggle for 12 years. To our amazement, Lucy sleeps through the night. Our daughter has not regularly slept through the night in her whole life!
We are in class until 4pm daily, and then we head to the beach. Aaron takes photos of sunsets… Leah, Lucy and I photo-bomb his really beautiful pictures.
Time flies and we are coming up on our final tests and graduation day. Every day we have quizzes on what we’ve learned. We practice with the dogs in restaurants, at the harbor, the mall and K-mart.
Aaron walks in our room one evening to find me snuggled up on Lucy’s bed with Willow. “Now, that is something I never thought I’d see in my entire life!” he says.
We play with Wil. We wrestle her. We play fetch. We brush her fur and brush her teeth. We clean her ears. I use a Dremel to file her nails. She never bites. I relax. “Mom” Leah says cautiously one afternoon, “you are covered in dog hair!!”
“No, Leah, I am covered in LOVE!” …And I am, I’m covered in love.
On graduation day we meet the amazing family that voluntarily raised Wilona for her first year-and-a-half. They gave her the groundwork, training and love to actually fulfill the job she was born to do. Only 20-30% of the dogs born and trained for this actually get placed as Service Dogs. We have brunch with her Puppy Raisers and they give us a book with photos of Willow’s first year and a half. When we come up on stage for graduation, they tearfully pass Wilona’s leash to Lucy. We tearfully accept. Wilona is officially Lucy Coleman’s Skilled Companion.
It’s amazing how much love, time, and dedication go into each one of the Canine Companion dogs. It’s amazing how much time, devotion and training goes into each family and recipient. Canine Companions is a not-for-profit organization, privately funded by donations. We paid for the gasoline to drive from Utah to California. We bought a few dinners. We bought a crate. Everything else, was given to us, everything else; leashes, collars, food bowls, a huge bag of dog food, toys, brushes, shampoo, toothbrush, poultry flavored toothpaste, a place to stay, meals and training… given to us. It almost seems too much.
Wilona has now been with us for eight months. The difference in our entire family is ridiculous. I never could have imagined that a dog would give us so much. I think back to those early interviews, our concerns and the question of what a dog could provide for Lucy, for us. Now I know why no one could answer that… it’s because there are no words to describe it.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so hopefully here’s a glimpse that communicates at least a tiny bit of the joy, peace, and love that our family found, in what seemed the most unlikely of places, our Canine Companion, Wilona Coleman.
Sunday January 22, 2012
It has been hot, but today seemed hotter. Maybe that’s because we have no running water. The power has been on and off, mostly off.
Today Marco and Hannah came over for a little visit. It was great spending time with them.
Ronai and Jen followed some locals who were going to church. Their plan was to peek in on the services. Turns out they ended up being the main event. They were brought up to the front of the congregation, songs were sung to them and blessings and prayers were said for them. Oh, and they danced while the members of the church caught their dancing on video with cell phones.
When they came back to tell us about their adventure, both Curry and Marco had basically summed it up before Jen or Ronai could even say a word. Curry’s volunteers have had that same idea before, and from all accounts there is no sneaking in, or sneaking out for that matter. Marco was laughing so hard when we told him where Jen and Ronai had gone. He said, “They might come back having been baptized. They could be the newest converts!”
The preacher had asked them their names so he could pray for them. Their names are Jennifer and Ronai… so he blessed their work, their group and blessed everything our hands touch, for good. He blessed, “Jennifer and her friend”… (Long pause.) Heh, heh. Jen and Ronai smiled, it’s not the first time someone wasn’t quite sure of Ronai’s name, (it sounds like Renee but with an O. Ro-Nay). But, the preacher continued, “her friend, whose name is so powerful we cannot speak it!”
You can guess what we call Ronai now.
Here’s a link to Ronai’s Ghana Blog 🙂
I stayed at the hotel because I was anticipating company. Five years ago I took a course through Landmark Education and it really impacted my life. I have since continued taking various courses over the years and one of my Seminar Leaders happens to have a son-in-law who lives in Ghana. I had planned to meet Anthony on Sunday. He lives a good 45 minutes away from where we are staying. Cell signal is hit and miss, but when I finally got ahold of him he told me that his ride had not shown up. We made a new plan to meet in Accra at the airport on Monday night before I fly out. I hope it happens.
Carissa, Pablo, and I sat under a ceiling fan and chatted for a while. Carissa works with The Signing Time Foundation and she coordinates my outreach events when they are partnerships with Instructors in our Signing Time Academy. Since Carissa lives in Portland, it has been nice to sit face-to-face and discuss the evolution of Signing Time and its many offshoots. We’ve been able to chat about upcoming outreach events too. (It looks like I’m coming to Boston MA, Sacramento CA, Portland OR, Peoria IL, and Fremont CA this year. So far.)
When we arrived at the school campus the school bus pulled up. The JSS students (middle school) had gone to Accra to attend a deaf church there. They were all dressed in clean white shirts. (How do they keep those whites so white?) Some of the oldest students are now allowed to grow their hair out so that the students at the vocational salon have heads of hair to practice on. Many of the JSS students remembered us from our 2008 visit and “Where’s Alex?” was a frequent question. It’s easy conversing with the JSS students, they are smart and they are getting/understanding their education. Many of them said that they love JSS, and that the Primary School had been boring.
Carissa, who is in an interpreting program, was telling some of the teachers here that some of her teachers, back home, are deaf. They did a double take. They couldn’t imagine deaf teachers being allowed to instruct hearing students. I had never considered how bizarre this would seem to them, since they have deaf teachers at the school, but the deaf teachers here teach deaf students. They asked if there are deaf doctors, deaf accountants or deaf bankers. They asked if the deaf were allowed to drive and how they accomplished that. Of course, Carissa answered all of those questions and the teachers looked back and forth in disbelief.
The high school has expanded and they are working on building more dorms for the students. It has been explained to us that one of the biggest problems in the high school is that even though English is the official language in Ghana, the deaf students are not graduating with enough English proficiency to be accepted at any of the colleges in the US. They are not equipped to realize their dreams of attending Gallaudet or similar universities. Signs of Hope was trying to implement an English program in the high school, but the headmaster there has a very specific way of doing things, and from what I hear, it seems to involves outside organizations first donating large amounts of money in order to bring in any program at all. (Rachel grabs her braids and pulls them in frustration!) This situation will likely persist until there is a change in staff. I JUST HAD AN IDEA!!!! The Primary School and JSS both have programs through SOHI. What if we bring in English programs before high school! What if we could implement an English reading and writing intensive program? (Why do I suddenly envision myself living in Ghana for a good portion of the year?)
In November and December I was doing some soul searching. I was wondering what my life is for. Not a cry for help, mind you, I was just considering 2012 and what problems are worthy of my life. I mean it. Is there a cause that I would die for? Of course I have day-to-day problems like everyone else, like Lucy’s Science Fair Project that’s due the day we get back home.(Eek!) But, honestly, if altering the future for a group of “forgotten” individuals was possible, well, I dare say THAT would be worth living for and worth dying for.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again the plight of many Americans is summed up in one question: Am I happy?
It’s dangerous. We run around in pursuit of happiness and all we need to do is stop running. Hold still. Experience reality. Be grateful. Give something away. Surprise someone else. Be a little kinder. Be a little gentler. Be just a wee bit less judgmental. Be the change we wish to see in the world. Give others the space to have their own beliefs. Let go of the assumption that our point of view is the correct one.
What if peace, love, and happiness is not about more, bigger, and better. What if it’s about disappearing your “self” in service of others?
Signs of Hope comes back to Ghana with volunteers in May…
Tomorrow is Monday. Tomorrow we go home.
Thursday January 19, 2012
We are now at Hans Cottage Botel (that’s not a typo) in Cape Coast. Our four-hour drive took six hours. It was 6 hours of breathing red dirt and diesel fumes without air-conditioning in a van with 10 other people.
The windows were open, for better or for worse. If I end up with emphysema, I know why. I brought one bandana with me and I gave it to Leah to wear over her nose and mouth, because, I am a mom and that’s what moms do.
We arrived at the botel, checked in and I dare say this is the first time I’ve checked in somewhere and found rat droppings on the bed sheets and headboards. Ronai’s shower is full of bugs and more rat droppings are on the beds on her room. I finally found the giant spiders! There’s a big one in Aaron and Leah’s bathroom. Would you believe Curry had actually upgraded our rooms when he checked in.
We were all hot and sticky with layers of dirt plastered to our faces, arms and hands. We had dinner and Leah promptly threw it up, over the railing and into the pond. At least the crocodiles ate well that night. Leah may have overdosed on carcinogens for the day, who knows. Maybe it’s the Malaria pills… which is a medication that we discovered is only taken in this large quantity to keep people Malaria free AND this dose treats certain STDs. (What? Yes, that’s why the pharmacist was looking at us funny.) There you have it!
Aaron did get an electric shock while in the shower tonight. I wore shoes in the shower, so I think that’s why I escaped that excitement of getting shocked this time. I learned my lesson four years ago.
I guess I should start by writing about this morning. This morning started with our daily egg. I skipped it and had a Probar. We have polished off the coffee packets, but thankfully we grabbed a box of Starbucks Via while in the JFK airport. I had a headache when I got up this morning at 7am, as if my brain is trying to figure out WHY ON EARTH I’m getting up for the day at midnight??? My body seems to take a 4-hour nap when I hit the sack, but that’s because it’s 5pm at home and so I sleep just long enough to thwart a good night’s sleep. So… coffee, Probar, Advil and off to school I go!
They finished at 2pm. I’m not kidding!
I had such great conversations with the two teachers who were training the high school students. The teachers kindly shared their lunch with me. Three spoons, one plateful of chicken and jollof rice. I learned so much from talking to them and listening to them. We finished lunch and they asked my why I had not eaten the chicken bones too. I wasn’t sure how to answer that:) I said, “I didn’t eat the chicken bones because it has never crossed my mind that I could or should eat chicken bones.” I now know that “you get your calcium from eating the bones.” (I still didn’t eat them.)
Carissa and Pablo delivered the school supplies that we had purchased for the SOHI students. They packed up all of the things that we had purchased at the Koforidua market, and loaded them in a taxi and brought it all to school.
Joyce, who oversees the hotel and our dinners, had a long chat with Carissa, “you are not missionaries trying to save our souls, are you? You are all many different religions aren’t you? So, why are you here?” This lead into a lengthy discussion about deafness in the US 30 years ago, and deafness in Ghana today. Joyce suggested to Carissa and Pablo that she could learn GSL and care for some of the deaf children on break whose parents don’t come back for them.
She had told us that her mother’s name was Lucy, when we told her about our daughter Lucy Joyce. Aaron showed Joyce our family photo and explained spina bifida and cerebral palsy to her. Later, Joyce told Carissa, “their daughter Lucy is as beautiful as art, “ but she said that she was glad that we had not brought Lucy with us to Ghana because people here see her as a burden and they would offer to “help” with her. “They mean, ‘to take care of the problem’ forever.” (That’s the part where the color drains from my face and I feel sick to my stomach.) The phrase, “Don’t do me any favors” has new meaning.
We had asked Lucy if she wanted to come with us to Ghana. She thought it over. We talked about what it would take to make sure she had clean water for her medical needs, the immunizations required, and that we would mostly carry her on our backs when the dirt roads wouldn’t work for her manual wheelchair. Her power wheelchair is not an option. Lucy thought it out for days. Ultimately she chose not to go. Lucy always knows best!
January 17, 2012
Some days feel longer than others, but for different reasons. I take that back. Every day feels long. We were at breakfast (our daily omelet and two huge pieces of bread) by 7:15 and off to school by 7:30. Aaron and I offered to support a Primary 1 Class (Elementary, first grade). The teacher was great and she was teaching new signs and the written word. She was clearly demonstrating the concepts. They were tough concepts since the curriculum is not written for deaf students; it’s the mainstream curriculum. It was a Math lesson and she was teaching about objects, things that have a “curved face” “corner” or are “flat”.
Pablo came by and said that he and Carissa were a bit baffled by the students in their class. I went in to see what was happening. They were working with “new students” but many were older, there were teens. This was the students’ first experience in a deaf school, so they had to start somewhere and that “somewhere” was this class. Most of the students knew their alphabet, so we took on numbers. Showing the sign for “1” and then asking how to spell it. “O-N-E”.” Leah would write the word on the board and then we would set out to discover examples of “1” in the classroom. “One blackboard!” “1 teacher’s desk!” and so on, until we moved on to the number 2 in the same way. Two of the students (both looked older than Leah) knew the concepts and could communicate very well. But, this was their first year, so here they were in a beginning class.
The teacher had said that this class and the teaching of it is “very tedious.” She left for a while, leaving Carissa and Pablo in charge. When she returned, Leah, Aaron and I were also helping in her class. I talked to her for a bit and then she asked, “Where’s Alex?” I laughed, “You remember?” She said yes and told me that on the school break she had borrowed “Signing Time” DVDs from the school library and learned a lot! I asked, “It’s here? It’s in the library?” I didn’t know!” She told me that ten or eleven DVDs are here. As if reading my mind she pulled a little lollipop out of her pocket and said that someone had delivered “all of this candy on break. No one would’ve known about it, but the Headmaster counted out enough for each student in each class, and I got one too!”
In the past, very few things that were delivered or brought for the students ever made it to the students. It was up to the headmaster to either deliver these things or keep them for herself and her own family.
I told her that I was asked to present in the morning, which still makes my heart pound at the thought of it. Why? Well, like I really need to be stressed about causing an International fiasco! There are SO many cultural differences and the default goes to the local culture, not mine. I’ll just keep that left hand away, except for when signing (you do not use your left hand in Ghana, not to wave, not to hand someone money and not to give something to another person, it is considered VERY rude and insulting). I am kicking myself for not bringing my Ghanaian dress or even my wrap skirt. When the headmaster spoke to us and introduced us, she wore a scarf of the American flag around her neck as a sign of respect. Would that be reciprocation if I had traditional clothes? I don’t know. It’s all of the “I don’t knows” that keep me up at night- also jetlag.
After awhile the students had their snack break. The dorm mother had asked us not to let the students hang onto us during their breaks. They need to go eat and we are a distraction. If the students aren’t doing what they should be doing they get “corrected” (with a stick). It was explained to us that this is one of the biggest cultural differences and that it is not abuse, it is simply an effective way to control 250 students when there are very few adults around. Sometimes the children knowingly choose to be with us and take the “correction” and that is just TOO much for my heart and head to grasp. So, we quickly redirect them toward the common area as they come to drape themselves all over us. It feels terrible, but in the end it is kinder.
Curry had a meeting with the retired Religion Teacher who is still his Signs of Hope contact. When we met him (Daniel) he remembered us and I told him that I had never forgotten his, “New Year ~ New Life ~ New Blessing!” presentation. He was blown away! We were at Sammy and Dora’s house when this conversation took place and since Sammy is the school librarian I asked about the Signing Time DVDs. He said, “Yes, we have 10 or 11 of them.” I asked if I could get a list of what they have so that I could send the rest.
Earlier I had a conversation with one of the teachers and she asked, “Will you come back here again?” This is the worst question! In their culture, if you say anything other than “no” it is a promise to come back and wow, we sure seem to have a hard time giving a firm “no” in our culture. If you say, “maybe” that’s a YES. “I’d like to” is also YES. So I said, “since 2008 I have wanted to come back and that took four years… The airfare alone is very expensive. Of course I would love to come back, but I can’t promise.” #EPICFail Crap! I think I just promised to come back within four years! (I guess I had better start fundraising again) How do you explain an $1800 airline ticket to someone who makes $150-200 a month?
The water pump at the well broke and is now replaced with a number of giant black poly containers and water comes out of spigots. I wonder if it seemed magical to twist that handle and have water rush out with minimal human effort?
In the central courtyard is a large generator that another group from another country had fundraised to purchase and then they shipped it to Ghana and had it installed. I imagine they took their photo, patted each other on the back and went home. The generator is now fenced off and falling apart. It worked and provided electricity through its first tank of gas, but the school does not have the funds to purchase more gas for it. So, when the power is out, the power is out, even though there is a generator in the courtyard (SIGH). This is why Signs of Hope International (SOHI) is SO adamant about not delivering goods. We might think we know what’s needed, but we don’t always see the full picture. When you consider the cost of the generator, the cost to transport it from Europe and now it is essentially lawn art? Sheesh! That amount could’ve educated, fed and housed many deaf students for many years to come.
SOHI also has a policy not to hand over cash. They pay the school the fees for the students that they sponsor, this now incudes a “PTA fee” and a “National Health Care fee” (nice going USA;) and we took the money that we raised and went to the market place and purchased the students’ supplies ourselves. The government subsidizes the education of deaf children but the supplies that they need in order to show up and start school cost over $250 per child.
We left the school at lunch and waited for the tro-tro. We loaded in and drove to the market in Koforidua, which is about an hour away. One word: WOW! Four years ago we experienced a similar marketplace in Accra. Sensory overload, a maze of buildings, vendors, and people. We stuck close to our Ghanaian guides. I imagine in Accra, since it is the capital, they see more white people than in Koforidua. When we stopped at any storefront, a crowd gathered.
We divided into three groups, each with a list of school supplies, an envelope of cash, and a local guide. I am sure it added amusement that we were purchasing things like 40 bars of soap, 30 rolls of toilet paper, 12 toothbrushes, 12 spoons, massive amounts of feminine hygiene supplies, plates, scrub brushes, 12 flats of juice boxes, local sauces and grains all listed on the students’ Back to School list. Each child needs a three-month supply and we were buying for all of SOHI’s sponsored kids. The list also states: “mattress if they don’t have one”. A mattress is $40! Remember when I said that a teacher makes $200/month? No wonder families have to save up to send their deaf child to school. The school could use new mattresses, 250 of them, but at $10,000? Really? Let’s see… a generator that is all but useless or mattresses that aren’t falling apart, stained and soiled. But, then it comes down to $10,000 toward bedding or $10,000 toward the education and school supplies of deaf students…
Today was also a fabric day. We bought some fabric at the market and then after dinner, Joyce, who manages the hotel, took us to her friend’s fabric shop. We walked and our way was lit by flashlights and headlamps. We all bought some great stuff and the fabric that I purchased today is SO different than anything I bought four years ago. Joyce has the best dresses! Tomorrow after school we are going to her dressmaker.
I swear we squeeze every minute out of each day here. It was already dark when we went to the fabric store and darker still when we returned. I was feeling sick to my stomach from our earlier 2-hour round trip inhalation of fumes to Koforidua and back. I “showered” with my 5-gallon bucket and giant ladle and then I fell asleep.
I heard Aaron stay up after 9:00pm to call Lucy. Actually, it must’ve been after 10:30pm since she gets home from school at 3:30. He said that Lucy sounded great!! She had her baby cousin Eliza over to play. So far Lucy has been a champ. The week before we left for Ghana, I would be on the phone or just sitting at the kitchen table and I would start crying, worrying for Lucy. I didn’t know if we’d be able to call her at all. The first time we came to Ghana, Lucy was home with a sitter and she became so ill that my mom moved in and stayed with her too, through the entire trip. She had a high fever, broke out in a rash and hives, and she was violently ill, weak and pale. I think she went to school one day out of the eleven days we were gone. My theory is that when the people she loves and trust the most leave, it’s just too much for her system. We are the ones who care for her every day. We feed her. We love her. We keep her alive.
This time, I instructed her caregivers to check her into the ER if she stops eating, drinking, or if she refuses to have her daily needs met. Hey, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do! Thankfully, Aaron was met with, “Hi Dad! Eliza is here and I’m playing with her, so I can’t talk too long.”
Want more Ghana?
Read Jen’s Recap on the Signing Time Blog
The countdown is on! We leave for Ghana on January 13, 2012.. yes, that IS Friday the 13th, so… that’s just… great.
First of all a HUGE thank you to those of you who have donated to The Signing Time Foundation (501c3)! I know you didn’t know it, but if you donated $50 or more, you will be getting a handwritten “Thank You” “receipt” from me, with a photo of us in Ghana. (Obviously that will be coming to you after the trip) and that offer still stands, just click the donate button… Warning: It feels good!
Secondly… we have yet another way for you to contribute!!! Check out our limited edition, Signing Time Foundation Ghana 2012 pewter pins! We are making a limited number of these (because that’s what “limited edition” means) so when they are gone… they are GONE! The best part is that this is a very affordable way to make a difference, each pin is $10 and that includes shipping to your U.S. address – and that means that just about $5 of each purchase goes straight to the Ghana 2012 trip. YeeHaw!
There are two designs to choose from, Hopkins the Frog and THE Rachel “ILY”. Plus we’re using Paypal to make it really easy to order. Your order will ship in 4-6 weeks. To buy single pins visit www.signingtimefoundation.org (but really… why buy 1 when you can buy 2?)
Warning: Buying things for a good cause makes you a good person… be prepared! (results not guaranteed)
(Ok grownups, these are clearly not meant for young children, so… use your good judgement and good sense about things with small removable parts and sharp points <--- that was my Public Service Announcement and was probably better than saying things like: "don't be a ding-dong")And as always you can Chip-in for Africa below, and yes, I know the chip-in doesn't count the "donate" or "buy now" buttons, but we are also aiming to raise $20,000 not just $5,000. If the chip-in widget doesn't show up, just hit refresh, and it should! Hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving~ and that you enjoyed Black Friday and Cyber Monday! MWAH ~Rachel
Signing Time launched a decade ago and within months we started getting requests to make a potty training DVD. The requests for potty training help have never slowed down. I admit, I resisted it. I kept telling my sister Emilie, “That is not MY job!” and “There are a few signs I won’t be teaching… ever!” Heh heh. Well, the good news is when I resist something it usually only takes about 10 years to break through to my good senses. (That’s for you Rebecca)
On Thursday we launched Potty Time! and we did a good deed by purchasing that domain name because I won’t even say what used to be on it… (not kid friendly, enough said) so if you use WOT or something similar to keep your internet use safe, you might find that our site has a poor reputation there, your positive rating will help. You know me, just cleaning up the internet as I go!
So, yes, we now offer potty training powered by Signing Time! and it’s TOTALLY appropriate, and doesn’t confine potty training to just what happens in the bathroom. I teach your children that their bodies are amazing and that it’s important to listen to their bodies. I mean, when your body tells you that you are hungry you go get something to eat. So, when your body tells you that you need to use the potty, it’s pretty simple you stop what you are doing and go use the potty.
Pick up Potty Time at www.pottytime.com there is an introductory sale that ends tonight, SUNDAY November 6, 2011. So don’t wait!
The signs you will learn are: Grow – Love – I Love You (ILY) – Help – Amazing – Body – Eat – Drink – Sleep – Wake Up – Diaper – Potty – Wipe/Clean – Flush – Wash Hands – All Done/Finished – Water – Soap – Stop – Go – Underwear – Accident – Try – Careful – Celebrate (*there is a special feature for parents where we cover Poop and Pee and I know some of you will buy it just to see me teach that! Though the “PSA” about not using too much toilet paper is pretty classic, just because I know how many takes were needed to say it without getting the giggles.)
Don’t miss the Potty Time app for Android devices. You’ll get a kick out of it, I promise. You have no clue how many of my girl friends have already messaged me to let me know that I keep calling them to congratulate them on their toileting success. (iPod app is coming soon)
We had a lot of fun making Potty Time and I have to say that I get frustrated sometimes because I work really hard on these shows and for some reason, all you see in the end product is the very “zipped up”, Signing Time Rachel in her television box. When the editing process was over I again sat there scratching my head wondering why I did all of that crazy stuff when we were filming… the crazy, fun stuff that no one would ever see. So, I pulled rank;) and said, “I want a special feature!!” It also helps that I am married to one of the editors. Here are the outtakes and some of my “finest” moments~
I used to feel sorry for children who had cochlear implants. I did.
When I saw them it broke my heart because I really believed that their parents just didn’t understand deafness. I judged those parents. I assumed that the parents were looking for a quick fix to something that in my opinion didn’t require fixing. I said things like, “I would never do THAT to my child.” Aaron and I talked about giving Leah choices and we decided that she could choose to have an implant when she was age 18.
We think that Leah was born profoundly deaf. We didn’t discover her deafness until she was 14 months old. When her deafness was diagnosed we immediately started signing with her. It seemed the obvious choice, I mean, she was deaf. We never bought into the old wive’s tale that signing would delay our child’s speech. Many people warned us that Leah might never learn talk if we signed with her. I always laughed and said, “She’s deaf, she might never learn to talk anyway!” My concern wasn’t for my child’s ability to say words. I wanted much more than that! I wanted full connection and communication with my daughter. I wanted her to be a critical thinker.
When Leah was seven she was no longer using hearing aids, because, as she put it, “They don’t work! They don’t help me, they just make my ears itch.” She had gone without amplification for a few years and then, at age seven, my daughter asked for a cochlear implant.
Let’s just say there were a few things I had to get over… oh, like realizing that some people out there might judge me, just as I had been so judgmental of others. (Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! Don’t you hate that one?)
Leah has now been implanted for seven years, the same amount of time she had gone without hearing a thing.
I have found that one of the BIGGEST misconceptions still floating around when it comes to choices in deafness is in thinking that sign language and cochlear implants are mutually exclusive. They are not. Actually it is our family’s experience that Leah’s success with her cochlear implant was because she was already fluent in American Sign Language* when she got her implant AND because we have continued to sign with her. We never stopped signing. (*She was also already fluent in written English by that time)
When someone receives a cochlear implant there is a period of adjustment as the recipient begins to understand the sounds of the world around them. It was invaluable to us to have a full language (American Sign Language) to communicate with Leah during this new learning period. We had full and complete communication as our child experienced the sometimes scary world of sound. Yes, our ENT told us to stop signing immediately after Leah’s implant surgery, which was baffling to me. “She just had major surgery and you want us to refuse to communicate with her through recovery? Her implant won’t be turned on for weeks and you want us to stop communicating with her?” To me that sounded like a form of child abuse. We never stopped signing with Leah and we never will stop.
Leah is a very successful implant recipient, we feel that these are a few of the factors that helped her to use it so successfully.
1. Leah chose to have an implant, it wasn’t something that was done to her. She was old enough to control the settings and she was old enough to ask to be “re-mapped” when she was ready for more sound. We viewed the implant as another tool to help Leah communicate, not the only tool.
2. Leah was already bilingual when she was implanted. She understood ASL and her written English was exceptional. She was reading beyond her grade level. With the addition of her cochlear implant she could simply focus on acquiring and improving her listening skills and pronunciation, because now she could actually hear some things. She wasn’t trying to learn English with her cochlear implant, thankfully she was already fluent in it and her focus was entirely on learning what English sounded like and how to make those sounds herself.
3. We always focused on our child’s strengths. Prior to her implant, we did not do private Speech Therapy. Why? Simple. Because Leah couldn’t hear:) We didn’t need her to learn how to say words in order to connect and communicate because we all learned to sign. Speech is a skill that your child has a lifetime to acquire.
Speech is not a language. Speech is one way to deliver a language.
English is a language, American Sign Language is a language, but speech… speech is a skill.
You want your deaf child to learn their first language before the age of 3 if possible. If they can’t hear, don’t waste your time and theirs trying to get them to learn a listened to, spoken language. Since Leah couldn’t hear English we didn’t try to get her to learn it through speaking. She learned it through reading and writing.
(If your child is deaf please read #3 until it makes sense. Do not get stuck with the thought that you “just want your child to talk.” Trust me, you don’t just want that. You want so much more for them!)
4. Language doesn’t delay language. The fear of signing is ridiculous and thinking that a child will not talk because they first signed is as preposterous as saying, “don’t let your child crawl or they will never learn to walk.” Babies crawl before they walk and they sign before they talk. If your child has the ability to deliver a spoken language, they will acquire that skill whether or not you sign with them. If they happen to have a speech delay or a disability that gets in the way of speaking, then thank heavens you are signing with them and giving them a way to be understood. If your child’s speech is delayed, it is not the signing that delays speech… it is something else entirely, because communication doesn’t delay communication.
Technology frequently changes and even fails. Cochlear implants can be rejected by the recipient. The implant may fail or simply never work at all. Batteries die and parts break. Programming can accidentally get erased. Sign language will never fail, the batteries will not die, you can use it while swimming, you never have to “turn it on” or struggle to locate it in the middle of the night. Sign language can get soaking wet and it’s always at your fingertips.
Leah will always be deaf. Her first language is American Sign Language. She has learned English as a second language through reading and writing. With her cochlear implant, Leah has learned how to pronounce words and to understand English when it is spoken to her. She is a child who has it all.
If you are considering implanting your deaf child, my recommendation is this – do not put all of your eggs in one basket. Give your child EVERY opportunity to communicate. Give them many tools! Cochlear implants do not work for all children, implants are not always successful and should not be portrayed as a “cure” for deafness. Similarly, hearing aids do not work for all children, they are not always successful and should not be portrayed as a “cure” for deafness. You might want to consider that deafness doesn’t need a cure.
Leah recently saw her ENT, the same one who had asked us to stop signing with her seven years ago. He asked her this time if she would like to implant her other ear, since she only has one ear implanted. She looked at him and said, “Tell me what you think that would really do for me?” He smiled and said, “actually not much, you do so well. Leah, I think you should save your other ear for the future. There are some exciting medical advancements that you will see in your lifetime.”
My two cents: Sign language should be the first choice for a deaf child, no matter what additional options you pursue.