Friday, August 26, 2011

Ho.Ly.Crap. He can read Korean.

Okay, let me clarify.  We have a whole series of books with titles like Count Your Way Through Greece.  I think we have about a dozen of these.  Each one features the first ten counting numbers in some language, with little related cultural details.  Each one is inscribed on the cover "E. Wilson."  A lot of Ben's books have "E. Wilson" on the cover.  This is because my mother retired from teaching a few years ago, and proceeded to pass along much of her extensive (and that is the understatement of the century) library of educational children's literature to Ben.  Since she was teaching second grade for the last couple of decades of her career, most of the books are geared toward that age range.  Ben loves 'em.

On the last page of each of these Count Your Way books is a pronunciation guide for the numbers.  I submit, for your consideration, the following:

So Ben's sitting on my lap looking at books before bedtime.  No hearing equipment.  He's spending some quality time on this last page.  He points to the numeral 1 and says "One."  He points to the phonetic translation and says, "Huh nuh."  I start to pay attention.  He goes to the next line and says, "Two ... tuh."  Next line:  "Three ... suh."  "Four ... nuh.  Five ... Tuh suh."  Etc.  You're getting the picture.  Now, here's the really amazing bit:  We've never read this book before.  We've read others in the series, so he gets the general pattern, but not this one.  Just hadn't gotten around to it until tonight.  He has never heard me or any other human being read those words on the page.  He's reading those words himself.  Okay, he's not getting past the first letter in each syllable -- he pronounces that, follows up with a generic soft vowel sound, and moves on.  He read the entire list this way.

My almost-four-year-old deaf child is sounding out phonetic translations of Korean number names.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Some August Bennyisms

Tonight's bath time monologue:  "On Memorial Day, I'm going to be too busy to go to the picnic at Overview Park.  I will be traveling all day to Rhode Island to help Yajni with her kids.  I need to help Yajni, M-----, and R----(*) with something tricky."  When Neil asked him(**) "What do they need help with?" Ben replied, "The games they will go to play are hard.  Some of the games in their house are tricky."

(*) He got their names right, but I'm suppressing a few details here.
(**) bellowing in his left ear.  It's not elegant, but it gets the job done when he's without equipment.

When we were reading books before bed, Ben mysteriously announced, "Sometimes I have to skip over the math parts."  Now, I know he never heard me say anything like that, so I have no idea where that came from.  But he was very pleased with this pronouncement, because he repeated it many times.

Ben usually operates on the principle that if Mom or Dad suggest it, It's Bad, even if it's not.  This can put him in quite a bind if what we're suggesting is something that he really wants.  Case in point:  "Ben, do you want to take more dance lessons with Miss Kat this fall?"  "NO!"  We've found that the best way to deal with this is to pull back, regroup, and then re-approach the idea with a little more subtlety:  "Hey Ben, remember the candy machine outside the dance class?  And how you and Pascal would share some candy?"  Apparently, Ben's recent Father-Son trip with Neil to visit Neil's parents was marked by several such situations, requiring a certain degree of finagling.  Ben, you wanna go to the arboretum?  NO!  But he ended up loving the arboretum.  Same deal with riding the chair lift up to hike around the top of the mountain, or driving the golf cart.  So when I was in the throes of some similar discussion with Ben a couple of days ago, I reminded him of those experiences -- "Remember how much you liked riding the chair lift?  Remember the golf cart?"  Ben:  "And don't forget about the arboretum!"  [Hedy, that's the anecdote I was promising you.  He still occasionally goes through the litany of the kite, the bubble wand, and don't forget about the wrong path!]

In other news, we're still coping with Mr. Stinkerpants a lot of the time, but I think he's gradually easing out of this phase.  The last few days have been marked by Extreme Bossiness.  There's been some upheaval at his school with new kids starting this past week (and in fact he's in a new classroom as of a few weeks ago), so my theory is that he's dealing with the attendant feelings of anxiety by trying to control his environment (which largely means us) as much as he can.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

I don't want to hear.

Okay, I should be getting some solid work done during this short period of time at my disposal, but I have a lot on my mind, so I will use you folks as my mind dumping ground.

So Ben has been Very Very Three lately.  Technically he's closer to four than three, but I'm referring to the developmental stage, not the chronological period.  Like any kid, he goes through challenging phases every now and then, when everything seems to be a battle for control and he takes extra delight in pushing our buttons.  This is healthy and normal, I keep telling myself through gritted teeth.  I would be more worried if he didn't do stuff like this, I mutter, reaching for another handful of chocolate chips.

A number of things I've read over the last year have helped.  Y'all know my thoughts on Amy Chua's Tiger Mother book -- I was inspired by her adherence to core values, but I'm neither able nor willing to adopt her parenting strategies as such.  Just for a little contrast and balance, I then read Alfie Kohn's Punished by Rewards, and I started his book Unconditional Parenting, but got diverted by other things.  And now I'm reading a very interesting book about Buddhism, Pay Attention, For Goodness' Sake, by Sylvia Boorstein.  What I'm taking away from all of this is the value of trusting Ben's reasonableness, his emerging ability to respond reasonably, sympathetically, and respectfully to discussion and explanation, rather than always relying on force, reward, and punishment to get through the moment.  From Boorstein I'm learning the value of responding to challenge with compassion.  Yes, he's being a Right Proper Little Stinker, but maybe what he really needs is a hug.  That might be the last thing I feel like giving him right now, but especially at a moment of crisis, his needs are more important than mine.

A skeptic would say, Yah, he's only three, good luck with that.  At any rate, that was my initial reaction.  There's an old-school parenting voice in my head that still insists on the critical importance of my being In Total Control of My Child At All Times, meaning that if I say jump, he says how high, and that any deviation from this state of affairs is to some extent a parenting failure on my part.  Then I ask myself, so how's that working out?  Not so good, not so good.  Okay, let's give this whole wacko "reasonable explanation" thing a whirl, see how it goes.  Hmmm.  Well, that worked better than I expected; must be a fluke.  But y'know, it actually works very well almost all the time.  It doesn't work immediate miracles; sometimes we don't get through the moment as well as I'd like.  But it certainly doesn't seem to be less effective than force, reward, and punishment, and I feel a hell of a lot better about it.

But here's the thing.  In order for it to work, you need to be able to have a discussion with your child.  Often a complicated, nuanced discussion.  Since my signing skills are primitive at best, this means that I need for my child to be able to hear me.

This morning he announced, "I don't want to hear today."  Okay, sometimes he wants a little time without the equipment.  Must be nice to be able to enjoy more or less total silence at will.  We don't want for the equipment to become the focal point of a power battle, so we roll with it.  Okay, it's after breakfast and it's still no go with the equipment.  We're making our way through the morning, doing fine, but increasingly worried.  What if he does this on a school day?  After some negotiating, we decide that it's okay to go to the grocery store sans sound.  All this time I'm mentally cooking up some kick-butt Reasonable Explanations for why it's important to wear his equipment during the day, and I'm sure he'd come around and agree with me, if only he could hear me.  A perfect catch-22.

But I'm stuck.  The parent of a deaf child, and completely incapable of communicating with him under the circumstances, beyond pathetically simple phrases like, "Need potty?  Some bananas, yellow.  No, stop, soon.  Where Daddy?"  All accompanied by overly emotive facial expressions that would make William Shatner blush.

And whose fault is this?  Mine, I guess.  Maybe we put too much stock in the technology.  We're always telling people, No, cochlear implants don't "cure" deafness.  He's still deaf.  Okay, yes, whenever you're around him, he functions like a hearing child, and most of the time that I spend with him he's functionally hearing, too.  But there's a fundamental, crucial, stark difference:  You can always talk to your hearing child.  Always.  He might not listen as well as you'd like, but he can't completely ignore you, either.  When my child isn't wearing his friggin miraculous cure-all equipment, he can completely ignore me.  Completely.  And there's not a damned thing I can do about it.

I can hear the chorus of Deaf criticism in my ear:  See?  Told ya.  You thought the CI was going to make him into a hearing child, and fix everything.  But it didn't.  Yup, he's still deaf.  Shoulda learned sign like we told you.  Bad hearing parent of deaf child.  You had a responsibility to teach your son sign, the natural language of the deaf, and you abdicated that responsibility in favor of a quick tech fix.

Well, it's not quite that simple, either.  Okay, yeah, so I didn't take a year off from my life to learn a whole new language.  I've learned a little, a pathetic smattering, and I keep offering it up to him.  We bought the Signing Time DVDs, as well as a gazillion other DVDs and tapes.  We got the books, the dictionaries, the posters.  I keep trying, but, I have to admit, not very hard.  And honestly, he never sees 90% of what I sign to him.  He looks away.  Hey, English is his primary language, and he's quite good at it.  He doesn't need to learn sign.  I'm the one who needs a mode of communication that works even when he's offline, not him.  It's an incentive thing.  And even when he's offline, it works at best 10% of the time.

So it's been a very tough day.  Some difficult parenting moments, a lot of frustration, feelings of inadequacy and self-recrimination.  We managed to get the equipment on him after Quiet Time, and I was finally able to deliver a fairly respectable Reasonable Explanation, during which he squirmed a lot and paid at best half-attention, but it had an impact.  After that we cuddled together on the sofa and read books while listening to Simon and Garfunkel.  Things are looking up.