The Birthday Clock Never Stops…

apple watch

Birthdays are awesome…until you’re about 22. Then instead of offering milestones to greatness, birthdays start tallying up the years. When you hit 30 the tally shows adulthood is inevitable. 35 means it’s time to actually stop lying about it and actually start a retirement fund. When the calendar flips to 40 you can literally feel your gums recede and the fluid actually drain from your knees. I’m pretty sure the number associated with my recent birthday led to my immediate development of diabetes while my cholesterol skyrocketed and I gained 5 pounds of belly fat all within a two hour span. Aging blows.

What I wouldn’t give to spring out of bed and…(wait, let’s just stop there. What I wouldn’t give to spring out of bed period.) but really, wouldn’t it be great to have the same excitement about your birthday at 50 that you had at 5? (FYI, I’m not 50…not yet man, don’t make it any worse.) You know, that kind of excitement that leads to wearing a paper crown with your number on the front and telling every human or mammal you encounter, “Today is my birthday! Give me cake!”

My darling husband, The Turk, has never been great with holidays. I’m still waiting for a much-hyped 10th anniversary celebration and we’re only a little ways out from our 11th. Anniversaries are not his jam but he is coming around on birthdays. This year he shopped for a gift almost an entire week before my actual birthday, a massive improvement over days of old when he would head to the nearest supermarket for some expired roses moments before closing. No, this year he even took the boys along for help. Unfortunately, that was where things went wrong.

Within moments of returning and seconds after hiding the goods, Nugget with his newly acquired language skills, beamed, “Mom, we got you asshole atch.” Hubba whaaaaaa? Though Number 1 son and the Turk tried desperately to shush him, Nugget would not be silenced. “Asshole atch.” He told me again while squirming away from the hands desperately trying to cover his motor-mouth.

Because I may be geriatric  but still possess the maturity of a 12 year old boy, I immediately began to see images in my disturbed mind of sparkly buttcheeks sitting atop my wrist with a rapidly moving second hand shaped like a stink cloud. This caused me to laugh even harder. (I really am 12. It’s ok. I own it.) “You unt asshole atch?” The Nugget persisted.

While I was busy wiping the tears from my face, Number 1 was livid. “I can’t believe you told her! It was supposed to be a surprise! You suck Nugget!” Number 1 was right. He did suck but in Nugget’s defense, no one had any clue he was a blabbermouth because this was his first violation.

Somewhere around two, Nugget was diagnosed with Childhood Apraxia of Speech – which involves a misfiring of neurons the prevent kids from being able to get the information from their brain to their lips to get the words out. Up until the past few months, Nugget had only signed and offered a few brief sentences using only vowels. Since he was a silent partner, for most of his 3 1/2 years, he’d been dragged along on many secret missions with all of us comfortable in the knowledge that our secrets were safe with him. Not so now it seems.

Now that Nugget has his hearing aid so he’s hearing all the sounds, is immersed in his special school with daily speech therapy and basically spends 3 hours each day working on his communication skills, he has exploded and there is no putting any cat back in any bag. The kid never shuts up.

You can see the thought process he goes through to get every sound out. His determination is astonishing. But, as illustrated in the case of the asshole ach, he’s still working on quite a few sounds like F. Every time anyone asks him to form an F he shoots back a look that insinuates F is not an actual sound and that we are clearly F-ing with him. I consider this the universe helping a sister out since he’s already demonstrated high skill with profanity thus far that last thing that kid needs is the power of the f-bomb. Sometimes only those closest to him understand him, but sometimes (usually with his favorite phrases like – ‘what the hell?’ Or, ‘oh for godsake!’) he’s a clear as a bell. It’s a process but after 3 years of silence, we’ll take every bit of it. (Until he gets suspended from PreK for that profanity bit…)

Nugget definitely blew the surprise by telling me all about my APPLE watch and quite honestly, there were about a hundred other things I might have requested over a pricey Dick Tracy wrist piece…like a dishwasher that actually washes the dishes…or the downpayment on a car younger than my offspring…or that dental work that keeps getting shoved to the back burner over and over again. But now that I’ve got it, I do quite enjoy it, probably since I spent most of the 70’s talking to my wrist pretending to be Maxwell Smart and now I’m legit.

As the Turk said, “It your birthday. You deserve special thing you do not ask for.” True that Turk, and though I didn’t ask for an asshole watch, hearing that Nugget tell me all about it is exactly what I’ve wanted.

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When Your Bi-Cultural Child Doesn’t Want To Be Bi-Cultural Anymore

Turkish kid

“It happens. No matter what you do it will happen.” The other expats told me smugly over tiny cups of Turkish coffee one morning. In hindsight I realize they knew, but as a self-righteous new mother who’d spent 9 months reading and years before that judging others’ parenting because I obviously knew better than those who’d actually been at the job, (You know, the kind of broads which seem to have taken over the internet recently…) I surmised I would do better. My bi-cultural kids would remain equally tied to both cultures, Turkish and American.

Before I’d even birthed my first half-breed I began to worry about how this whole bi-cultural identity thing would play out. At that point we were living in Turkey and it wasn’t clear in which culture we’d be living for the long haul. He’d be immersed in the Turks so how did I make him American too? Should I just hit up McDonald’s weekly, slap down a few McNuggets, play a little Lynard Skynard and say, “There ya go buddy, there is a little slice of my people. Now go forth and live among your father’s people.” (Full disclosure: I did have ridiculous cravings for the McRoyal (a bastard brother of the Quarter Pounder) while I was pregnant so I guess he did get a solid dose of my people in utero.)

The Turk told me not to worry about it, but that’s not how I roll. I began pumping every bi-cultural parent in the school where I taught about their experiences for research.

Olga from Sweden married to a Turk: “Tolga might be a blue-eyed blonde but he’s not very Swedish. He is much more Turkish boy as long as we live here.”

Jennifer from American married to a Turk: “My girls chose to be Turkish instead of American. Not my choice but we live here so I get it.”

Grant from England married to a Turk: “I’d hoped Julide would keep a bit of a connection to England but she identifies as Turkish completely. It saddens me but you can not prevent it.”

The conclusion was clear, bi-cultural kids identified mostly with the culture they lived in but I wasn’t a fan of that theory so, in the spirit of the clueless (kind of like anti-vaxers and science deniers) I ignored the evidence and decided that my kid would be the exception.

Nine years later I’d like to issue a public apology for my stupidity. My half-breeds, currently nestled away in middle America, despite all my efforts and hopes, are Americans. To confirm that, this week alone Number 1 son brushed off three attempts by both The Turk and myself to reconnect him with his other half.

       Attempt 1: Through the belly.

“Mom, what are we having for dinner?”

“Mercimek. Your favorite.”

“Ugh. Turkish food again?”

“Son, in our house it’s just called food.”

“Whatever. Can’t we have hamburgers?”

Damn you America and your artery clogging goodness.

Attempt 2: Groove is in the heart.

Nugget was getting his groove on to some Turkish music videos when I noticed the video he was shaking his Pull-Up clad butt to had been filmed on the streets of the village we lived in when Number 1 was little.

“Number 1, come look at this! This video is in our old ‘hood. This is so cool! We have tons of photos of you on that street. Come here, watch this.”

While the Turk and I dove head-first into nostalgia, Number 1 glanced at the screen and muttered, “Cool.” Before immediately returning to his March Madness bracket selection prep.

Damn you America, even a nice beat that you can dance to couldn’t pull him away.

 Attempt 3: Pulling Out The Big Guns

“Number 1, we need to talk about you maybe going to Turkey with Baba next month. He’s going to check on Babaanne (grandma) and we think maybe you should go.”  This whole discussion was a rare moment of collaborative, unilaterial parenting on my part as was illustrated by the look of shock on the Turk’s face when I agreed to it. I wasn’t sold on the idea but since it was clear my oldest half-breed was pulling away from his Turkish side, I felt it imperative to give him one more hard push back in.

As a sane person I’m sure you’re asking, why send just the two of them? Well, I’m not a sadist and thus I am unwilling to travel 12 hours by plane with a one-earred, 3 year-old tyrant. Nugget doesn’t travel well in any mode but his jacked-up ear situation makes flying miserable and I’m not doing it. Conversely Babanne doesn’t fly. Period. She is a very stubborn Turk so we’ve been in a stalemate for the past few years. Finally I relented and said I’d stay home with Nugget and the Turk and Number 1 could go (While I stay up for a week straight contemplating the sanity in sending my baby into a country who’d had a political coup mere months prior, to a city that has bombings on the reg and is on the cusp of a make or break election about the time of their intended arrival. Oh and lets not even get into all the unwarranted and irrational Not Without My Daughter scenerios that would flash through my sleep deprived mind.) Secretly I prayed Number 1 wouldn’t want to go but it was my maternal duty as a bi-cultural parent to promote this moment.

Number 1 thought for about 30 seconds and said. “I don’t want to go.”

“Really? (Oh thank GOD!!!!) But why not?”

“Well for one, it’s scary. I watch the Turkish news with you guys. I’m not clueless. And actually I don’t really want Baba to go either. And for two, if it was Cleveland or someplace good where we could go watch LeBron James or something I’d go but Turkey? Nah.” (Sweet Jesus, did my son just prefer Cleveland over transcontinental adventure? Lord Almighty he really was too far gone.)

Relieved and disappointed all in one breath, I muttered to the Turk, “I think we’re losing him to America.”

“Yes. I think so.” He agreed with a twinge of heartbreak.

My soul filled with lapsed Catholic guilt. I felt like I’d stolen our son. But they’d warned me. All those expat parents had warned me and as it turned out, my son was not the exception but the rule. He lived in America now so he became American.

We’re not giving up though. We’ll keep eating Turkish food-aka-food, keep sharing stories of his other culture, keep celebrating Turkish holidays (Just not Kurban Bayram -that one where you slice the lamb on your balcony because even The Turk is still scarred from that one.). We’ll continue trying to keep him bilingual, force him to watch Turkish league football (as long as I still get my NFL time with him too) and I’ll keep his Turkish side alive even if it kills me because some day, years from now, that little half-breed will be glad we did.

Terrible Twos? Ah Hells No, Now It’s The Tyrannical Threes!

birthday drama

I’m relatively certain that the individual who coined the phrase, “terrible twos” did so before his or her child turned three. There is not a parent on Earth that would honestly agree that a two-year-old tyrant is worse than a three-year-old tyrant. Ok, maybe that Duggar woman would disagree but after passing 82 children through her lady parts, it’s understandable that her sanity might be compromised.

My darling Nugget’s birthday was this week and, as usual, the date marking my successfully delivering offspring into this world makes me a bit emotional. On both of their birthdays I can’t help get little weepy as I recount those glory years, when they were cuddly and smelled like…well…babies or dwelling on life when they were tiny bundles of love that wore what I put on them and didn’t sass me or argue about every damn thing! (Previously I would have said before they could talk but in the past year Nugget has proved that one can sass and argue just as effectively in sign language so there goes that thought.)

Amid all the mushy melancholy and buttercream frosting, I had a thought. Maybe since the Nugget had such a rough go as a two-year old, what with the whole deaf thing, the apraxia thing, the bum kidney thing, and on and on…maybe the universe will give me a break and we will waltz through three like a pair of washed-up musicians on Dancing With The Stars. I mean, after the past year, don’t I deserve it?

I have good reason to fear three. My darling, kind and loving Number One Son was literally Satan on Earth when he was three. The sweet child I’d doted on since birthing him in a crazy Turkish hospital morphed into a pocket-sized Attila the Hunn the moment he blew out those three candles. Add in his adult-sized vocabulary, stubborn Turk genes and hot temper (No really, by 4 we were seriously considering anger management classes for him.) and I often doubted that kid would see 4.

Yet somehow, like childbirth, I’d blocked that horror out, until the Nugget’s big 0-3 started to draw near. As an incident over the shade of an ice pop blew into a throw-down last week leaving a sobbing Nugget clutching me, signing Why is Baba so mad? Why did Baba make me cry? and the Turk screaming Turkish profanity followed by “What the hell is wrong with him?” It grew apparent, 3 was coming to take my Nugget as well. But being the Positive Pollyanna that I am, I tried to lay out my rational as to why three would be better with Nugget than with Number 1 for the Turk. (While I took the brunt of the horror on round one, he was not left unharmed and we both suffer from Post Traumatic Turkish Toddler issues. And since Nugget is a major Baba’s boy, it’s not looking good for the Turk on this round.)

“Maybe since he’s got a few delays, the whole three thing will be delayed too and   we’ll get it in spurts instead of all at once.”

“No. You are crazy. He is crazy. This will be very bad.”

“Maybe since he had such a rough year and he’s made such huge strides this year   will be a breeze. It’s karma.”

“No. This will be bad. I see if I can travel more for work this year.”

“Maybe since we’re really old now, it won’t bother us as much.”

“No. Now I just get piss faster.”

The signs started to show around 2.5 but it was too soon so I wrote it off. But as the sass via sign started, I worried. When he began to sigh, “Uggggg Ooooooooom! (Aw Mom!)” while rolling his eyes and storming off, I saw the tidal wave beginning to form. Then, this week when he handed me a poop-filled diaper, leaving a trail of poop on my freshly (like mere hours earlier freshly) cleaned, white carpet, and began to explain that he was uncomfortable and needed a shower “Ow!” (Now!), it was clear there would be no delays. 3 had arrived like a freight train and no one would be spared.

But as I cuddled a chubby little birthday boy who somehow appeared in my bed in the middle of the night, I got a little weepy thinking about how much has changed for him in the past year and how much he’s accomplished. Last summer he was lethargic and miserable with a kidney that just wasn’t working and now he’s an unstoppable ball of fire. Last summer he was so angry because he couldn’t hear or communicate and now he gladly wears his hearing aid and communicates in both ASL and spoken English (though he’s still only using vowels, he knows what he’s saying even if the rest of us don’t.) Last summer we didn’t really understand all that was going on with Nugget or even what BOR Syndrome was and now we’re a veritable font of knowledge on the subject and have made great strides at getting him on track.

So even though 3 pretty much sucks and we’ll be in for quite a year, I gladly take it. Especially if it means that my baby is finally catching up. (Full disclosure: I could not have chosen a better time to go back to work.) Good luck Developmental Preschool. You’re going to need it with this one!

 

Here We Go Again…But I’m Cool With It

 

Full KubiHulkHere we go again. At approximately the butt-crack of dawn tomorrow morning Nugget will be in pre-op. Again. You might remember my grand appeals at the start 2016, begging that this year not suck. Well, now that we’re 7 months in with Trump and his hate train barreling down the tracks, senseless racist violence erupting seemingly daily, bombings in the Turk’s motherland on the reg and countless dead musical legends, I think it’s safe to say my pleading was disregarded. (Thanks Universe! This will be remembered.) 2016, it appears that much like your older brother 2015, you suck.

But I’m no Negative Nellie and I’m taking a different approach to this situation because even though my little guy will be sedated and out of my reach for a couple hours, this one is easy. This time around no one is pulling a vital organ from my Nugget to trim and reshape before stuffing it back into this abdomen with a slew of tubing and the hopes it will work again. This time we won’t be stuck in a hospital room for days, cradling a baby writhing in pain. This time we’re lucky and this year I’ve met a lot of people who have taught me just what it means to be one of the lucky ones.

A few months ago, in the children’s section at the library, I met a kindred spirit. I knew from her first F-bomb over the abstract puzzles we were meant to be. While other mothers discussed things like better options for Christian-based Mother’s Day Out programs (Seriously? What in the hell Hoosiers? I never heard of these before and I don’t get it…but you do you girl…no judgments.) my new potty mouthed friend and I were comparing notes on the two local children’s hospitals. We were discussing the merits of nursing staffs and surgical waiting rooms. We were talking about how much your prospective changes when you spend a lot of time in these places and how other parents are so lucky they will never need to know this. Then we were talking about her son.

Unlike me, my new friend wasn’t one of the lucky ones. Three months before we met, her five year-old didn’t get to leave the hospital. His rare and rapidly spreading brain tumor that initially took her through our shared experiences, took his life just months after diagnosis. When we met she was days from moving back to her native state while trying to hold things together for her younger son and prepare for the “miracle” son arriving in a few months. She was a tough broad and her story and those hours our kids played together will stick with me forever.

And then there is our Deaf Fairy Godmother’s son. After battling cancer and losing an eye to it years ago, her 19 year old is once again battling the same rare cancer he beat previously. The woman that so dramatically changed our life by teaching us how to relate to our little deaf Nugget and cheering us on every step of the way has spent the past month sitting by her own son’s hospital bed in that same children’s hospital. So far, it’s looking good and the hope is there that they will once again, be some of the lucky ones. (Now if you are a regular reader you know I’m not a promoter in any way but if you have the ability, please go to this Go Fund Me page and help out. This family is amazing. They are Deaf parents and activists of 4 deaf sons on their 3rd round of fighting cancer and they could sure use any generosity you might find.)

There are so many more families I’ve met this year fighting fights most would never dream of, so as we go into surgery tomorrow, it’s pretty easy to keep things in perspective. This time around Nugget is having reconstruction work done on some teeth and jaw parts that didn’t form due to his hard-core infant drug use. He had so much radioactive crap pumped into his kidneys those first months it’s a wonder he doesn’t glow. (Though it might explain his frequent Hulk-out moments) And he’s getting a new ear tube since his old one fell out and has been stuck in his Atresia canal for more than a month because it’s too small for the tube to fall out like in a normal kid. (Seriously, can you imagine something sitting in your ear like a bug for a month? No wonder he gets surly.)

As with anything, there is a risk. There’s always the risk of more hearing loss with the tube implantation due to his anatomy but there’s risk without the tube too. Like everything in life, it’s a crapshoot. But so far, we’ve been the lucky ones and I will always be aware of that. So tomorrow morning we’ll kiss our Nugget, then kiss the dice and hope for the best. Even when things are uncertain, (I’m lookin’ at you 2016!) perspective is the key – and hey, with only one ear to fix, it will take half as long! Perspective.

I Found Dory…Kind Of…

woman with fish

That little orange hellcat Nemo, is like a rock icon in the birth defects world. (Yes, that is a thing.) He’s the mascot for a variety of groups because what better point of reference for a one-eared Microtian (like my Nugget) or a kid with a limb difference than a sassy orange whippersnapper. For kids like mine, Nemo is the man…or the fish…I guess.

With Finding Dory hitting the big screens, it’s good to have that little finned wonder back in full force when Nugget is old enough to be targeted by the typically outlandish marketing campaign. I assumed we’d see Dory eventually, likely at home because convincing Nugget to sit through an entire movie in a quiet theatre is basically akin to overseeing union negations with a bunch of drunken longshoremen. But a few days ago in a moment of weakness, I loaded up my tiny Turks and hit a morning matinee.

What prompted such madness? Heat stroke? Hormonal imbalance? Sign language threats from a knee-high Nugget? While all could be viable options, it was none of those. Rather, in my numerous special needs parenting groups, again and again posts touted that every parent of a special needs kid needs, nay, must, see Finding Dory. Now, special needs parents are not “must” kind of people. Unlike those broads on the frontline of the Mommy Wars (which I’m pretty sure didn’t exist before Facebook and might I add – girls, this crap really needs to end.) special needs parents never tell you what you should or shouldn’t do with your kid, but rather we’re more “hey, anything is worth a try” kind of people. So these recommendations held weight.

Over the past couple weeks, Nugs and I have been butting heads like a couple of mountain goats. (Goats or rams? No clue, but you get the point.) And while I attribute much of this to turning three in a month, it’s a lot more than that. We’re out of sync. So under the guise of “hey, anything is worth a try,” I hoped that finding that crazy Dory might give me some guidance. (Desperate times my friends, desperate times.)

Nugget’s been rough lately for a few reasons. For one, having a super-talkative big brother (who never shuts up) home all summer makes Nugget want to talk…which is awesome…but thanks to his apraxia of speech, he can only say vowels with the rare odd consonant. He’ll address me with phrases like, “Ay un a o ou a oo.” If I don’t immediately translate his drunken ramblings into Standard English he slaps his head and yells, “Ugh!” If I ask him to sign it, he yells, “O om!” (no Mom) while stomping off muttering “arggggg.” It’s like living with Charlie Brown. (And full disclosure, I’ve always had Lucy tendencies. The kid better not try to kick a football…)

We’ve always battled frustration meltdowns that happen when he misunderstands situations due to his hearing loss but now, since he thinks he’s talking (I guess he can’t hear the missing sounds?) he doesn’t want to sign, so no one understands him. Add to this his genetic combo of two hotheaded ethnicities and he’s become as aggressive as a linebacker with roid rage. Just to push me a bit further, he’s also developed a new love of the spontaneous nudist life (People, things have occurred in recent days that will likely take years of therapy to erase from my memory…one word…poop.). So even Dory was worth a shot. 

Five minutes into previews, Nugget said he was done and wanted to go. (Hey kid, I just shucked out 30 bucks for tickets and we are staying at least through the opening credits!) As any good (read- cheap ass) mother does, I began pulling a small grocery store’s inventory out of my “purse” in the hopes of feeding him into complacency. That bought me ten minutes until he screamed, “air uus ox?” (Where’s my juice box?) Unfortunately, an usher was unexpectedly fluent in drunken vowel speak and immediately got all up in my business. I had no choice but to hit concessions and buy a $50 box of M&Ms.

The rest of the movie was a combo of wrestling, walking up and down the stairs (again and again and again) and watching from the entrance but at least we made it to the closing credits. And while Dory didn’t solve all my problems as I’d hoped, I did walk away with three bits of knowledge.

  1. I’m never taking this kid to a movie ever again. Ever. Never.
  2. It’s really hard to fix a hearing aid in a dark theatre, especially after it has been flung down the aisle by an angry child.
  3. The groups were right – special needs parents really do need to see this movie.

Dory’s parents wanted to shield her from the world because she was born with something that was going to make life difficult for her, much more difficult than for other fish. The same is true for parents of kids born with special needs. We parents know how hard life is and how much harder is it going to be for our special little guys. Once her parents realized they couldn’t hide Dory away, just like the rest of us, Dory’s parents armed her with ways to adapt and hoped for the best. It’s the same for Nugget. I’d do anything to make his journey easier but sometimes the best I can do is arm him with tools to make his own way. I think right now we’re just stuck in a phase of tool development and he’s testing the waters in preparation for finding his own way when school starts.

I’ve thought a lot about that damn blue fish over the past days and I must say, it helps. Not quite as much as that glass of wine after he finally goes to sleep, but the movie did make things more clear. If for no other reason, it reminded us both to “just keep swimming.”

 

 

Pardon My Dance Break…

dancing boys

Like most discerning television enthusiasts just shy of age 3, Nugget has sophisticated viewing tastes. He loves the hard-hitting facts exposed in Sid the Science Kid, the fast-paced adrenaline rush of Paw Patrol and the gritty work-place drama of The Odd Squad. While he’d love to be an avid binge-watcher, he’s only allowed that luxury in the presence of phlegm or vomit. (his or mine). After a hard day on the swings, nothing takes the edge off like kicking back with a juice box in one hand and the TV remote in the other.

While his television viewing is generally age appropriate, (with the exception of his unexplainable love of The Goldbergs which I fear is due to seeing his own Smother in the adoringly oppressive Beverly) there is one show that we just can’t keep him away from and due to the scantily clad nature of the ladies, the age appropriateness is questionable. My Nugget is currently obsessed with Dancing With The Stars and while he’s danced with fandom in recent seasons, this time around he is obsessed, even requesting a Dancing With The Stars themed birthday party.

Every morning upon waking, he signs – Dancing With The Stars tonight? If my answer is yes, he’s elated. If it’s no he demands a quick fix from YouTube so he can carry on with his day. This coming week’s two-night finale is likely to blow his tiny mind. (Back to back Dancing? Madness!) An odd obsession for a toddler boy or is he merely emulating his adoringly oppressive mother’s interests much like his love of Wonder Woman and the musical stylings of Flo Rida? Or is this the first sign that finally, after losing hope with Number One Son following 8 years of less than stellar art projects and school performances, that my Nugget may have gotten my artsy farty gene? A mama can only hope but I venture to guess his current obsession stems from something far deeper.

See, Nugget is Team Nyle all the way and waits in anticipation for any glimpse of his dancing hero. For those of you, (unlike Nugget and by extension now, even the Turk) who aren’t DWTS fans, Nyle DiMarco is a profoundly deaf actor and model (and fine male specimen) that was the recent winner of America’s Next Top Model. (No, Nugget is not a fan of ANTM, nor am I. Tyra, love ya girl but that show is ridiculous.) Winning Top Model and being deaf gave him a direct path to the token “disabled star” slot on the latest season of Dancing With The Stars.

As with most television programing, this show also has a formula that relies on stereotypes and the token disability slot is part of that, as is the token geriatric slot, the old jock slot, the rehabilitated child star slot, the washed-up musician slot and the hottie-past-her-prime slot. But much to the surprise of both the DWTS producers and its fan base, (primarily old broads and their bored husbands (oh, and Nugget too)) this year’s token disabled star quickly proved that he wasn’t disabled at all.

In case you, unlike myself, have not spent the past few years pouring over audiograms and learning about the four levels of hearing loss, being Profoundly Deaf means you hear nothing and even aided you still hear nothing. That means that when this man is dancing, he is dancing to complete silence. (Suck on that Baryshnikov.) And in case you are not watching this season, the “disabled” man who dances to silence has been absolutely amazing, receiving top scores and far surpassing the rest for the competition for the entire season. But better than that, he’s used his time in the spotlight to push his political agenda, one that happens to be mine- bilingual (ASL and speech) language acquisition for all deaf and hard of hearing children. (Click here, in case you missed my high horse tirade on the matter and want to better understand why this is even a thing.)

From political appearances to forming the Nyle DiMarco Foundation, this man has made huge strides in the push for bilingual education for all deaf kids all in the midst of rehearsing a cha-cha and polishing his pasa doble. In addition to this activism that warms the hearts of parents like me, what’s much more important is his role modeling. My Nugget is obsessed with Dancing With The Stars because when he is watching he sees a guy that talks with his hands just like he does. He sees a guy that learns with his eyes, just like Nugget does and he sees a guy that keeps it classy in a world that is growing increasingly trashy. (Just like Nugget damn well better do when he’s a grown man or his mama is going to take care of that.)

Something tells me that when the producers filled the token disabled contestant slot with Nyle DiMarco, they had no idea that he would prove again and again that being deaf is not a disability but rather, a different approach. They also had no idea that he would bring with him not only the entire Deaf community, but the parents of deaf and hard of hearing kids, advocates, supporters, educators and anyone who works with these kids, one little chubby toddler in Indiana and tons of other kids who see themselves in this guy and millions of viewers who are shocked to have their preconceived notions of the deaf obliterated by dance.

It’s wonderful to see someone using this ridiculous platform that is Dancing With The Stars for good instead of trying to reignite a flailing career. Good on you Nyle DiMarco. This family will be watching you in the finals next week. (Not like we have any other choice…Nugget rules.) You’ve certainly got our votes but I am hopeful that this love affair will fade before I have to come up with a Dancing With The Stars themed birthday cake in July. I already have all those football decorations…

dancing girl

 

 

Thanks For The Coffee Klatch Paul Stanley

Toddlers on bench in gas masks during WWII

Unleash the balloons! Discharge the confetti cannons! It’s over. (No, not the US presidential race, we can only dream about that ending. We’re stuck in that crap-nado for at least six more months.) No, the case conference was yesterday and Nugget now officially has an IEP and is placed in a school for fall. He’s even been put on a bus route. (Though I doubt the chubster’s stump-like legs will be capable of mounting bus stairs and thus he will need a drop off, but I digress.) While the beginning of his formal education doesn’t look at all like I’d anticipated, we’ve got an education plan and the next step is happening.

We had great options but Nugget fell into the in-between and none were ideal right now, so he’ll be spending his first semester on the Island of Misfit Toys with other little buddies that need an extra push to get things going. (Side note- when we visited the Island, Nugget had a grand time laughing at a kid with enormous glasses and that kid pointed and laughed right back, because on the Island, it is perfectly acceptable for a kid with one ear and a hearing aid on his forehead and a kid with Coke-bottle glasses to mock each other. The Island is a level playing field. Socialization at it’s core.) He’ll have a full morning of social time and therapy, much like a Baby Betty Ford Clinic. Best of all, the teachers will meet Nugget in his zone, not all sign language, not all speech but a combo of both, just like Nugget.

In addition to his speech and language needs, they will also help him with his anxiety. (Again, much like a Baby Betty Ford Clinic – sans pharmaceuticals.) The plan is to bring that sassy little chunk out of his Mama-needin’ shell so he’ll become comfortable enough to entertain the masses with his sweet dance moves and vowel-based recreations of Flo Rida jams. (El-um u i ous : That’s ‘Welcome to My House’ as interpreted by the Nugget.) The kid is well on his way to comedic genius and while I’d love to save it all for my own entertainment pleasure, the world needs a good laugh right about now and Nugs is ready to lead the charge…as soon as he can get off his mama’s lap. (I’m assuming Jerry Seinfeld started on his mom’s lap as well. Right?)

While the decision is made, I still had my doubts. The what-if’s are massive in this Polly-the-Planner, Wilma-the-Worrier mind of mine. Sure, all parents worry about making a wrong choice – like will Timmy become an ax murderer because I sent him to a Waldorf school over a Montessori school? (Unlikely, but though he’ll be able to knit at age 3, he might never learn to sort beans properly.) In the realm of special needs parenting the worry is heightened because your kid is already behind and parents are often working against developmental time clocks, age deadlines, insurance restrictions and school district constraints. (Man, have I learned a lot this year!)

Just as I was getting ready to dosi-do into a second-guessing square dance over my morning coffee, I got a little gift from Paul Stanley that seemed to put things in perspective. Paul Stanley, yes Star Child from Kiss and a founding father of hair metal, has the same ear deformity Nugget does and even wears the same kind of hearing aid. Didn’t know Star Child was half-deaf with one ear did ya? (There is your useless trivia for today. You’re welcome.) That’s why he started the hair thing – to hide his ear. And I guess that also explains the whole volume thing too. Gene: Turn it up guys, Paul can’t hear a damn thing, he’s only got one ear! Paul Stanley never went public about his Microtia until recently and since then he’s been a huge supporter of tiny Microtians doing great things for kids all over. (And you thought he was just some sleazy, tight pants wearin’ rock star didn’t you? Nice, Judgy Judy)

Anyway, this morning an interview with Paul Stanley came across my inbox and my second-guessing ceased. In the article, the writer asked Stanley his secret to overcoming the huge obstacles placed before him as a kid. He replied, “You don’t take giant steps. You initially take baby steps appropriately. As you have small successes and small wins, it encourages you to go the next step.” Logical? Yes, but sometimes when wisdom is delivered by a hairy rock icon it sticks better. Thank you Star Child.

Nugget is doing just that. He started by signing single words and now he’s signing sentences. He used to be a miserable, grunting tyrant and now he uses sign language to recreate hilarious adventures from his day. (Explaining how he got an owie is usually Oscar worthy.) Signing has given him enough confidence to try verbal approximations and he just keeps building. It really doesn’t matter where he is in school because right now, he is taking baby steps at his pace and eventually those will lead to great success. In time, Nugget might just pick-up a guitar and forge a new sound that will take the world by storm. (Though in all honesty I look for him to be more R&B than Metal. Chubby guys are good at smooooooooth.) Take your time Nugget and keep going with those baby steps. We’ll get there. I have no doubt about it.

 

I Think My Spirit Guide is a Wrestling Quaker

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With the exception of a stint in a private school owned by the Turkish mafia (What? Mafia bosses care about education too.) and a year in public school, I’ve spent my entire teaching career in Quaker schools. If you’re not familiar with Quaker schools let me nutshell it for you. Quaker schools were created by the Religious Society of Friends (Codename: Quakers) to educate their young’uns, although now most students are not Quakers. These are groovy, progressive schools where equality is the norm, community service is part of the curriculum and you can’t help but get sucked into their hippie thinking. (Quakers are pretty badass for pacifists.)

After many years in various Quaker schools, the Quaker way is deeply rooted in my thinking and parts of it occasional spring forth from my cluttered brain in times of need. This week, one Quaker idea has really been poppin’ thanks to my one-eared, bum kidneyed, hard of hearing, apraxic, high-strung, Nugget’s latest journey and that’s the idea that “a way opens.” It started in the dairy section of Aldi. (Yes, I’m a value shopper. No shame in that.) I heard, “Relax, a way opens,” over and over in the voice of my former coworker Mr. Ross, a wrestling coach/hippie Quaker. (I’m guessing this means he’s my spirit guide. I’m not sure how that works but admitting I hear voices sounds like a cry for help so I’m going with spirit guide.)

Most likely, Mr. Ross became my spirit guide because he was the one who best explained the theory to me many years ago. “If there’s a rock in the stream, the water doesn’t try to break the rock. The water makes a new way around the rock. Thus, a way opens.” It was pretty Zen for a dude who spent most of his time in headlocks and half nelsons. Ultimately, it might not be the road you were planning to travel, but a road will open, in time.

Right now, I really need a way to open in the, choosing-a-school-for-the-One-Eared-Wonder arena. As of August he phases out of Early Intervention and moves on to big boy school, but due to summer break decisions must be made now. We have 3 choices: the ASL based deaf school, the speech based deaf school with no ASL or the all encompassing developmental preschool which I lovingly liken to the Island of Misfit Toys- everybody who needs a little extra help can find it there.

We tried the ASL deaf school earlier this year and even though signing is his first language, it was a di- freakin’-saster. (Here, in case you missed it.) Since his main issue now is developing speech I had grand plans for him to attend the speech-based deaf school but after demonstrating a flagrant disregard for his mother’s plans by throwing his placement evaluation like Pete Rose in a title game, I began to worry. After discussions with his developmental pediatrician, speech therapist and audiologist last week my grand plans began to crack. All three suggested that due to Nugget’s increasing anxiety issues, he might not be ready for a speech intensive school. Why ya gotta do me like this Nug? Mama had a plan.

With every professional suggesting a holding pattern, I knew what they were really saying…look how well he’s done with you this year… you should give him one more year…stay home with him, just one more year. Sure I nodded and claimed I’d give proper consideration, while my insides screamed “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Now I certainly love my Nug and I will agree this has been a great year for him developmentally, but regular viewers may recall my fear of financial ruin forcing me to take up pole dancing on cellulite night as a means of survival. That fear hasn’t diminished and I’m staying flexible just in case. Here in the real world Mama needs to bring in some dough and while I’d love to stay home (Ok, not really, 24/7 Nugget duty is hard and I’m old.) I really must get back to the workforce.

Going back to work not only means freedom from the threat of pole dancing, it also means wearing pants not intended for yoga. (While I enjoy my yoga pants, my pants have not been exposed to yoga in the past year and Mama desperately needs the stand-up-and-suck-it-in goodness that occurs with a waistband.) I long for commutes where my sports radio is not disturbed by constant demands for It’s Signing Time Music Time. (Yes, I’m butch like that but only during football season.) I want lunch without that little bastard Daniel Tiger and coffee that doesn’t have remnants of a toddler’s masticated bagel. All of that is at my fingertips if I just get this school thing right. See, I’ve already taken a teaching position for next school year. (Now you see my plan? Mommy goes to school, Number 1 is in school, Nugget starts school. Easy peasy…or not.) So the need for accurate Nugget placement is high.

Hopefully my Spirit Guide is right and soon, a way will open. In the past, through all our trials, (And there have been an inordinate amount, damn it) a way has always opened. It wasn’t always what I’d hoped for but it’s always worked out, eventually. (Though I may now have a compromised liver and nervous tick, everything has to resolve, eventually.) On an up note, somehow in this stress, I developed not an ulcer, but rather a wrestling Quaker spirit guide so it seems my body has learned to handle stress differently this year. Perhaps a way is opening…

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Grab Your Cape One Eared Wonder, It Is Time.

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When Nugget was a few weeks old and his failure of the newborn hearing screening was confirmed (Like that was hard, I mean, the guy has one ear. Duh.) we were told “The Center will be in touch to register him. They can keep track of him from here out.” Now I assumed, as one does, that “The Center” was something akin to the Hall of Justice. Logically, I also assumed that since the One Eared Wonder was born with a genetic glitch, as is true of most members of the Justice League, X-Men, Avengers, etc., it would only be a matter of time before The Center sent his cape and tights and called him in for duty. We got that call this week but we’re still waiting on the cape and tights.

Early Monday morning Nugs and I were instructed to report to The Center for his “evaluation.” While they tried to convince me this “evaluation” was for school placement, I knew better. I’ve got forty plus years of Wonder Woman fandom under my belt. I know how these things work. I also know it’s imperative to keep things on the down low, so I played along with the school rouse.

I tried to explain the process to Nugget, but to him it all sounded a bit too much like school. Unfortunately for him, The Center also shares a campus with his old school and if you’re following along, you’ll recall that that whole deaf preschool thing did not set well with the little dude and at present, he’s a preschool drop-out. As soon as we neared the sprawling, gated campus, (Huh. See that, sprawling, gated campus, synonymous with superhero training grounds –ie the Xavier Institute from the X-Men. They can’t fool me. I know what’s really going on.) Nugget knew exactly where we were and the meltdown commenced.

From the backseat he was screaming, sobbing, and signing no, no, no, I go home over and over and over. (While this is not behavior befitting one quested with world salvation, I’m sure AquaMan behaved the same when his AquaMom took him that first time too.) I assured him that I was staying and it would be fun but he’s heard enough of my crap over this situation and was not buying it. So, as I’ve now grown accustomed to doing, I entered The Center with a screaming fat kid clinging to my torso like a hostile chimp.

I was a bit concerned when I was able to just open the door and walk in. I’d expected there to be a handprint recognition security system or a membership swipe card at the very least. Upon entry we were met with a team led by a small older woman (their version of Dr. Charles Xavier-obviously) and her team of attractive young people, likely hiding their own superpowers beneath career wear. We were ushered back to the ‘testing suite’ where the One Eared Wonder was wired up to headphones and the process began. (While I’d hoped for a segment where they strapped him to an upright table for endurance, strength and mind control testing while I looked on from a glass-enclosed balcony above, that didn’t happen. I’m assuming they wait until he’s successfully completed kindergarten for that phase.)

As the testing continued so did his hostility, even after he was introduced into a room of fellow-trainees. (AKA two other almost-three year olds.) The other trainees were a bit more independent and did not demand to remain on their mommy’s laps. Because of this bravery, I assumed they were undercover members of The Center being used as a control group. That assumption was dashed when the interpreters entered the room.

Three kids, not quite three-years old, all of whom only communicate in ASL, received a team of two older women who interpreted their every sign for the hearing evaluators (whose hidden talents must not include the ability to read chubby fingered toddler ASL) and the result was hilarious.

The quiet room was now filled with dramatic, rapid-fire, voice-overs of every single thought the toddlers expressed:

Can I get some water?

                        I spilled my water.

            I want more water.

                        Did somebody poop?

            I pooped.

                        She pooped.

                                    I go home now! (Nugget, of course)

            Where is my snack? Can I eat his? He’s not eating it. I want.

                                    I’m done with this! We go in car now! (Nugget, of course)

            I’m ready for nap.

                        I don’t like this snack. Got something else?

            Are we done?

                        Where is my dad? My dad has snacks.

                                    I don’t want snack. GO HOME NOW! (At least he was consistent)

Upon our departure, I was given another form to complete regarding home behaviors and skills. While there was a question asking – does you child easily lift extremely heavy objects (Why yes, last week Nugget held my car up during an oil change.) I was taken aback when there were no questions like, does your child spontaneously take flight, walk through walls and/or appear out of nowhere. After completing the form I added a note suggesting those be added for the next printing.

Now we wait. Our next meeting is scheduled for May and I’m hoping that’s when he gets his cape and tights but if it’s based on Monday’s performance, we might be stuck with a bath towel and pajama bottoms for a while longer.

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I’ve Found a New High Horse and I’m Mountin’ Up

 

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As a long-time teacher, former world traveler, previous expat and world news junkie, I am well versed in the practice of climbing atop my high horse. And at the risk of sounding vain, might I add that perched upon my mighty steed, arms clutching research and eye-witness accounts, nose cocked as I stare over my glasses with a smug, judgmental gaze, I look damn good on a high horse.

Before my days were filled with boogers and butt wiping, I rode many a high horse. I was rigid about genocide after researching in Rwanda, dogmatic about the effects of lifelong fighting on children after a month in Belfast, authoritarian about Turkish politics after living there, emphatic about immigration after marrying the Turk (and being screwed by INS like a high end call girl) and the list goes on. But in the past few years, motherhood has caused me to stable my high horse. While I feel the occasional flare up from the old palomino when an unsuspecting fool makes a comment about immigrants (While my gut says, scream “Oh no you didn’t” I’ve found that isn’t as effective as a fact-filled, first hand account smack-down.) for the most part, I’ve been on the down low. Until now.

I’m new to this whole deaf and hard of hearing world and thus it will be quite some time before I’m ready to sit firmly upon the ol’ high horse regarding any of those issues. However, there is one subject on this journey that has been causing me to feel a stirring deep within, and while I first thought it might be my high-fiber diet, I realized that feeling is the need to mount my high horse and advocate in the arena of early language acquisition through ASL.

There are various schools of thought regarding language acquisition for deaf and hard of hearing kids. Some say sign only. Some say spoken English only. (Which is kind of stupid because that’s expecting a kid who can’t hear to be able to learn to speak… but I digress.) There are those who believe signing slows oral development (which has been proven wrong again and again). There are those who think signing alienates. And then there are those who think –give those babies every option and let them make the choice. I fall into the latter and now, almost a year later I’ve got good reason to believe the ‘give them both’ concept is the answer.

Last summer we learned that though Nugget was 2, his expressive language was that of a 6 month old. Even though he had one working ear and usually that should’ve been giving him enough access to speech to get him talking, it wasn’t so it was suggested we begin using ASL. I wasn’t expecting that. How was I going to teach my child a language I didn’t even know? How was I going to learn ASL? (I’m old and thanks to age, wine, and an excessive amount of Aqua Net in the 80’s, my brain cells were not in top form and learning Turkish had pretty much taken my last good ones.) I was told I needed to wade into a world completely foreign to me, again, and honestly, I didn’t want to. But I knew something had to happen. Nugget was trapped without a way to express his needs and boy, was he pissed.

Within weeks of meeting our Fairy Deaf Godmother (who waves her wand and suddenly he signs) everything changed. Once Nugget could discern his need and specify, “I’d like a dry martini” over “I just pooped,” his demeanor changed immediately. (No, he’s never ordered a dry martini but I felt it was a good sign for me to learn…you know…just in case.) While he still has latent tyrannical tendencies, it’s nothing like before.

In less than a year he’s developed an ASL vocabulary of close to 200 signs, knows his colors, numbers and much of the alphabet. He’s beginning to sign sentences and even tells me stories. What’s more, he’s begun to speak. (Oh not well or anything and with the exception of the words “go” and “hi” it’s like playing charades with a marble-mouthed drunk but he’s trying.) ASL gave him communication, which lessened his stress and gave him the confidence to play with speech. We gave him both languages and he’s deciding. Before he mostly signed but now he tries to say the word and signs it so I understand. Maybe someday he will only speak. It’s his choice.

Add to that incidents like today and I’m confident that the “give them both” approach is right. While Nugs and I were making an emergency toilet paper run to the store, we detoured to the donut counter. As we signed our conversation about donut selection, I noticed an older man watching. The man asked if Nugget was deaf and I told him ½ but he’s learning both ASL and English so he can communicate in whichever language is easier for him. The man smiled and said, “Thank you.” He pointed to his own hearing aids and told me, “I was born deaf but in 1944 they thought if you forced deaf kids into normal schools they’d learn to speak. I didn’t even have a hearing aid until I was older. I learned to lip read but it’s never been easy. I always wished I ‘d learned to sign. You’re doing the right thing. He’s going to do great.” (Oh you know that gave me a huge case of the feels.)

Communication is hard. Being a kid is hard. Being a kid who can’t communicate? Aw hells no. So as I continue on this journey and watch Nugget develop, I feel the need to get back in the saddle, clutching my research and first-hand knowledge, stare over my glasses judgmentally and say, “For the love of God people, shut up and give them both!”

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