I’m on a plane ride home. I was visiting a college with Max, one my 17 year old twins.
Honestly, the whole college visit thing is a little bit foreign to me. I really can’t even remember doing it myself at the same age. Unless I count the time I drove up to Boulder from Denver with my girlfriend and our two guy friends we had asked to our high school winter dance. I’m pretty sure getting stranded at a fraternity house after a party and sleeping on the floor of their older brother’s room shouldn’t be counted as a college visit though. It wasn’t my proudest moment.
The point is that I don’t actually remember looking at colleges the way I am for Max. When I was a senior I knew I was expected to go to college. I followed the path set out for me. Gap years weren’t a thing yet. I applied to a couple of in-state schools because that’s what my parents were willing to pay for. I was accepted to both schools and decided to go to the one where I slept on the sticky floor with my friends that one unfortunate night. I chose CU-Boulder because I knew I was going to have my friend as my college roommate. It was a good choice.
From my perspective, it doesn’t really seem like all that much has changed in the college choice process since 1988. The thing that has changed is amount of pressure on kids. And on parents. I don’t remember my public school friends applying to a dozen colleges like my friends‘ kids do now. Maybe I was just oblivious. It wouldn’t be the first time.
To me it just seems to be an exorbitant amount of stress that has resulted in parents getting too involved. I understand that parents are just worried about whether their kids will be able to manage without them. I get that. I talk to those parents all the time. We all know this. My god, there are celebrity parents facing jail time because of their messed up college choice process
I’m not that kind of parent. I just am not interested in living that kind of hyped up, stressed out, competitive life. That’s part of the reason I moved back to Colorado from New York. I didn’t want anything to do with that pressure cooker. I didn’t want to raise my kids that way. I have never and would never encourage my kids to apply to a dozen colleges. I guess it’s because my own college choice process worked out just fine for me.
I think I am generally the same kind of parent to my three kids that my parents were to me and my brother. I assume that my parents trusted our capabilities or at least trusted that we would ask for their help when we needed it. They supported us when we really screwed up.
Choosing a school for Max should actually be pretty simple. There are only a few schools to visit because there are only a few that Max is interested in. They are the schools that have been recruiting Max for the last few years. You see, Max is deaf and wants to go to a deaf school. Or at least a deaf program. Max doesn’t have to go to a deaf school, but wants to. Not for the reasons that hearing people might think. Max gets along pretty well in a hearing school with effective access. Theoretically, Max could go to any college and get the communication access they need. But Max wants to be among their deaf tribe. I think Max needs it. People may never be able to understand what it’s really like to be a hearing parent to a deaf child. I often find myself wishing that we were all deaf.
The other day, the New York Times published an essay by a writer that Max and I both know. It was a cause for celebration in our world. Through her words she gave voice to so many of us who struggle with belonging in the deaf community. Like Max, the author is deaf with hearing parents.
One thing she wrote about was the fear some hearing parents feel thinking that deaf people will take their deaf children away from them. I do understand this fear. I have sensed it from hearing parents I meet and I have even heard it uttered by some of my friends. But I don’t share their fear and I never have. Here’s why. Max and I are bonded. We are as close as any mother and child can be. Just like I am with my other children. That’s because Max and I can communicate completely and naturally and without the need for hearing or learning any new languages. I can talk to Max at the same time I talk to anyone else and without changing my words or interpreting them into another language. That’s because we use Cued Speech.
Despite the bad rap that hearing parents get from some people in the deaf community, I am actually the opposite of these fearful parents. I want Max to go to deaf schools. I love the pride deaf schools instill in their students. It’s important. I do my best to instill this sense of pride in Max. Deaf schools would have always been my preference for Max, but it just isn’t as simple as that. The deaf schools don’t understand or normally provide access for deaf kids who use Cued Speech. They insist that everyone conform to using American Sign Language. It is not a language that has been easy for Max to learn.
Now as we take a good hard look at these few deaf schools, I am worried that the communication accessibility issue that should not be a factor at any school might actually be as complicated at a deaf school. These schools are recruiting my deaf kid yet deaf kids like mine face the same problems at these schools that deaf signers face everywhere else in our hearing world. Why should any deaf person be required to learn a whole new language before they can get an education at a deaf school? How does this make sense?
So I am happy to be visiting schools with Max, but it is not exactly the experience that most of my hearing privileged parent peers are having. I am visiting schools with Max to make sure that these deaf schools will provide my deaf kid with the kind of access they will need.
Max is not a signer. Max is a cuer. Max’s native language is spoken English. Of all the schools in our country, these deaf schools must be able to understand and accept deaf cuers because when it comes right down to it they are all in the same boat. Max is deaf just like anyone else who is deaf. And believe it or not, Max is not the only deaf kid in this situation.
I hope they will do the right thing.