Either/Or

Two days ago it was Christmas. I have struggled with my feelings on Christmas since I was a teenager. I think I finally understand why. Some years it just feels plain lonely.

I think it started because of a question I have been asked over and over since I was a kid. The question was asked in all kinds of different ways, but it always felt like it came down to an either/or. “Do you celebrate Hanukkah or do you celebrate Christmas?” The struggle was with whatever it was that was deeply ingrained into the people who were asking the question. But I was not raised in an either/or home. I am an and.

My mother was raised in a Christian home in a small town in Wyoming called Saratoga. My father was raised in a Jewish home in Denver, Colorado. When my parents met as freshman at Colorado State University, my father explained to my mother what being Jewish meant to him. As I recall her saying it, it was her first exposure to a Jew in the flesh. After my parents got married my mother went through a rigorous conversion process and she committed to raising me and my brother Jewish. That’s exactly what they did. I was brought up at Temple Emanuel, the same Denver synagogue my father’s family had been members of for generations before. It gave me a good solid foundation for my life. I am Jewish.

I grew up celebrating Hanukkah at home and Christmas at my grandparent’s home in Saratoga. I lit the menorah each of the eight nights of Hanukkah and got a gift and I tore open presents Christmas morning sitting on the floor around a lit up tree with my cousins. I loved it. I had the best of both worlds. These people were all my family. It didn’t matter that we belonged to different houses of worship. It was about family. It was about love.

But as a teenager the holidays seemed to become complicated for my family. My Jewish grandfather died when I was 14. My Christian grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when I was 15 and my Christian grandmother became weak and eventually sick caring for him. My family still celebrated Hanukkah, but Christmas was disrupted. We no longer went to my grandparents’ house for Christmas. Reflecting back on it now, this was about the time I became aware that my Jewish grandmother asked my mom if her gifts for me and my brother would be Hanukkah gifts or Christmas gifts. I don’t know if she was confused or just passive aggressive because I never asked her and I wasn’t close enough to anyway, but I do think she was raised in an either/or kind of family. I think a lot of our parents were raised either/or.

I have always loved the lights during the winter holidays. I loved lighting the menorah and I loved all of the houses decorated in our neighborhood. Everything felt joyful and bright. At some point in my young years I became aware that hanging lights on your house if you were Jewish was not okay with some Jews. This always blew my mind. Why were Jews anti-joy? I remember the year I decided to hang holiday lights on our house when my kids were still little and I’ve never looked back. I do it every year. There have been Jewish people in my life who have felt uncomfortable with my lights. I figure they will get over it or they won’t. That’s their issue. They’re either/or.

From my perspective, the holidays are hard in some way for almost every adult I know. And for a lot of our kids. These holidays are challenging for us, for sure. And we really need the joy.

So let there be light.

Happy everything.

LAW

Mourning School Photos

I grew up in a home where my school photos from kindergarten through high school graduation were proudly displayed in a collage for all to see. It’s one of things I loved about my childhood home. My kids loved looking at those photos of me and my brother. My mom was dedicated to such things. I am grateful for that.

I strived to be like my mom in those kinds of ways and I still do. I felt really lucky when my own three kids were young because I was one of those fortunate people who didn’t have to make a living when my children were very young. Just like my mom. When my kids were little I was one of those moms who planned class parties and baked. I had every intention of filling up those photo collages of my three beautiful and exceptionally bright kids.

I can’t even find those frames anymore. And there are no school photos to put in them anyway. This fond memory has instead become a source of pain. The last few years of school have been a struggle. Not because there is anything wrong with my kids. There isn’t. But because there is something wrong with the system. They have all veered off track. It has not been easy.

I do have faith they will be fine and even stronger for what they have endured. I know they still have so much life to live. So much untapped potential. But I still mourn the childhood I imagined for them.

When I am feeling this way it helps me to remember that I am not alone and that this too shall pass. There is a very poignant essay that I have heard read often in my circle. It helps. It was written by a Sesame Street writer about raising her own child with a disability.

“WELCOME TO HOLLAND”

By Emily Perl Kingsley, 1987. All rights reserved.

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this…

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.” “Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay. The important thing is they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guidebooks. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you never would have met. It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…and you begin to notice Holland has windmills…and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy…and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say, “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away…because the loss of that dream is a very, very significant loss.

But…if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to go to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things…about Holland.

Peace always,

Lisa Ann Weiss

Max’s poem “Goodbye”

My Poem~ “Goodbye”
by Max Tucker
Spoken aloud as public testimony at the Colorado Behavioral Health Task Force and Colorado Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and Deaf Blind Town Hall Meeting on December 5, 2019

Do you not understand?

Or do you not care in order to understand?

Or do you not know how to practice empathy 

and compassion in order to understand?

What part do you not understand? 

Is it everything?

Or do you not know?

Let me tell you something about myself. 

I don’t trust a lot of people

Yet not knowing them well enough

I don’t trust their words and behavior 

I can have a hard time trusting their intentions too

I have been excluded

I have been prejudiced 

I have been overlooked

I have my heart played with

I have been othered 

I have been lonely. 

I have been frustrated. 

I have been furious. 

I have always relied on myself

I have always had this complex smile on my face, 

although people don’t understand that it’s not a 

possibility that I’m going to always be happy. 

I know myself a lot better than anyone else does

And all I hear is despicable lies going through my

implanted ears and that triggers my brain. 

If people don’t understand, 

then the last thing that I wouldn’t

allow myself to see is people leading me on. 

What am I, some kind of doll?

What am I, a back up?

What am I, a naive person?

What am I, a pushover? 

What am I, a child? 

Well, I am done with everything.

I am not angry 

I am not sad

I am just  tired 

Just plain tired 

I am tired to listening

to other people’s perspectives

Or excuses

I am tired of people “correcting me”

I am tired of reading some people’s 

solid expressions on their faces 

I am tired of the stupid stereotypes

I am tired of people defining me 

I am tired of people acting like they’re

always righteous and superior
I am tired of myself feeling negative

I am tired of being promised 

I am tired of disappointing myself 

And being utterly disappointed in this world

I am tired of drama, exclusion or anything else.

I am not clueless

Just because I’m deaf doesn’t mean I don’t know how to read, damn it. 

I am not just reading people’s lips. 

I can read their body language, expressions and my surroundings. 

And I can read myself.

So I’m a lot smarter than some people thought. 

And I don’t need proof 

So I don’t care 

It’s not like I’m in a court case anyway

So better keep that in mind. 

I don’t care about anything anymore

I am only looking out for myself from now on.

And I will always do that. 

I don’t care about anyone’s reactions or words anymore. 

At least I’m trying not to

So be careful

Because that’s the conclusion and that’s final

I win in my life
And now that things are looking up,

I hope to keep that attitude forever.

Because if I’m not happy, then I will change things or cut ties off

with toxic people if that’s the reason. 

I will always look out for myself 

Even if the truth hurts

So the last thing to end this that I would say is that I don’t care about anything anymore 

I am putting myself first

Goodbye.

Public Testimony on 12/5/19

Public Testimony – Colorado Behavioral Task Force/Colorado Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and Deaf Blind

12/5/19

My name is Lisa Weiss. I am a children’s and disabilities attorney and an education policy specialist.  I am also the mother of a deaf teenager. Max is the reason I was asked to speak at this Town Hall meeting today and I want to thank you for giving the deaf community an opportunity to be heard. 

My deepest wish is for people to understand that deaf people are just like everyone else.  They are just people. I have found the systems in Colorado to be difficult because of this one thing. I know that the state agencies responsible for serving deaf people don’t understand.  This is not for lack of people’s good intentions. I know the people who work at these agencies care. It’s because of lack of exposure. It’s because assumptions are made about what deaf people need by people who are not deaf.  Over the last nine years I have witnessed the exclusion of deaf people in the meetings where their fate is being determined for them. To me, that’s the biggest problem. We need deaf people at every level of leadership and there are almost none.

I have the privilege of living with a deaf person and being a part of a deaf community.  I oftentimes work in predominantly deaf groups. I understand the barriers that exist when the communication is inaccessible.  I understand that inaccessibility is at the core of all of the struggles for our community. It is a barrier to everything. People are wired for communication.  It is a basic human need. It is the reason communication is a civil right. Without the ability to communicate there is no opportunity for meaningful understanding or connection.  For a meeting of our minds. What I wish people would understand is that this does not only affect the deaf person, this affects the whole group.  

What I also wish people could see is that for a person in an inaccessible community, this one thing often is the reason for their behavioral health care need.  Without access people can easily become isolated and withdrawn. We become depressed and anxious. I want you to try to imagine what it feels like to be fearful and to feel excluded everywhere because you can’t understand what is going on so you can’t connect.  It’s not that difficult to imagine that at some point you really only feel safe in your own home. That is Max’s experience and that is our family’s experience.

OUR SCHOOL SYSTEM IS NOT FOCUSED ON PEOPLE AND IT IS HARMING OUR KIDS

I want you to know that I was raised in our public school system.  I am a supporter. I moved back here when my kids were young because Colorado boasted of being a leader in deaf education and I wanted my kids to attend the same schools I did.  I wanted my kids to go to the schools where I felt safe. But this isn’t the same school system. Our school system is no longer focused on its mission. Kids. From my perspective, our childrens’ social emotional needs are ignored unless their behavior becomes disruptive.  Then they are restrained, suspended, or just pushed out and forgotten. There is little regard for our children, for our teachers, or for families.

Please understand that my experience is not just limited to Max.  I have three kids and I can tell you that life has been extremely challenging for my family.  All three of my kids have had adverse childhood experiences in the public school system and have been unable to attend school or have their needs met.  As a mom who has kids who are gifted and who also have disabilities, I can tell you that it has gotten to the point where it is nearly impossible to get kids like mine safely through our school system.  That’s because our school system has lost focus on the whole point of education.  

As for our deaf kids, I know they are being harmed. Their accessibility needs are being neglected because the systems of support haven’t ever been set up.  The services they need are too difficult and expensive for school districts so they just don’t provide them. I have heard often enough that parents are not complaining.  This is not true. I know that our deaf kids are being neglected because of systemic failure and Max has been traumatized as a result. Our family has endured a lot. Let me be clear.  I do understand that the accessibility needs are not just being neglected in the school system, but this is where I have been living until now and it is what I can personally verify. 

MENTAL HEALTH CENTER OF DENVER FOCUSES ON PEOPLE AND THEY HAVE COMMITTED RESOURCES TO ACCESS FOR DEAF PEOPLE

All that said, in terms of behavioral health care outside of the school system, I think I can fairly say that Max has been fortunate.  Especially relative to what I know about Max’s deaf peers. When Max needed it, I was able to find a private therapist who focuses on deaf adolescents and could work with Max. I didn’t have to worry about Max having access, which I know can take time to get set up.  

Now Max is fortunate to be recovering from PTSD and the effects of social isolation at school.  Max is benefitting from the programming at the Mental Health Center of Denver. There Max is able to participate in groups and activities with other teens.  That’s because MHCD has been compassionate and patient and generous. That’s because MHCD is focused on their mission. That’s because MHCD sees deaf people as people. 

What MHCD is also learning is that not all deaf people are alike. I have found this to be a real problem, especially in Colorado’s agencies. People need to understand that the deaf community is diverse. Deaf people speak. Deaf people use hearing technology. Deaf people use American Sign Language. Deaf people use something called Cued Speech. Deaf people use written language. There are many ways to communicate. The accessibility need varies depending on the person, the circumstances, and the setting.

THERE MUST BE A FOCUSED EFFORT ON THE DEAF COMMUNITY OR THEY WILL CONTINUE TO BE HARMED

Our deaf community is relatively small.  We are easily overlooked without focusing on us. The services we need are oftentimes costly for organizations to provide and most people do not even understand what we need.  

I want to encourage this task force to make this community a priority.  Organizations in Colorado must be supported to understand how to meet accessibility needs.  Colorado needs to build an overall system of support. It requires education and it requires dedicated funding.  Accessibility must be factored into every organization’s budget. And the system needs to call on a diverse group of the people in this effort who understand the accessibility need.  The deaf people themselves are the leaders we need. 

Thank you for your consideration.

Whistleblowers

I have not been paying much attention to the impeachment hearings. I know to some people that probably makes me seem like I am out of touch and maybe I am, but I know myself well enough by now to realize that I don’t need the impeachment hearings running through my head every day. Besides, my husband is deeply into it and he is a human being who is designed pretty much like a megaphone crossed with a tuning fork. That means that I am really not missing out on much and it still stresses me out. It also stresses him out, but he’s not as protective of himself as I have learned to be. I just hope it’s all over soon.

I don’t blame my husband for his curiosity. Back in the day I myself was devoted to following the OJ Simpson trial and I got caught up in the news scrum after the 2016 election for a few months, so I definitely understand the entertainment value. For the most part I have never really watched the news. It’s just not for me. I prefer to read my news. I just don’t have that kind of bandwidth.

transparency.org

But I do have a lot of respect for the whistleblower and for the civil servants who have been testifying this last week. I’ve heard the term whistleblower a lot lately, but I don’t know if there is much attention being given to who a whistleblower really is. The legal definition of a whistleblower is “an employee who brings wrongdoing by an employer or other employees to the attention of a government or law enforcement agency and who is commonly vested by statute with rights and remedies for retaliation.” This is what I found when I looked it up just now in the the Merriam-Webster.com Legal Dictionary. Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-Webster.com/legal/whistleblower. Accessed 23 November 2019.

What I think is that a whistleblower is simply someone who is willing to shine a light on something that they know to be wrong. Someone who is willing to stand up (or sit down) and put it on the record. What I know is that it takes an enormous amount of courage. I’ve heard enough of the impeachment hearings on NPR while I’m driving around town to know that these courageous people are being portrayed as hateful. I just don’t see them that way at all. From my perspective, these people have been called to action from a place of love, out of duty and honor.

There is also one thing about these impeachment hearings that is a constant reminder for me. It is something that has come up for me over the years whenever Rudy Guiliani is in the news cycle. You see, I was one of Guiliani’s lawyers.

This really isn’t a big deal. I defended the City of New York under Guiliani’s administration for a hot minute almost twenty years ago. I was just a baby lawyer trying to figure out how to practice law. Truth be told, my 29 year old self didn’t even think very much about my boss and I never even met the person. But over the years whenever it has come up that I was a lawyer under Mayor Guiliani’s administration it has felt awkward. There is something about revealing this truth that makes me brace myself for the person’s reaction. Just a smidge. It’s because I never know what kind of an assumption a person might make about me based on this professional association. Especially now that everyone is learning so much about him.

Oy. Guiliani really is a hot mess.

I realize now having worked under other administrations that my connection to Guiliani has always felt surreal to me only because he has such a high public profile and I am just the opposite. It is in my nature to fly under the radar. What I know is that everyone is connected a lot more closely than any of us usually stops to realize. I am one degree of separation from Donald Trump. If you know me, that means that you have only two degrees of separation. This is the kind of stuff that blows my mind.

Wikimedia.org

The degrees of separation between human beings has long been fascinating to me. Pretty much ever since I saw the movie Six Degrees of Separation when I was still in high school. The theory of six degrees of separation is that any person on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries.

What I’ve come to understand about this is pretty simple. Our connections to people, no matter how distant they may seem, do mean something. The closeness of my connection to Guiliani and now Trump is a reminder to me that what I do does affect other people. It does matter. No matter how much you think it doesn’t, it does. We are all connected and we are all responsible for one another.

I just learned through a website about an organization called Transparency International and that June 23rd is World Whistleblower Day. Who knew?

College Visits

I’m on a plane ride home. I was visiting a college with 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 my deaf child. 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 My deaf child should actually be pretty simple. There are only a few schools to visit because there are only a few that they are interested in. They are the schools that have been recruiting my child for the last few years. You see, my child is deaf and wants to go to a deaf school. Or at least a deaf program. My child doesn’t have to go to a deaf school, but wants to. Not for the reasons that hearing people might think. My child is able to get along pretty well in any school with effective access. Theoretically, my child could go to any college and get the communication access they need. But my child wants to be among their deaf tribe. I think my child needs it. People may never be able to understand what it’s really like to be a 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 we 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 my child,

the author is deaf with parents who are not.

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. We are bonded. We are as close as any mother and child can be. Just like I am with my other children. That’s because we can communicate completely and naturally and without the need for hearing or learning any new languages. I can talk to my child 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 my child 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 our family. Deaf schools would have always been my preference for my child, 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 us 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 these schools, but it is not exactly the experience that most of my hearing privileged parent peers are having. I am visiting these schools to make sure that these deaf schools will provide my deaf kid with the kind of access they will need.

My child is not a signer. My child is a cuer. My child’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. My child is deaf just like anyone else who is deaf. And believe it or not, my child is not the only deaf kid in this situation.

I hope they will do the right thing.

My 9/11

Anniversaries are a funny thing. Truthfully, I hadn’t even thought about the date today until a dear old friend posted a comment on my Facebook. Adam and I practiced law together in New York City and he is the one who reminded me of today’s anniversary. He is the one who reminded me to think about my own story from that day. Thank you, Adam.

Truth be told, I have not often told even my closest friends or family about my experience with 9/11. Some people don’t even know that I lived in New York City at that time. You see, there were other people in my life who had stories that seemed so much more important or interesting than my own. So on 9/11 I disregarded my own feelings and quickly, without a moment of thought, stuffed them down deep. That’s what I do. That’s what I’ve always done. I know it’s not healthy. That’s why I write now.

It took me a decade to finally begin valuing my own 9/11 experience. And it required therapy. My therapist did not even realize I had been impacted by 9/11 because I had so much regard for my ex-husband’s story that I disregarded my feelings about the experience completely. I had not being there guilt. I think she called it survivor guilt.

My ex-husband’s story really was powerful and it is also only his story to share. And at the time there were people who thought the world wanted to know about it. I can still recall the voices of Katie Couric and Oprah on our answering machine and the other end of the line. They both called our home phone in the hours and days after the tower was hit. It’s taken me a long time to realize that my own experience also has value.

Fortunately for me, when the plane hit the World Trade Center tower I was still laying in bed in my brownstone apartment in Brooklyn. That’s one reason why I thought my story had no value. I wasn’t even there. I wasn’t one of the people running away from a burning building, running through ash and smoke and chaos like my boyfriend, my friends, and my colleagues. And I wasn’t one of the people trapped underneath the World Trade Center, which is where I most likely would have been if I had gone into the office that morning as I had planned. That was where I was pretty much every morning when I went to law school and worked in Manhattan. The subway underneath the World Trade Center was where I ended my morning commute.

I had been on a plane myself on September 10th. I had taken a sabbatical from the stress of my job as a litigator for the City of New York. I had spent a month in France and then my boyfriend and I met my parents for a vacation in Hawaii. He went to work that morning, but I did not have immediate work to get back to so I was taking my time getting up. All of my active cases had been reassigned before I left and I had planned to go back into my office that morning to talk to my bosses. So when the tower was hit, I was still blissfully unaware.

I was alerted to the tower being hit by my landlord, Alba, a sweet and kind hearted woman from Colombia who lived downstairs. She owned the brownstone with her New York attorney husband. My boyfriend and I rented the apartment, which was the top two floors. A small closet in the hallway of our apartment provided the only access to the roof. I was finally roused by Alba pounding on my door so she could get up to the roof. She told me the tower had been hit and she wanted to see it with her own eyes. I did not.

Everything about that day is a little blurry and always has been. I turned on the tv as soon as Alba told me what had happened. What I could see immediately was that the tower was leaning and it looked like it was going to break apart and fall over. I was worried about my boyfriend who worked in the World Financial Center across the street from the tower. He called me twice shortly after and these quick phone calls reassured me that he was okay even though the tower had not come down yet. People had not started evacuating other buildings at that point. But I had heard his voice and, in my mind, that meant that he was alive. As much as that made no sense at all, that’s how I felt and what I thought as I moved through that day. He was okay. Everything would be okay.

I remember talking to a few people on the phone. My boyfriend’s sister. My mother. Instinctually somehow, I knew that I was never going back to my office. There was no reason for me to think this so it must have been from somewhere inside. I remember wandering around Brooklyn on foot. I remember going to an office store to buy a fax machine because I was going to be looking for a job. I remember lugging that fax machine home. I didn’t have a car. All I know now is that I felt sure that day that my life was going to be different. I had no idea then how much.

I did talk to my boyfriend again toward the end of the day, so I had been right that he was alive. He was trying to figure out how to get home. We talked about people he could contact. Places he could stay that night. I didn’t know then if he was coming home that night. Ultimately, he walked home and walked through the door looking as he always did after work, which surprised me. The only difference was that he had walked, that he was not wearing a tie, and that he had quite a story to share. And I just felt numb.

What I remember now about the days following was that it felt as if someone close to me had died, but there was no process for the death. No funeral. No sitting shivah. No mourning or grieving process that I could recognize. I knew a lot of people who were there that day. Of course, there were a lot of people who died, but I didn’t know any of them. All of my friends and colleagues survived.

Those first few days there were people calling trying to get in touch with my boyfriend. Important people wanted him to tell his story. He didn’t want to. He just wanted it all to go away. He began having nightmares. Neither of us was going in to work because our offices had been damaged so badly. And we really weren’t talking about it much at all. I think we probably just wanted everything to go back to normal. What was normal?

I wonder now if the death that I was feeling was a piece of me that died during that time. I couldn’t talk about my own feelings because I didn’t feel like I deserved to. My only story was his story. And he didn’t even want to talk about it with me. I wonder now if the death that I was feeling was also a part of us that died, him and me together.

There were real, tangible ways that my life changed after 9/11. At least, in my mind they were direct results of my 9/11 experience. Most importantly, the conception of our twins and later, my youngest child. I have no doubt that they would not have been conceived but for 9/11. For this, I am eternally grateful for that day.

God bless us all.

The Spice of Life

I’ve been thinking a lot about why we all don’t stand together. Even when we are in the same community of people. Even when we share the same religion. Even when we work together with a common mission. Even when we are family.

I think it must be fear.

I am in a few groups of people who live in fear. Either currently or historically or both. I have witnessed and experienced the effects of feeling excluded in these groups. And I have been outspoken at times about my feelings because it is my way. I am a truth teller and I am a writer. This is how I need to express myself.

My life has been hard lately so my truths are hard. I know that my words land poorly on some of the people I love. I regret that this has caused grief in my circles. It feels awful. Even worse, it hasn’t changed anything. If anything, it has made some of my relationships worse. And I still wish that the people I love would be open to receiving what I need them to know and simply understand that there is no blame and that there is no shame. I’m just asking to be seen and heard. I’m just asking for understanding.

What is a shame is when fear keeps us separated. Keeps us from being the community of people we really are meant to be. Keeps us from being the people we need to be for each other.

I know I’m not alone in this feeling because I talk to people all the time who feel the same way. I know a lot of people who are in groups where they feel they aren’t welcome. Where they don’t belong. But I believe we can all grow and I believe that we can all get along. I’m one of those people who believes that anything is possible. I am an optimist.

I believe there is always potential to live and work together. Even when we disagree. Even when we don’t look exactly the same or talk the same or pray the same. I believe our differences are what makes us valuable. I believe we can always find shared interest and can and should value others. We share family. We celebrate and grieve together. We have the same struggles. We are really all the same.

I was traveling recently and had the chance to spend a day in Springfield, Illinois. Honestly, the day I was in downtown Springfield it appeared as hot and dusty and dead as a city could be, but it was inspiring to me anyway. How could it not be? Springfield is all about Abraham Lincoln.

I spent a few hours taking in Lincoln’s presidential library and museum. His ideas, his thoughts, and his words filled me with fresh hope. One of his quotes has really been percolating since then and has been following me around ever since. In fact, there has been a billboard across the street from my house with the same quote. I am certain it must have been placed there to remind me. It states “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

This is a fundamental truth.

I was born into an historically vulnerable community. I am Jewish. My father is Jewish. His parents were both Jewish. Their parents were both Jewish. They were all Jewish up my father’s line. At least as far as I know. My mother is also Jewish. She converted to the religion after she married my father. There has never been any question in my mind that I am Jewish, yet I have felt for years that I don’t always belong. I have tens of stories beginning in my early childhood about people who told me that they would not consider me to be Jewish or that I’m not the “right kind of Jew.” The different categories in the Jewish world are widely accepted. I was raised reformed. My husband was raised conservative. There is a commonly accepted difference between these two ways of being Jewish. This difference equates to an implied “less than”, but I have never understood why. How can we possibly stand together if we can’t even accept that we are all equally Jewish?

As a result, this concept of being different or less than while being the same has bothered me my whole life and has become even more frustrating as a mother. My children may appear different to some people. They are not. They are just like everyone else. And so am I.

One of my children, Max, is deaf. This fact automatically puts them and our family into a vulnerable, divided, and very diverse group of people. Just like being Jewish. Like most people who have no experience with deafness, I initially assumed that all deaf people were the same and that they must use American Sign Language. I quickly realized that this is not at all true. Unless you are a part of this community of people, you may never know that there are many different ways to live as a deaf person in the world. Signing is one way, but it is not the only way. It’s just the most visible to other people.

Max understands and speaks English. It can take some patience, but mostly it just takes paying close attention when you’re having a conversation. It feels to me the same as having a conversation with my 75 year old parents and neither of them are deaf. Max is also a native cuer, which means that Max understands spoken language most effectively when someone uses a visual mode of communication called Cued Speech, which is what I do. Max also does know how to communicate in sign, but it is not natural and it takes a lot of effort because Max was not raised with that language. In fact, it might come as a bit of a surprise to most people that most deaf kids aren’t. Max was raised and educated using spoken English. That’s because that’s our family’s shared language. It just made the most sense to me when I was trying to figure it all out.

Despite the fact that Max speaks the same language as most people they meet, Max is often feared by hearing people because of their deafness. This is just how it is with hearing people. They are afraid to be around deaf people because they are afraid they won’t be able to understand each other. This is partly because people assume that deaf people all use ASL. Max almost always feels excluded and can sense this fear so it causes them to withdraw from people altogether. Even from people in our own family. Even from people who love Max.

Many hearing people have pushed technology on Max because they think it is the best solution. It’s not. The sound processors that Max uses with their cochlear implants just don’t give Max the hearing that people assume it must. Max misses a lot of what is being said. This fact sometimes gives people the false idea that Max is not smart or capable, which is far from the truth. Max is one of the smartest and most capable people I’ve ever known. Why can’t people just understand that deaf people and hearing people are all created equal?

And then there’s the deaf signing community, in which Max also feels excluded and feared. Despite the fact that Max does sign, sometimes deaf people seem uncomfortable or make assumptions about Max because of the cueing and the speaking. Some people may feel that Max is not the “right kind of deaf”. They may have never been educated about Cued Speech at all and they can’t understand it. They also may not understand people who speak. How could they? The point is that Max does not feel they are welcome in parts of the deaf community. This really breaks my heart and I know this must be confusing to a lot of people, but it’s the truth. Aren’t all deaf people created equal, too?

All of this rambling is to say one thing. Our differences are what make us interesting and they can add value. If we were all the same in every way, life would be so bland. We may all be different, but in the end we are the same and we need one another. People are not meant to do life alone. It’s just too hard. Without the support of our own people, vulnerable communities like mine will continue to be so.

There is no reason to be afraid.

A Job Well Done

I have no doubt that my mom would be surprised to know that I think about her a lot. Certainly I think about her every day. Today is my mom’s birthday so I’m thinking about her a lot today. I want her to know how grateful I am for her. I don’t think she knows that because sometimes our relationship feels complicated. I think mother/child relationships are complicated no matter who you are. That’s just how it goes. It’s the most important relationship, so it’s bound to be complicated sometimes. That’s my working theory anyway. Take it or leave it.

Every year my mom’s birthday falls within days of or exactly on Mother’s Day. I’ve always wondered if that feels to her like kind of a ripoff. Like being born on Christmas Eve. I have a friend who was a Christmas Eve baby. I don’t think it ever bothered him at all. And I have a sense that it never bothered my mom that her birthday and Mother’s Day became merged into one over the years. My mom is not the type of person to want a lot of fuss over her. That’s the way I’ve always seen her anyway. I hope I’m right about that and I’m sure I’ll hear about it if I’m not. My mom is one who speaks her mind. We are a lot more alike than we are different. I’m grateful to be like my mom.

People talk a lot about how being a parent is harder now than it was when we were kids. It’s possible I have even said this, but when I really think about it I have to disagree. I think being a parent is just plain hard. How could we possibly know if it’s harder now? It’s all perspective really. It really is a lot of work and heartache, but that’s what you sign up for when you have kids. Isn’t it?

I remember when I realized that I would accept the job of mom if it was offered to me. That’s truly how I thought about it. I was in my last year of college when I realized that I would accept. At the time I was worrying that my birth control was not going to be 100% effective for me. That’s when I considered the job. Thankfully, I had my mom as a role model when I contemplated the requirements and she is an excellent mom. I am grateful. My mom sees me and accepts me for who I am. My mom always offers her support even when she doesn’t exactly know how she can help. My mom always wants to know what is going on with me even when the things I tell her must scare the hell out of her. Most importantly, my mom has never walked away from me. I’ve learned over the last few years that this is the most important job requirement.

I am truly blessed with a mom who has modeled the most important things about being a mother. My mom has never wavered. Even though we do not live close to one another and we do not talk to each other as often as we could, I think about my mom every day and I am grateful for her daily presence. I love her so much.

The Courage of Conviction

I am feeling grateful right now. So much so that it is overwhelming me. I’m starting to understand that this is a good time for me to write. Thankfully, I have also been ordered by my therapist to find at least thirty to forty-five minutes every day for self care. Otherwise, I might be driving around running errands or reading documents or paying bills or at Target returning the underwear I bought in the wrong size at least two weeks ago. That would have been time well spent and I still hope to get at least one of those things accomplished this afternoon. But first I’m going to write this. That’s much better. My therapist is good.

My life is a lot to handle right now. I can’t imagine anyone would argue that point. My to do list is impossibly long and I am a highly productive person. I am. I’ve been told this by far too many people for this not to be true. But when areas in your life are sometimes on fire or in danger of catching on fire at any moment, you don’t look or feel very productive. Every human being has their limit. It’s called overwhelm and there is not a lot you can do with that. Trust me.

Some days are better than others. All of them are busy. Thankfully, some are energizing, but others feel like I am trying to run through a pool of mud. I think it looks really scary from the outside. I get that. I’m afraid there are people who are just scared of me. If you’re one of those people you needn’t be. I’m just a human being. Everyone needs people who care about them and who accept them for who they are and where they are. This is who I am. This is what my life is like right now. I’m still here. You can still talk to me.

Not that long ago I named my life as if it is a roller coaster. So sometimes now when I’m talking to people I refer to my life as the Flaming Dragon. It works for me. I know other people it works for, too. It seems like I meet more roller coaster enthusiasts every single day. These are my people. The people who can cope with and even enjoy a roller coaster life or who can at least identify with it. I am grateful for you.

I am also grateful for people who keep reaching out. I was taking a walk with one of them yesterday. I haven’t been able to see this friend very much over the last year and we used to see each other almost every day. I know she was happy to see me and that she also wanted to know something. She shared with me that she is having a hard time tolerating something that feels hostile and she knows that I understand that very well right now. She asked me, very honestly, about my superpower. She wanted to know how in the world I am doing what I am doing. How am I enduring what I am enduring and still standing?

I get it. It must be mind boggling. At times, it honestly seems like my family and myself are under attack. It’s as if we have been called to battle and everyone knows how that goes. It takes it out of you. Everyone in my family is exhibiting the effects of stress. It’s hard, but we are standing up for ourselves. I told my friend that courage is my superpower.

Here’s the thing I’m learning. The key is the standing up. It makes you stronger. Honestly, sometimes I feel like someday we are going to rule the world. I think that must be called an empire state of mind. I believe that what I am standing up for is important and when we make it all the way through this to the other side there will be change. That’s why I’m doing it. Otherwise, it would be insane.


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