Thursday, December 23, 2010

Let it snow! Let it snow!

If you've ever been a member of a birth board then you'll know how close friendships develop as you wait out those long hormonal and exciting months comparing everything from symptoms to due dates and debating anything from car seats to breastfeeding. My closest friend from that time is Jess. We still stay in touch today through Facebook, emails, and IMs. She's pretty cool... she and her daughter, Taylor, once sent me a surprise packet with colorful Washington state fall leaves they picked up on a walk for me after hearing me lament on the lack of any colorful trees in Houston like the ones I had in Tennessee growing up! She answered all my baby questions and the "does he need to go to the doctor?" or the "why won't he sleep?" questions I had every single day. She has 4 of her own! She cheered me from afar when I got my CI and was really struggling those first few weeks. It's hard to describe how close you can be to someone you've never met but know better than some of your own friends, but that's how it's been for us!

Jess went on to create a Zazzle account designing posters and t-shirts when our babies were really babies to earn extra income for her growing family. She is now in a Zazzle contest for holiday invitation cards. She created a cute one! I know this is normally my cochlear implant blog....but Jess has been such a good friend to me over the last few years, I wanted to do something for her. If you would take just a minute of your time and vote for her card, I would really appreciate it! Jess rocks, and I hope she wins! In advance, I thank you for any votes! :)

Merry Christmas, Jess! :)

Monday, August 30, 2010

How Cute are These Deaf Dogs? Vote for them to be cover dogs! :)

I saw these dogs and their stories on the Deaf Animals blog tonight. Please vote for them to be on the cover of Atlanta Magazine. They are currently in second place and voting ends tomorrow. They need about 500 votes just to get ahead, and you can vote once an hour. Please spread the word and share the link. They are precious. You can find their owner's story about the work they do as therapy dogs with children at hospitals and schools by clicking on the link under my blogs. Vote by rating them at this link... Every time they are rated it is counted as a vote.

Did you know that deaf animals are more likely to be put to sleep because they are deaf? Isn't that sad? I'd love to see more positive publicity about how amazing deaf animals can be and how they can learn commands visually and become a part of the family just as much as their hearing counterparts! The more people know, the more lives that will be saved. Please vote! :)

Also, check out Powder's story. I read about him yesterday and watched his videos.... I love this dog!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Happy Mother's Day to My Second Mom

Don't let the title fool you. My second mom is second to none. She stands less than 5 feet tall, and she is quite the little fire cracker in the most understated calm way one can imagine. I think Teddy Roosevelt had her in mind when he said, "speak softly and carry a big stick."

My second mom is also known as Mimi to my son and stepdaughter and all the many grandchildren she and my Pops (see: have had biologically, by marriage, or through kids like Gus and me who kind of lucked out and landed a permanent place in the family by default. She's the kind of mom that says, "drop off the kids and go away..." and then takes the kids away to be spoiled and expects the troops to rally back together when she calls a few hours later to meet for a cook out at the house or at the local steak house. We big kids kid about it all the time.... we kind of lost our cuteness years ago with all the little mini-me(s) running around looking angelic and charming, but my only regret is that my second mom is too far away to take my kids and shoo me away more often only to be summoned back for lunch or dinner with no excuses accepted for not showing a few hours later. Such would be bliss.

I met my second mom for the first time one crazy night when I was on a first date with her oldest son in 1986. He was a high school senior, and I was a junior, and we were both fairly shy. He was the cutest kid who wore the shortest, yet preppiest shorts because he was a runner... a very serious and all business runner.... and oh... he had the most amazing legs I've ever seen in my life, and judging by his attire, I'm pretty sure he knew it too.

Anyway, we were running late from our date for whatever reason and my curfew was at midnight... pronto... no excuses for being a single minute late, or I'd be grounded the next weekend. There was no way he could drive me home that fast. What I didn't mention is that my mother was also that shy boy's English teacher, and he was already catching a lot of flak from his more outgoing outspoken best friends for dating his English teacher's daughter and seemed pretty embarrassed by the attention and by having to face her in class. I should have felt special that he put up with all the good natured ribbing on my behalf, especially given my own mother's special brand of humor he probably endured in her room. So instead of taking me home a few minutes late, he took what might have been the biggest gamble of his life to date by knowingly making me later than I'd ever been so he could go to his house and get HIS mom to fix everything. He ran in his house and begged her to call my mother and "do something!" This was the first time I met her and he assured me she was totally cool. She was extremely cool, calm, and collected. She had a short, pleasant conversation with my mom on the phone, was extremely nice to me, and I went home unscathed and totally not grounded (!!!) even though I was very late by my parents' strict standards. Even my hard to please dad loved the guy that walked in the garage and leaned under the hood of his drag racing car to discuss the mechanics. I knew his mom had something pretty special the way she had both of us coasting through my house and Mike standing around chatting with my dad as if it were tea time! She was definitely cool in my book. I met her a few more times through Mike at his house and at dinner after his graduation. Enjoy the accompanying picture with the white dress, patterned *ahem* white hose, and red heels slightly peeking out that I wore to Mike's graduation in 1986. Little did any of us know at the time how much life would soon change.

A few months later my mother died due to complications of a bone marrow transplant and then unexpectedly three weeks later Mike died abruptly, unfairly, and with a sudden loss there's just no words to express at the hands of a drunk driver. I wouldn't have blamed them if their grief had taken them miles away from me as I was deep in my own, but instead they pulled me into the fold as tightly as they could and decided we were going to get through our grief together, and thank God for that. Their youngest son, Corey, who looked and sounded so much like his oldest brother that I didn't know whether to laugh or cry the first time I met him was just as welcoming. They didn't just welcome me that year, they also welcomed an exchange student from Mexico for a year. This picture is all of us nearly 19 years later at my wedding in Texas including Gustavo, the exchange student, who like me is just one of the clan now.

My second mom has been there from the time at Mike's funeral when she pulled me aside and quietly but definitely asked me to ride in the family car with them to the following year when they literally built an extra bedroom on to their house for me (yes, really) to the following year when she "kicked me out" (again...really) and straight into the dorm room at the local university where I was registered for the classes that she "made" me enroll, to my senior year after my father passed away and I was struggling when they brought me back home until I graduated. Oh yes, once again I was living under their roof so there was absolutely no choice but to lock up that degree that year as promised and that I did. Both she and Pops are highly educated and super hardworking people who had very high expectations of their chosen adopted one. She was there with Pops standing tall... all almost 5 feet tall of her... at my graduation. I think that might have been one of her more vocally rowdier moments in life when I graduated with that degree. Normally she gets everything across without raising her voice and one knows she means business just by a look, but every know and then she'll let out a whoop, and that was a whoop kind of moment.

My second mom is a nurse who has done just about everything there is to do in her field. Now she's my free nurse hot line. I'm sure she wasn't expecting all the years she worked tediously on her masters degree while working full time nursing to become the grandma hot line, but I know for a fact I'm not the only one dialing that number! (You know who you are! :)

She also has gotten to know my family very well over the years including my dad, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and my brother's family. There is really no one I'm related to that's important to me that she hasn't made a point of getting to know well. My grandmother especially thought of their family as our family and many Sunday family meals the family lines blurred as our families became one big family. I still treasure those after church Sunday lunches. (The first picture is of us washing dishes long ago after one of those Sunday dinners at Granny's house.) After my grandmother passed away, I was devastated. I didn't want to go back to Tennessee for Christmas. I didn't want to stay in Texas either. At the time I was also still fairly newly single after a broken engagement from the previous year, and I just felt at loss to make a decision how to spend the holidays. One day my second mom called me out of the blue and said to pack a bag. We were going to New York City for the holidays. Ha! New York City! Yes, I felt very loved, and I'd never been colder in my life! I was really blessed.

A few years later she came to Texas with Pops to do some wedding planning with me and take in the Houston Rodeo with my fiance, stepdaughter to be, and me. She was my mom at my wedding in so many ways from start to finish, especially behind the scenes.

She flew in two years later while I was in labor with my son and kept trying to calm me when eight hours of hard, active labor just wasn't producing my eleven day late little (too big) boy and convinced me that I had done all I could on my own. It had been 24 hours since my water broke, and I don't think I would have quit trying if she hadn't been there to tell me I hadn't done anything wrong and there was nothing more I could do. I was exhausted and could barely stay awake through surgery so it was the right call, and she hung in there all night with me not leaving until close to 6am. I'm pretty sure that was a mom thing right there. She sent my husband home one night from the hospital and stayed in my room and held my baby that wouldn't stop crying at. all. Well, at least until SHE held him. :) For his first birthday the next year of course she and Pops packed up and flew to Texas from Tennessee for his birthday party.

For my son's second Christmas we went to Tennessee with my stepdaughter, who would also be turning ten while we were there, and Mimi had invited our exchange student and his family from Mexico. Yes, after all those years we were still in touch, had attended his wedding in Mexico, and likewise he'd gone to Tennessee for their son's wedding, and he'd been a groomsman for mine in Texas, and they consider him a son, a part of their extended family that knows no end. Along with their youngest son's large family we all went to the Smokey Mountains for a few days to stay in one big cabin because my second mom was going to finally have us all together for Christmas and so that's exactly what she did! It was crazy, chaotic, and celebrating my stepdaughter's tenth birthday in the Tennessee mountains with my family was just amazing.

Over the years my second mom has been the real deal. She inherited me as a teenager. She got some parts of me my own mother missed, especially since those last few years I was hanging on to my mother and not going through some of the usual teen stages as I was willing her to live by sparing her (or trying to) my teen grief. Really didn't quite work although I did my best to hide my blossoming "teenage-ness", but we had a closer bond during those last two years together than we would have otherwise. I saved a lot of that drama for after she was gone, and my second mom got the best of all of that. Wasn't she lucky? All the grief, the rebellion, the heartbreak, the tears, the late nights, and still she stuck it out with me. I'm sure she saved my life more than once over the years in more ways than one. There are times I don't want to tell her things because she knows how to dish out the tough love (still does), but the silly thing is she's *almost* always right.... just don't tell her I said that. I've got an image to maintain. :) Without a doubt, I know as I've grown up I've driven her batty on many occasions and maybe even made her proud on a few, but I don't think she would have stuck with me through it all if she didn't love me unconditionally. Biological or not, I guess that is what makes her the real mom deal, isn't it?

During those early years when I first knew her, I competed in several deaf pageants. The first pageant I ever competed in was Miss Deaf Chattanooga in 1989, and the onstage interview question was something like... Outside your family who has influenced your life the most and why? It was such an easy, easy question. I told the audience about Dan and Kathy Jacobson. They were my heroes then and still are. I'm not sure I could answer it quite the same way today because they ARE my family now.

Happy Mother's Day, Kathy! Thank you for being you and letting me be me.

I love you!


Thursday, April 1, 2010

One Year and Counting

It has been one year since my initial activation. I find it overwhelming to think where I was a year ago. I was absolutely MISERABLE when this sucker was turned on. I think I was miserable with a pounding headache for about a week at least. I remember wondering if this thingamajig was really going to work for me and supersede my trusty old analog hearing aid and being a little afraid of the residual hearing I'd lost if it didn't work out. I was also foolishly thinking before activation I was going to go home and get *something* out of my first night of watching American Idol other than screeching bells and whistles going off in my head. Yes, it has been one glorious year!

One year later I can say that hearing aid really is crap! :-P I just got a brand new digital aid.... top of the line expensive doo-dad that is supposed to be the hearing aid equivalent to a cochlear implant for my unimplanted left ear.... and unfortunately, it's absolutely craptacular in comparison to the sounds I hear from my implanted ear. I thought a hearing aid would give me a little more support, but I have found that I can easily take it off without missing it too much. Since I just got it, I'm not writing it off yet. I have another session with my audiologist coming up for a tune up, but seriously, I'm deaf. That poor hearing aid doesn't have much to work with so I can hardly blame it. On the other hand (or should that be "on the other ear"?) my right ear keeps discovering new sounds that continue to amaze me. I've leveled out quite a bit, but occasionally there is something new that leaves me in awe that I heard. I think the latest bit of cool quirky hearing involves listening to a DJ on the local supercheese mellow pop radio station talk to the people that call in with song requests. I have to concentrate a bit (not too difficult though) to follow, but I get a kick out of her callers calling in with sob stories and seriously cheesy song requests while she does her best to sound like a radio Oprah giving advice prior to doling out the songs. Just the other day she ended up telling a caller that her boyfriend didn't deserve a song because of the way he treated the girl and convinced her to play a song for another guy friend instead. Like I said... cheesy stuff!

My favorite thing to hear in the last year is, hands down, my two year old's witty banter. Before I had the implant I worried how much conversation I would miss with him in the first years. Now I can drive down the road and hold conversations with him sitting in the back. I do peek at him in the rear view mirror because my hearing isn't to the point that we can hold lengthy conversations without any visual contact, especially over the sounds of a running car, but I follow him easily, so I'll take it! We talk about everything from airplanes to what he ate for lunch and where our cats are and where we are going next or what we'll do this weekend. He often pauses, looks at me carefully and asks, "Did you hear THAT?" Ha! How many times I must say that to him, I know. We talk about the birds singing and planes flying. This past week we talked about the huge full moon as we drove home from grocery shopping at Walmart, and he declared that the moon was following him home. I've been privy to some really cute thoughts he has, and he is so entertaining! I have also had many exasperated conversations in the last year regarding his battery operated Thomas and Percy trains that he sends under furniture only to get stuck running in place against the wall making annoying clicking sounds. It's amazing! I must admit though that his temper tantrums in high def are no fun, and sometimes I turn him off when he's pitching a fit loudly in high decibels. He'll learn. Mommy has secret super powers and does not HAVE to listen. It's optional. :-D I also love knowing when I'm across the house if he's sleeping or not during his nap without having to open the door. I can hear his lullaby music easily, and I know if he's having conversations or Monster Truck Jam re-enactments with his Grave Digger pillow. I can hear him summon me after almost every nap with hysterics as if I've left him in his crib to run away to the beach without him. Pre-cochlear implant my problem was that I thought I would hear him when he was actually nearly asleep and not making a peep. So of course when I'd go in his room he'd perk up and I would wake my little almost sleeping giant while silently cursing myself for listening to the voices in my head since they weren't real. :-P

I also enjoy having much easier conversations with my extremely shy preteen stepdaughter without constantly asking her to speak up. We are both much less frustrated when we communicate and it's made life much more mellow when we spend time together. I love being able to talk to her without having to strain just to understand a single sentence. When we are together now conversation flows more easily, and I'm sure she's much more relaxed when talking to me just as I am more relaxed kicking back with her and talking about all the little things in life.

I recently had a doctor's appointment and showed up to find an interpreter I didn't request waiting for me. Bless her heart and bless the heart of the staff member that requested her for me. Rarely will someone take the initiative to call an interpreter for a patient without being reminded, so I felt special and hoped I didn't discourage that staff member from going the extra mile for someone else in the future. I also felt bad when I told the interpreter I honestly didn't need her. It was Friday, and thankfully she was just happy to go home early anyway. The crazy thing is when I first was activated 12 months ago I HAD to have an interpreter there with me. I also had an interpreter in my real estate class that only lasted a few classes before I just couldn't stand it. Watching her while I was listening to my professor totally confused me. I was all too aware of the time delay of what she was signing. It was overwhelming to watch a conversation two sentences behind what is being said verbally. If the speaker was signing, that would be so different since I could follow the conversation and signing simultaneously. I still miss out things being said in group settings or in church but I am getting somewhat better at following those conversations enough to get the gist of what's being said.

This last year has been really great for so many reasons. I love listening to the birds. It NEVER gets old going outside and hearing them calling to each other. I can tell when different birds sing. I love the variety of music in my backyard. I may get used to some things but I will always fully appreciate the birds I can hear now because it has been many many years since I've heard one at all, and I've never heard them as crisply asI hear them now. I am looking forward to the grasshoppers return this spring as well!

Sometimes I'm so fixated on wanting to perfect my cochlear implant through mappings and practice so that I can hear the words to songs or understand on the phone a little better that I forget how far I've come. When I got my new hearing aid after not wearing an aid for a couple of months, it really hit me as to what the difference is between before and after. It's stunning. My confidence has gone up more in the last year. I used to rely on my video phone, but I challenge myself to make calls to people I'm not used to hearing without an interpreter. I have my first cell phone which is far from perfect, but it's still delightfully strange to be able to call my husband from the store and ask if he needs something or call my friends to just say hi.

I feel so blessed to be able to rely on myself a bit more in the hearing world. When I was a deaf education teacher, I didn't need to be able to hear that well because I had interpreters available all day long and I had no problems communicating with my students in sign language. Now that I'm not teaching and am pursuing a career in real estate that demands being able to communicate with people that don't sign or trying to follow the unpredictable speech of a two year old, it is liberating to have this option in my life now. However, I must say at the end of the day when all is said and done, it's equally liberating to tune out the noisy world and relax. There's just nothing like it! What a fabulous year it has been!