Totally Tatum…

My name is Sue, my husband is Tony we have been married for over thirty years.  We have two sons, I use to call them double trouble, honestly they were the best thing in our life until – the Grandkids! My older son has 4 children, and my youngest son has 3 children.  Tatum is the only deaf person in our family.

At the time of her birth they did not have mandatory hearing tests.  I was later told by a nurse that they started mandatory testing because so many babies were being born deaf or h/h. We did not know Tatum was deaf for two years.

We had the pleasure of sharing part of Tatum’s first year with her. Tatum was the best baby.  She was so quiet and she didn’t cry very often.  She loved watching things. The ceiling fans, our birds, her mobile, sunbeams, t.v., but most of all her cousin. Her cousin made her laugh. Tatum would sleep through anything. We have a large family and no one was ever quiet around sleeping kids, so our kids could sleep through a train wreck. No one thought anything about Tatum not waking to sound.  And she was so curious she seemed to respond to everything, although she was just being aware of everything.  She was lovable and cuddly and we weren’t looking for anything unusual.  I guess when she started moving around and walking is when she seemed to not respond and she wasn’t saying words.  Still, no one thought that was a big deal.  A few times we talked about it but her mother took her to the doctor, and he said everything was fine. In fact she went to the doctor more than once , and each time the doctor said her hearing was fine.  We were feeling something was not right, though.  I clapped my hands and yelled loudly at the same time behind Tatum and she did not even flinch.  Normally a child would have jumped or started crying.  But Tatum was watching the dog and never even turned around.  We took Tatum to the doctor again, and this time insisted they do something. So they sent her to an audiologist.  They discovered that Tatum was deaf. She had severe to profound hearing and se was fitted her for hearing aids.  Tatum was 2 years old.

Just about the same time there was a sign language class at our park district.  I joined and so did Tatum’s parents.  That was probably one of the biggest mistakes we made.  The person who was teaching it was hearing and he had a sister with a deaf daughter.  He was one of those people who wished he was deaf because he thought it was so cool.  The person who taught us the class proceeded to tell us about the life of a deaf person.  And how he was better than his sister because he learned sign and she did not.  And that his niece wanted to go to Jacksonville to be with her own kind.  And that the deaf community was a very strong community and it was pretty much against the hearing community.  By the time we were finished with this class we felt like we were going to lose Tatum to the Deaf Community.  My son went into a depression.  Not only was his daughter deaf, now he was worried about losing her.  He loves his daughter very much and in his eyes she was perfect – hearing or not.  But now he had to start thinking about what the teacher said.  Of course he wanted the best thing for his daughter.  So Chris started thinking maybe going to Jacksonville and living among her peers might be better for her. Everything she did was completely normal, maybe above normal because she was not afraid of anything.  The only thing that was different about her was the fact that she could not hear us and she spoke her own language.  It was the T. T. language – not English or Sign but Tatum Talk.  Everyone loved Tatum.  No one wanted to lose her.  How could it be possible to send her away to school?  That was just unthinkable in my family.  In our eyes learning was second to love.  But her parents had to weigh it, you always have to do what is best for your child.  I on the other hand couldn’t think about it.  I thought it was crazy. How could anything be better than her being loved by us?  Well , that was a very fleeting thought.  And Tatum is with us and is doing great.

My sister-in-law sent me an article about cochlear implants.  I asked her if she ever heard of them and she said the doctors told her and Chris about the cochlear implant right away.  They said Tatum was a perfect candidate for it.  But we all heard bad things about it from different sources. Tony and I went to see the movie “The sound and the fury”.  We listened to the deaf adults after it was done.  They were completely divided.  One woman said her husband had gotten it and loved it but she didn’t want it.  Tony and I were taking classes at that time at JJC for sign language.  Our first teacher was Carol and she was a CODA, child of deaf adults.  She told us a lot of interesting stories.  It amazed me that two deaf parents could raise hearing children, how did they know when their baby cried, how did they drive, how did they teach their children to talk or help them when they had problems.  She had great parents, who she loved very much and they loved her very much.  My second class I was fortunate enough to meet Karen.  She is the person who made me feel like no one was going to drag Tatum away from us.  She was patient and tolerant.  She taught us that anything you decide was the right way with your child if it is the right way for your family.  She didn’t put pressure on you.  I asked her what she felt about the CI and she explained why she didn’t want it, but said that it was an individual’s choice. I started getting information about the cochlear implant.  I got on a web site for people who had one, or were thinking about one.  I started hearing good things about them.  I still hear bad things and I hear things like, if you do that to your child it is abuse.  Tatum’s parents decided for an implant.  The doctors felt that she should have had it two years ago.  But by this time Tatum had her own language.  She wanted to talk. A lot of people thought they should have waited for her to make her own decision. People would say, I am going to wait and let my child make their own choice.  My biggest problem with that is being a parent I made the choices for my children when I thought was in their best interest. As a parent and adult I took the responsibility.  I made a lot of mistakes but I always did what I thought was best for my children.  I hate the fact that adults put that responsibility on their kids. Especially if they do not know what it is like to be deaf.

The worst part about the CI is the operation and that she would have to be put under for it.  The operation took less than 3 hours. Within 2 hours she was walking around and she went home the same night and never complained.  She was four.  Yes, it was scary. Believe me when I say.   There are no wrong choices.  Just different.  But be the parent, make a decision. Take the responsibility.  If the child thinks you made the wrong decision they can unplug.  Tatum asked her parents a few months ago if she could be just deaf (one of the kids at school were teasing her). They told her sure.  All she had to do is take off the CI.  They would never force her to wear it – just like they didn’t force her to wear her hearing aids. She went a couple of hours without it, and then she decided to keep on wearing her CI.  Now she really does have a choice.  But that is their decision and it is right for their family.

Karen Putz made me know that Tatum would be fine. She is one of the smartest, most caring, generous people I know. She is very given of herself.   She will answer any question you have and if she doesn’t have the answer she will find it out for you.  Her kids are cute, well mannered and funny.  And she is the parent and made the choice and I respect her so much for that and she is not judgmental.  I now know quite a few deaf people who do not live in Jacksonville. Most seem happy. Some make a good living, some average, some not too good.  The difference is how they communicate.  Most of the people I have met are very patient with me.  They help me with my communication.  That is the only difference.

As a grandparent of a deaf child I had a lot of mixed feelings.  I see this beautiful baby and every time she looked at me she smiled. She seemed to see everything.  She noticed things that I just took for granted.  And of course she was a great communicator. One of the things I a thankful for now is she reads.  When she was younger we always had the cc on but she always wanted me to explain to her what was going on.  Being a grandmother and not an interpreter, it is very hard to sign explanations.  Learning sign is hard, and although I try and try sometimes I get so frustrated because I learn things and then forget.  Tatum is my teacher now.  She will show me the correct way to sign things.

Tatum has lots of friends.  She seems more comfortable communicating with her deaf friends.  They do not see her as different and she doesn’t have to keep explaining herself.  But there are not that many children around here that are deaf.  When ever she sees deaf children it is because her mother or father or I are taking her somewhere to see them. Tatum doesn’t seem to mind very much but she loves her deaf friends like they are her family. All the kids are a tight little knit clan.  Even if they have not seen each other for a while they act at home with each other.

The worst part about Tatum being deaf is when people ignore her, especially kids.  It is like they get embarrassed to talk to her. I hate when she is trying to communicate with someone and they look at her like she is from outer space.  Instead of just saying they don’t understand her, sometimes they will even be so rude as to turn their back on her.  Well (and this is why I love her so much) Tatum doesn’t take rejection easily. She will keep on until they play with her or go away.  Mostly she gets them to play with her.  The biggest complaint I get from anyone is that they cannot communicate with her and they are afraid she will get hurt or lost or something.  That’s when the CI comes in handy.  Before if she was running in the street you could have yelled until you were blue in the face and if a car was coming and you were too far away and couldn’t reach her in time well we all know what could have happened.  You could get exhausted watching Tatum because you always had to be close enough to get her attention or get her now you can call her name and if the batteries are charged she will hear you.  See what most people don’t understand is Tatum is deaf.  Her CI is just an instrument to help her.  She is not a hearing person.  You still need to sign to her, and her speech is getting good but she still is deaf and that will be forever.  When she is swimming, taking a bath, if it is raining, all the same things people have to watch out for with hearing aids so does Tatum with her CI.  It is just a better instrument for Tatum being completely deaf than the hearing aids.  The hearing aids bothered her and she wouldn’t wear them.

If I had one wish it would be that sign language would be the second language in this country or around the world.  But in the meantime I keep on trying so I will be able to talk to my granddaughter. I can not think of a better gift to give her but her knowledge that so many people love her that they try to learn her language.  And even if they don’t learn her language fluently they still will give her so much love that she will know that there are different ways of communication. Don’t act like she is some trophy that makes you shine, and gets you attention with the things you do.  Give her the attention, make her shine with the things you can do for her.


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