Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Lionesses for our Children

This week I was touched by the kindness of a stranger. Someone I didn't know who was on the outermost reaches of my cyber network (you know, the people who you only 'sort of know' on the business internet networking sites) very kindly helped number 1 daughter.

Daughter number 1 lives in London and is an actress ( yes, I think you know that but just in case ...) and is up for an award which, unlike other awards that she has been on the very long, long (as opposed to short) list for, this is an audience vote. So I emailed the stranger and asked him if he would contact his network of Yorkshire business folk to vote for her - because his network promotes all things good from God's own county. I wrote and told him that my excuse for being so brazen as to ask was because we are all lions/lionesses for our children. I can't claim that line as my own, incidentally, as it was once said to me by number 1 daughter's speech therapist who I hope is now very proud of her pupil.

I told him how I had been the mother at the school gates, wishing that my child was like everyone else's - because she wasn't. I think before you have children, you think that your child should be wonderful and extraordinary and the envy of everyone else. The reality is that what you really want is one who is just like everyone else. Daughter number 1 is wonderful and extraordinary and she is also deaf. I can still remember the moment we were told. I can remember refusing to believe that this could happen, that somehow it would be a mistake, a case of late development, a clerical error, anything. It took us a long time to adjust and we made a whole host of decisions about her future, and most especially her education, based on no knowledge at all.

One day I took her to a group of deaf children and their parents at York Hospital. It was terrible. I looked at all the other children and all I could think was that we shouldn't be there because we weren't like them. We refused the advice of well-meaning social workers who suggested she should go to a school for the deaf, that we should learn to sign, we should accept that she would never talk. We blindly battled on with no idea how big our task was, how tough life would be for her.

Every hurdle we conquered was immediately followed by another... and another. A kind friend, no longer with us, said that he thought we had succeeded when she was sixteen and doing all the things that other sixteen year olds do. He had no concept of the trials we still faced - imagine learning to drive when you have to look at the instructor when he speaks in order to lipread, rather than looking at the road. She used to say that when boys would try to whisper romantically in her ear, she would tell them exasperatedly that she had to see them to hear. She struggled through hearing in lessons (when she was little, the teacher wore a microphone linked to her hearing aids but they often forgot to leave the microphone with her at the end of the lesson, providing  my daughter with a handy information stream from the staffroom). Chalk and talk was a nightmare - how can you read a teacher's lips when they have their back to the class? And so it went on.

Perhaps being a lioness for her has helped to make her a lion. She has conquered and excelled at every challenge that she and life have set for her. I think she must have forgotten that I once said that she could do anything except be a racing commentator - I thought she wouldn't get the words out fast enough. If she knew, she'd probably give that a try too. She has not let anything stop her. She is, at best and worst, absolutely terrifying.

I hope with all my heart that she succeeds in her acting career - not just because I am her mother and lioness extraordinaire - but because no one should ever be limited by the prejudices and the expectations of others.

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