Sunday, June 16, 2019

Upon arrival we met a deaf/hard of hearing (D/HH) greeter along with an interpreter in the camp parking lot. Shannon, Irish Mick and I unloaded our vehicle.

The Minnesota Deaf and Hard of Hearing Family and Friends Camp is taking place at Camp Onomia in Onamia, Minnesota, this year for the first time. The location is beautifully set on a lake in the woods. As a family, we have our own room with an en-suite bathroom and shower.

The kids are very nervous and clingy. They seem to be easily embarrassed as they don’t want me to try to sign. They also seem conflicted as they don’t like being the only ones ignorant of the language.

I feel like an outsider and need to overcompensate to portray confidence to comfort Shannon and Mick. I’m not sure how many people will be willing to talk with me. I am scared and nervous — for reporting reasons and to learn American Sign Language (ASL). I feel like it is hard fitting in when I don’t know any ASL. I suppose these are some of the same feelings those in the D/HH community feel when in mainstream communities.

There are two other camps taking place at this same location and at meals we become a mixed group of hearing children and D/HH families.

During dinner, I was surprised by how loud the cafeteria became when the other camps joined ours. Juxtaposed to our silently-mouthed, signed conversations and hushed voices from vocal family members, the other campers seem very boisterous, even though our kids are just as excited as them.

Following the meal, I introduced our family and explained my reporting project. The whole time interpreters were involved. Interpreters sign and voice, depending on what is needed. I was so grateful with how present and involved they were.

This really seems to be a camp for all levels.

I was surprised to learn that this camp has only been around for three years.

After dinner, the adults had a presentation about the Deaf Mentor Family Program run by Lifetrack. I asked a lot of questions and made a huge faux pas of directing my speech to the interpreter when I should have spoken directly to the presenter! This was confusing and hard for me as the presenter had to watch the interpreter sign my questions but —man oh man — everyone noticed! Ugh, this reminds me of learning Spanish. I always seem to do the wrong thing but this is all part of the learning process. At least it happened in this supportive environment.

Monday, June 17, 2019

After lunch there was a play put on by a few D/HH kids and camp leaders introducing two stuffed animals. The concept is such that the kids will pass around the stuffed animals and sign with them. The sloth is named Sammy and the other is a bear puppet.

All of the camp families have a child who is D/HH. Some are attending with one or two parents and their kids while others have a long extended family members and personal interpreters. I am, however, surprised there isn’t higher attendance as this is the only large gathering for the whole family unit in the state, beyond activities sponsored by the two D/HH schools. It seems that there are other D/HH camps in our region of the country but these are only for the D/HH child- not the whole family.

It is amazing to talk with the deaf mentors, interpreters and camp staff and learn how impressed they are with these families attending, together. It seems that the norm has traditionally been that the D/HH person learned ASL and it was their responsibility to learn to communicate with the hearing. Here, the hearing are learning to communicate with the D/HH so the effort is two-ways and a shared responsibility. Most of the D/HH adults working at the camp don’t seem to have solid relationships with their families due to this lack of communication and effort made by hearing family members.

Shannon is learning ASL very quickly. Turning from night-to-day, even when we are in our room she is annoyed when I don’t sign. She has made some friends with other campers about her age and it is amazing watching her interact.

Shannon has just changed what she wants to be when she grows up to an ASL interpreter or mental health worker using ASL. Is she going to be this generation’s linguist in our family?

Mick is willing to try signing now that he is more comfortable in the environment. He carefully watches signs and will sign when he has the highest likelihood of success.

I am very proud and am in-love with both of my children! They are learning and growing through this experience and are definitely out of their comfort zones. They are actively participating and I feel like this is bringing us closer together as a family.

It has been wonderful for them to sign “Mom” at me. It is special and not something they ever did with their biological mother, so I’m getting a little piece of something through ASL I never will get in English.

We Facetimed Jerry and my dad tonight. Shannon signed “Dad” and “Grandpa” at them. My heart is full.

Mick’s name was drawn to sleep with the sloth tonight. Shannon teased him and he said he just entered his name to be funny. He has a tough exterior.

Mick is currently sleeping, cuddling the sloth.

End of Journal

Although the camp lasted several more days, this is where my journal keeping ended. I have a notepad full of interviews and every second I had to spare I would close my eyes in our room. In a way, I had become comfortable enough to no longer need the self reflection a journal provides. In another way, I was too exhausted to write.

Learning a new language is hard. Interviewing can also be a heavy investment in mental and emotional strength. Each family had such an amazing and unique story to share.

I choose to invest myself into ASL and these families. I was blessed that through ASL I was also able to invest in my children. But as with everything in parenthood, something had to give. So I didn’t dwell on my journal.

The last page read “Tuesday” and had a doodle where I tested a pen on the bottom. But that is not where our adventure stopped.

The final day at lunch, Mick sat with me as Shannon sat with the other teens and tweens. I asked a grandmother of a D/HH child if she plans to come back next year and she said yes and asked us the same.

“Yes,” said Mick without a thought. He turned to me, very serious, “Right?” It wasn’t so much a question as a statement.

“If they’ll have us,” I said.

This camp is unique in that they welcomed us even though we don’t have any D/HH family members. When asked, I was told we are more than welcome to return next year.

Looking Back a Year Later

“It was lit,” said one of the hearing teens on Snapchat. Shannon is part of a group from the camp that still messages each other. As I was finishing the stories for this Sunday, I asked her to ask the others what they recalled from 2019’s camp.

This is a special group of hearing and D/HH teens who connected through this camp. I hope they stay friends and continue to support each other through these tough developmental years.


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