It was one of those “lucky” days. I was outnumbered by my kids three to one. Not that the ratio ever changes – it’s just that some days it feels more obvious than others. As everything that could have gone wrong did, I began wishing I could clone myself. With the help of friends, play dates, and my husband, of course, I managed to get through the morning, albeit by the skin of my teeth. Nonetheless, I certainly felt burned out.
Later that day I had a doctor’s appointment. Coincidentally, a friendly acquaintance of mine happened to be in the waiting room when I arrived. We began a casual conversation, and after I expressed my frustration from my morning at home, she mentioned that that she is the youngest of eight children.
“Wow! How did your mom do it?” I asked.
“I ask her that same question all the time,” she said.
The questions started to race through my mind.
“Did she have a lot of help? A full-time housekeeper?”
I wondered if their house was always disorderly and chaotic. Yet before I could even ask, she said, “And the house was always immaculate.”
I started to feel incapable as she continued with her mother’s list of accomplishments and capabilities: Full-time job, delicious, healthy dinners on the table every night… “Oh, and I never once heard her complain. Ever. She is my role model.”
“Mine too,” I sighed, in no small amount of awe. “But how did she do it all?”
And this is when the story took a turn for the superhuman.
“I’m not sure,” she said. “But do you want to hear something even crazier about her? Something fall-out-of-your-chair shocking?”
I braced myself.
Her mother had a plate so full it overflowed, and managed it so successfully that it would make anyone feel inadequate. And to top it all off, she accomplished it all without the sense of hearing.
“My father,” she added, “is deaf as well.”
She proceeded to tell me that none of the eight children in her family are deaf, or even hearing impaired. Her parents both became deaf circumstantially at the ages of 8 and 15. It was not a genetic concern for the children.
I was stunned and felt total humility. This conversation with my friend was a gift, and meant just for my ears that day. I had spent the morning bemoaning my own “challenges,” and Hashem immediately showed me how lucky I truly am.
My acquaintance then said, “Whenever I have a bad day or feel I can’t continue because things are too tough, I just conjure up this image of my mother and it serves as a built-in confidence booster. If she could do it, then I certainly can.”
I wondered if her mother had a different perspective. I am sure she lost her cool from time to time. After all, doesn’t everyone?
But then again, did it really matter? Her daughter’s vision of her is one of strength, capability, and resilience. Is that not exactly what we want to pass along to our children? There is no such thing as perfect parenting. It is all about putting one foot in front of the other while maintaining composure to the best of our own ability.
I asked exactly how her mother managed the family without being able to hear. How did she get through the day?
This is what she shared with me.
“Although we never scrubbed the kitchen sinks or floors, my siblings and I helped our parents in other ways. Certain tasks were simply necessary for us to take on.”
Her mother was not able to make phone calls with ease; she was rarely the one to order dinner for the family or make play dates for the children. Similarly, she was not the one to schedule appointments. Each child chipped in with making any necessary phone calls for each other and their parents.
In this vein, my friend mentioned how shocked she was that one of her friends who recently got married had her mother make all the calls and arrangements – for the flowers, the band, etc. This concept was foreign to her.
“I never really viewed any of this as different – it was normal to me. This was all I knew of childhood, and helping my mother taught me so many important life skills.”
Accepting help from family and friends was a key to her mother’s success. She was set on doing any task she was able to; however, she unashamedly accepted help in areas that involved hearing, and that was crucial.
We too must learn to accept and even ask for help when we are in a position of need.
We can garner a wealth of information from exploring the lives of those with physical impairments and how they manage to succeed despite such setbacks.
Nyle DiMarco, a deaf model, competed in and won a famous dance competition. I watched the show, and as I marveled at his accomplishments, I was also brought to tears.
I wondered how he did it. Was he able to feel the vibrations of the music, just like Mozart had? Hard work and sheer force of will were key ingredients, but he also had some practical techniques that helped him.
His dancing partner acknowledged that she cued him while dancing. A slight tap on the shoulder meant to turn three times. A wink was yet another cue, while a small scratch on his left arm indicated a dip. These were vital to his dancing success.
In the dance of life – which often requires a tremendous balancing act to succeed – each one of us needs our own cues.
Something as simple as a doorbell requires a special apparatus for a hearing-impaired person. My friend’s mother had all the cues necessary for a deaf person to flourish in a hearing person’s world. A light in each room blinked whenever someone rang the doorbell. Such a cue created something called “technical success” in her life.
We all can create avoidance cues and proactive cues to help in our lives. Setting up our homes to help facilitate success is imperative yet often overlooked.
If you have young children who are constantly making a mess of small toys, putting those toys at the top of a closet can be crucial to preventing repeated cleanups. If your children are going through a spat phase, placing them in opposite sides of the car or having designated seats at the dinner table are simple ideas that can be helpful. If your children have trouble staying organized or applying themselves to homework, create a homework box with all the necessary tools ready to go and leave it where they do their homework.
Although the practical elements of how my friend’s mother lived day to day were fascinating, what really intrigued me was how her mother managed to stay positive and upbeat, especially after needing so much assistance from the cues and people around her.
“I honestly don’t think my mother viewed being deaf as negative or limiting in her life,” she said. “ I think she really saw it as something that could be used to her advantage. See, she played her cards well. Meaning, perhaps you and I don’t see it as the best hand of cards, but there are actually some advantages to being deaf.”
“How so?” I wondered.
She laughed out loud as she responded. “My sisters and I always joke that the reason Mom always stayed so calm was because she never actually heard the tantrums or complaints.”
Her mother also has a keen sense for people. She would meet a person and from the initial encounter could tell whether he or she had good character. Much of communication is nonverbal, and being deaf enabled her to focus and hone in on body language. She was able to pick up on what most hearing people are unable to, even after months of training.
I gained tremendous insight that day into managing life’s challenges. The three concepts of learning to accept help, setting up cues for positive habits, and always seeing the good have enabled my friend’s mother to succeed in childrearing and in her post-childrearing life.
We can learn from these techniques and apply them to our own situations. If we do, tomorrow might seem at least a little bit luckier than today.
Sarah N. Pachter