Monday, December 26, 2011

What is a CODA?

Well, it's the day after Christmas, and all went pretty well, in my opinion. My mother-in-law and my wife, ELF, did not fight at all, and everything was a good time. On the down side, it was my fourth Christmas without my father, and there are still moments throughout the day when I wish I could talk to him. This brings me to the title of this post - What is a CODA? -, and just what is a CODA? It's not a question of what, but who.

A CODA is a person like me, a Child Of a Deaf Adult/s. I suppose that technically, anyone who has deaf parent/s is a CODA, but to be more specific, it really relates to children who have Deaf parent/s (notice that capital "D" again). If you already know what that means, then great. The next paragraph may bore you into a deep sleep. If not, then this is for you.

The "D" being capitalized signifies a person who is culturally deaf. These people are deaf and also use ASL (American Sign Language) to communicate with their friends and anyone else who can do so. The culture really centers around ASL, just as many other cultures are centered around their native languages. For Deaf people like my parents, most of their friends are Deaf as well, and they are a tight-knit community with all the pros and cons of any other group of people. But from my standpoint, it's a wonderful thing that is hard to put into words that can describe it. I'm afraid I can only touch upon a small part of this in this post. Suffice it to say for now that a true CODA is brought up in this environment, and understands the Deaf community and its culture better than anyone.

So, please believe that most of us CODAs have a pretty good handle on Deaf people and the community. We SEE and HEAR everything from both worlds. At any rate, this is as basic a definition of CODA as I can give. All I can tell you from here are things based on my experiences.

As for my family, I have two older hearing sisters, and we all sign. As far as I know from my parents account, we were all signing before we learned to speak. My sisters learned to speak when spending time with my father's parents and his sisters, out two aunts on that side. Of course we saw our other extedned family too, so by the time I was born, my sisters were speaking and signing, and I learned to speak mostly through them and with my extended family as well. However, I was signing first, and according to my mother, I would fingerspell in my sleep in the crib.

One strange phenomenon was having a speech therapist until I was in first grade. This person only saw me in school, so I assume it was the school's decision. I don't remember going to see this person very often, which leads me to believe it was precautionary on the school's part to make sure I wasn't losing my speech with all that signing I was doing. It was a very silly thing to have to do. I spoke just fine with my sisters and relatives, I was reading before I entered kindergarten, so I'm not sure there was ever any need for me to be seen by a speech pathologist.

Aside from that was the Deaf community itself. I grew up in a very rural area, and once a month, we would go with our parents to get togethers with their Deaf friends. They would meet like this in random locations (usually in an Elk's type hall where small function rooms existed). They would catch up with each other's lives and do all those things that friends who haven't seen each other in a while would do. Many of them brought their children, and we would all play together. Another thing they also did was hold meetings during these events to discuss political concerns. This always centered around the oppression every Deaf person felt from the hearing world around them. So many things were unjust then, and all the same issues still exist today. These things would last until 2 or 3 in the morning quite often, and then we would finally go home. Deaf people didn't see each other very often and no one wanted to leave when conversation with each other was so easy. It really was home for my parents.

We also visited individual friends from time to time which was fun, too. My parents have a lot of very cool friends, and they have always been awesome to me and my sisters. So that's a quick overall look at the Deaf side of my life, and now I can tell you about the hearing one.

The hearing side of my life is just what you probably think it is, especially if you are hearing yourself. I went to school, made a lot of friends, hung out with them at their homes and played. I did recreational sports, all that stuff. I'm sure you are all very familiar with this, because this is everyday life. I'm sure your parents had friends that they visited and who dropped by to say hello, and for most of you that was normal, just like all the stuff my parents did were too. There is really nothing else about hearing life that I feel I need to describe, except for how the two worlds would interact for me. This is the unique experoence of being a CODA.
Many times I would have to interpret in situations between hearing people and my parents. My parents could not speak ot hear to communicate, and hearing people don't know any ASL. I always had to field ridiculous questions from my friends or their parents because they were curious about my family and ignorant to Deaf people and their culture. Living between the two worlds was always a wierd experience, no matter how adept I was at straddling the line.

The truth is, I could go on for and entire book or twelve on all of the aspects of being a CODA, and I still wouldn't feel finished. The bottom line is this -- all these experieces have shaped my life. I am bilingual and belong to the Deaf community in many ways, just as I am at home with all my hearing friends as well. As it relates to my father, it's not just about missing the man. It was through him that I had as much access to Deaf culture and the Deaf community growing up, and that door has closed. I have found other doors to the community as an adult, and I am very thankful for that, but to not be able to use the door to my father has created a huge hole in my heart that I'm not sure will ever be fully repaired. Having Christmas with my in-laws always reminds me of this, no matter how much fun or love is involved. All of this is just a small, tiny sliver of what it means to be a CODA. Thanks for reading. Expect the next post in about a week. Happy Holidays to all.


No comments:

Post a Comment