“Do you have her dance bag?”
“Yes” I said, as I set it on the dining room table next to the dinner plates we didn’t have time to clean up.
“Don’t forget that. The teacher’s gift is in there and the key chains for the other kids.”
How she keeps track of all these details amazes me.
“Okay, kids, get in the car. We’re going to be late.”
Erica ushered them out the door as I walked back into the house to grab my wallet. Did we let the dog out? Yes, I saw hew sitting in her kennel. Her head followed me as I walked toward the door. Lights off. Keys, where are the keys? Maybe Erica got them. Where did the dance bag go? I rush out to the car.
“Do you have the dance bag and keys?”
“Yeah, you left it on the table so I grabbed it. We’re going to be late.”
“I know.” I said. “Hang on kids!”
Before I could take Ella to her ballet lessons, I pulled the minivan into an elementary school parking lot and looked for some sign of where we were supposed to go. No lights shone in any of the windows and all the doors that I could find stood closed. I kept driving around in circles, trying to find a way to get to some other section of the parking lot. Finally, two fourth graders, who seemed out-of-place in this deserted parking lot, saw us circling and asked us why we were there and moved some cones to let me through.
Purple chalk on the sidewalk spelled “Deaf Art Show” and multi-colored arrows led the way to a side entrance. Pax and Ella ran ahead, skipping from arrow to arrow. Erica reached for my hand and we contented ourselves to a slower pace. It was the first time either of us had slowed all day.
When we got to the door, Pax had been handed some blue chalk by other elementary students who were drawing more arrows and signs on the sidewalk. We split up. Erica and Ella went straight in. I stayed behind to help Pax color in a letter on the ground, then tried to hurry him inside.
“But I want to color with chalk.” he said. “Let’s go in and see Ella’s art first, then we can come back outside and color with chalk, maybe.” I was sure to add the ‘maybe’, since Ella’s ballet was still in the back of my mind.
We entered the school library. Two women were manning a white folding table stocked with refreshments on my right as soon as I walked in. A small crowd, a mix of parents and children, mingled between the rows of bookshelves that filled the left side of the room. Large geometrical designs on poster board lined the back wall just outside of a study room designated for older students. Artwork stood on tiny metal stands above carefully draped black cloths placed by the women at the snack table, I’m guessing, to help transform the space into an elegant museum.
It was eerily quiet, even for a library. Hands and mouths were moving but silence followed. It felt uncomfortable. I could feel the separation between my world and theirs.
I wandered through the rows, Pax had run ahead to Erica and Ella. Here – Devon, a preschooler, whose hand print was turned into a fish by someone other than himself. There – Matthew, with only the word ‘adult’ under his name, had made a stunning black and white pencil sketch of an elderly man wearing a hat, whose beard was brimming like the foam at the foot of a waterfall. Tiny cards of folded white paper displayed each artist’s name and age or grade. All of the works of art were created by people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
I walked toward the tiny white placard that had my daughter’s name. She had crafted a picture of a horse from shapes she cut out of construction paper. She’s been obsessed with horses ever since she gave an Animal Report on them at school. I could see her cheerful personality in the colorful squares around the border and in the heart shapes on the saddle. At that moment, Ella caught up to me, grabbed my hand, and pointed out the horse’s smile. She drew that with white a pencil on the black paper.
She’s had school assignments where you have to share something special about you. Her number one answer almost every time is that she wears hearing aids. She’s the only one in her school. I’ve always been glad that she isn’t ashamed of it or embarrassed by it. Her inner confidence beams bright to those who know her well. She’s not put off by what people think about her and she’s not worried about it. She’s happy with herself. And I love that.
One of the moms at the art show, who was deaf but could read lips, struck up a conversation with me about my daughter. I explained that Ella had hearing loss since birth. And that her hearing aids pretty much restore her hearing to normal levels. So there haven’t really been any noticeable differences, to me, between her and her younger brother, as long as she has her hearing aids in.
Another woman came by and announced they were about to get all the artists together for a group photo, but the battery in the camera had died. I apologized that unfortunately, we couldn’t stay to be in the group picture. We had to leave to go to ballet. She understood and said it was nice to meet us.
Erica took Pax home to get him ready for bed. I led Ella to the minivan so she could change into her ballet outfit in the car. After all, we didn’t want to be late.