I was 19 and I had just been accepted into the University as a freshman for the upcoming school year. I had already taken a couple of years off after high school to pursue some other dream and now I was focused on getting my degree. I made the long trip north and found a place to live close to the school but it was March and I had a few months until the start of the fall semester. So I did what any college student would do and began searching for some employment. I thought of interpreting, as my sister had done throughout her college years, so I contacted the deaf services office and arranged a meeting. The rest was a collection of learning experience and humility as I painfully endured the hardest 2 months of my professional career.
I will always remember Mary being so hopeful that I was a diamond in the rough. She had a tough job in providing quality interpreters for the University's growing deaf population as there were few interpreters in the remote area. She was thrilled to meet me and immediately put me on the schedule to partner with the two overworked staff interpreters. Beth and Pam were outstanding and had been educational interpreters for over 20 years. They were both working a full time schedule without partners in classes that were exhausting. Those two ladies would become my mentors and help me on the path to becoming an interpreter.
My first day of class started with Russian Literature and in my naiveness, I thought it was going to be a simple class of reading and writing..... WRONG!! The class was halfway through reading "War and Peace" by Leo Tolstoy and before class, Beth decided that I would start first. It took no longer than a minute for me to be dripping with sweat as I tried to comprehend who the heck, (Rostova, Nikolayevich Bolkonsky, Bezukhov, Rostov, Bolkonskaya, Vasilyevich) these folks were and more importantly, how to properly spell their names. After about 5 minutes of wild goose flapping hands, I just stood there, frozen like a seized engine. My face dripped with embarrassment, frustration and anguish.
On to the next class and though it was no Tolstoy in the park, "German Culture: Folk Literature" proved to be my 2nd most challenging class of the day! I was of no use to my partner and if anything, I caused more work for her... The Deaf student was a genius and thankfully he was only mildly annoyed at my inability to interpret a spoken language. It must have been amusing to watch a young buck "interpreter" get broken on the first day. I was shocked at how different this type of interpreting was. I had no concept of lag time or expanding concepts, let alone the use of classifiers. I was stuck signing english and fingerspelling every word I didn't know. Sigh, I wish there was a video of this embarrassing moment so I could share my pain and we could laugh together. That day, a young man's bubble burst and all ego and pride was deflated then I realized that I was not an interpreter...
I went home that evening distraught and with shattered confidence. The thought of quitting came up several times because I wondered how could I face such emotional trauma again? In a 24 hour period, I went from being an awesome signer to an embarrassing interpreter. I felt horrible for the Deaf students and my partners for having to suffer through my learning period. It was one of the handful of "gut checks" we all go through in life and I had a strong feeling that this choice would impact the rest of my life.
I made a decision to go back but this time I would work, study, take notes, read the books, and become a student. The more I learned about what I was interpreting, the better interpreter I became. It took a few weeks for me to catch up to a point where I was serviceable enough and I didn't have panic attacks before each class. Through hard work and a deep respect for the profession, I restored just enough of my confidence to continue this job into a career.
From the very start, I learned that ego and pride have no place in the interpreting field. We are servants to our clients, hearing and deaf alike and none more important than the other. I learned that an interpreter must grow thick skin to withstand the eventual errors, the courage to improve upon those errors and above all else, a Q-Tip!
I have been humbled many times in this profession but I've learned from some of the best. Jim, Byron, Kizzie, Mary, Pam, Beth, Virginia, Jeff, Amanda, you all are awesome! We can always improve our signing skills but without the right heart and a service mentality, we will always be lacking as interpreters.
I am a Coda, I am an interpreter and I'm still learning. That said, I'm still never interpreting another Russian Lit class, EVER...
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Love you Mom... Thumbs up Dad
It never dawned on me that having deaf parents was anything special. I never hid the fact that my parents couldn't hear but I didn't openly discuss it with my friends. In fact, most of my classmates growing up had no idea I used another language when I went home. My teachers would be cast into the awkward position of meeting my folks for the first time, not knowing how to communicate with a deaf person. Then they would always seem to apologize for the awkwardness and they would sit shocked, watching me or my sister interpret the meeting. Parent/Teacher night always proved to be entertaining.
The other day, I was listening to the radio while driving to an assignment and I heard a comedian introduced as a funny guy who had deaf parents. He was a CODA, (Child of Deaf Adults) and the announcer went on with a hint of curiosity and mild excitement as he questioned the guy about this odd concept. "Wow, what was that like?", and "So you know sign language, cool" It got me thinking, maybe it is pretty cool after all. Frankly, I am so used to the concept of having deaf parents that it has always been normal but its easy to forgot that my normal is miles away from average.
It was GREAT having deaf parents! Really, I would recommend it to anyone "shopping" the idea around. Not only do you get to learn a cool language with your hands or be apart of some fascinating culture, you get to be as loud as you want! Granted, the luster of being loud diminishes as we get older. At 16, the last thing I wanted was to draw attention to myself but at age 7, I was yelling, "THUNDER CATS, THUNDER CATS, HOOOOOO!!!" at any and every public outing. I never got in trouble, my father never told me to be quiet, and in my mind I was free to be a Thunder Cat! It makes sense now looking back, my sister never liked being seen with me in public... Sigh, hearing people.
I was in 8th grade when that new Snoop Dogg album came out! I was so excited and had my Mother take me to the mall to buy the new cassette tape, (folks born in the 90's, Cassettes was pre CD and post 8-Track). Let me tell you, I was the coolest kid on the planet. The whole school could hear us coming a block away, my Mom driving me to school blasting some S-N-OO-P, D-O-GG-Y, D-O-GG, you see! Windows rolled down in that 1985 Chrysler 5th Avenue and she would drop me off right at the front steps! Some days, I would just leave the music on and let her drive away. I always wondered about the looks she would get in that small Texas town. My friends would come up to me and say, "Man, your mom is awesome!!" I know, she was pretty cool and she didn't even know it. Sorry Mom
Although I never really identified myself as a CODA, they actually have meetings at local, state, and national levels for gatherings to discuss all things pertaining to children of deaf adults. It really is a special group of folks that by birth are thrust into two cultures and at a young age are required to interpret between them. What is normal? I didn't think it was odd when my father required us to watch television without sound for a couple of hours a day. We weren't allowed to use our voice at dinner and all family discussions were by hands only! Punishments usually included reading some kind of deaf history book from my father's massive library and then writing a book report before all was forgiven. Needless to say, I quickly became an expert on Laurent Clerc, (If you don't know of him, you didn't have deaf parents). Am I normal? No. Are my parents methods of punishment normal? No. But it has given me a deep respect for the culture and language that I share with my family, deaf Americans, and other CODAs.
When I look back at my upbringing, I have come to the conclusion that being different has taught me to be more understanding. I was raised in two worlds, one hearing and one deaf. They both gave me perspective and an appreciation for what I have and who I am. So I might not have realized it before but yeah, being a CODA is pretty cool... But as I learned from the Johnny Cash song, "A Boy Named Sue" down the road when my son gets in trouble, I think I'll have him read.... A FICTION, A BIOGRAPHY, A SELF HELP! Anything but Laurent Clerc!!
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