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My Journey as a Child with Deaf Parents

Meet Paula, a child of deaf adults (CODA).

My Journey as a Child with Deaf Parents

Video Transcript: My Journey as a Child with Deaf Parents

PAULA: Hello, my name is Paula. My sign name is Paula, and I wanted to share a really quick story, if I can make it quick. I talk a lot, so it might be a little hard. But I’m going to try. So, I am a CODA. For those of you who don’t know what that means, it means a child of deaf adults. And both of my parents are deaf. And so… I’m an only child. And… I feel like there might be other kids or even adults that feel like because you’re a CODA, you may get bullied a lot, or you may have people make fun of you a lot, and you don’t feel like life’s fair because that’s how I felt growing up. But I just wanted to give you my story real quick. Like I said, I will try to be quick.

Growing up in school I was in a small town. I was in a small town school. Our school was so small they had elementary, middle school, and high school all in the same building. That’s how small the town is. So, I grew up in that school. I was there from the time I was in kindergarten all the way up to my 10th grade year. I decided I’d had enough, wanted to go to another school in the next town. Went there for one, no, half a semester and then I came back to my old school and finished out school there. Growing up I always got picked on all the time. All the time. People, the kids were always coming up to me, making fun of me. Always going… Or doing something funny with their hands all the time. You know like “Eugh.” You know. I mean, stupid stuff, really. I mean, now that I look back.

At the time it was hurtful. It made me feel mad and heartbroken and my feelings were hurt and I’d cry all the time and I hated life. I hated school. And I told my mum one time I hated school. I told my dad a lot I hated school. I missed a lot of school, I was always faking being absent because if I’m at home the kids can’t make fun of me. So, anyway… I guess I was about 14… ..when it really hit me hard. And… Oh, another thing. Let me tell you this first. We always had a spring choir and a winter choir. And every time we had choir I was always at the front on the end.

My parents were always told where they needed to sit so they could watch me sign. I was made fun of a lot because of that. “Oh, look at you, you’re special. “You get to stand on the front. Oh, blah blah blah blah blah.” So, I hated that. I hated always being forced to do that because “Oh, hey, “if your mum and dad are coming to watch you, you have to do this, “because that way your mum and dad will know “what songs were being sung.” OK. So. I remember… Can’t remember if it was third or fourth grade, we were all dressed up like a present. We had boxes and they put, like, gift wrap on the boxes. And they put bows on the front. And we stood there with the boxes over our head, on our body. And we stood there. Not me.

hey put holes in the front of my box. Boop! In the front. So I could have my arms and my hands stick out so I could sign for my parents. And I hated it. I was mad. I didn’t want to do it. I hated my music teacher for forcing me to do that. But hey! “Your parents need to know what’s going on, right? Yeah!” So I had a bad attitude about it. I was bitter, I hated life, I hated that, I was a hateful person. Kid. So, now. Fast forward, I was 14 years old. 14. I was in the bathroom. Fixing to go to lunch, standing there washing my hands. It was me and it is one other girl in the bathroom. She was the one that always bullied me. There was five, maybe six girls that bullied me all the time. Some of the boys did too. Not as bad as the girls did. So. Me. Other girl. Washing our hands, fixing up, go to the cafeteria, eat lunch. The girl gets done, looks at me and says… “Do you know why you’re a freak?” And I said, “No.” She said, “It’s because your parents are freaks.” Walks out. Goes out of the bathroom. By myself. I hit the wall. Scootched down and cried.

I cried so hard that by the time the day was over with school, I had a headache. I remember going home. And going into my room and shutting my door. Mum was at work, dad’s at work. Mum comes home. Comes in there says hi. I wave. She goes back out. Dad comes home and he walks in and I knew I couldn’t tell my mum what I wanted to really say. Because one, my mum… ..gets her feelings hurt really bad and I didn’t want to be the person that made her cry. But my dad, who is a strong individual, and who I’m really mad at… ..was going to get what I had to say. So he comes home, starts to talk to me, calls me out of my room and I go in the living room. And dad said, I don’t remember exactly what he said, but he said something and I said “I hate… “I hate knowing sign language. ” I hate that you and mum are deaf. “I hate you.” And my dad didn’t say one word. His facial expressions said it all. I hurt my dad. And that’s exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to hurt my dad because it was his fault and it was my mum’s fault that I got hurt at school all the time.

So, I didn’t care at that time. At that time that I hurt my dad. I didn’t care. I wanted to be like “Hey, we’re even now.” So I went into my room. Shut my door. About an hour later, maybe two hours later, he comes in my room. And he says “Hey. “Are you finished being mad?” I said “No.” He left. I guess about two years later, maybe three years later, we were talking and my dad told me he said, “You know, you really should go “and become a certified interpreter.” I said, “Are you kidding me? I want nothing to do with that. “I don’t want to be an interpreter. I don’t want to be forced into “doing something I have to do already. “I am required to interpret for you and for mum “and you think I want that for a job? “No thank you. “I don’t want to be an interpreter.” My dad… ..said “OK. “If that’s what you want. But God’s given you a skill to use. “You should probably try that.” “Nope.” “Refuse.” “I refuse.” So, I turned 18, I was pregnant, I was a senior in school.

And… dad started losing weight. On purpose. He wanted to lose weight. And so I remember me and my ex-husband, because I got married, we were living with my mum and dad, and he was in the bedroom, and he called me. He said “Paula, come here!” So I went in there and he said “Feel that!” His side. And so I mashed on it, and you felt something hard. And I said “I don’t know what that is.” And dad said “I don’t know, it hurts really bad.” And he said “I think I’m going to go see the doctor.” I said “OK, well let me know.” I ended up having to go Home Bound because I was sick all the time in the morning. I mean, throwing up because you know, being pregnant. And so the doctor decided because I was missing so much school work in my senior year, to put me on Home Bound and then I had a teacher that would just bring me my work. So, dad went to the doctor, I went with them.

They said they had to do a biopsy and send it off. So, we said OK. They did a biopsy. That was awful. It was a needle in his chest. It was bad. They had to draw fluid and you could hear the (GRINDING SOUNDS) ..from the bone. And I thought “Oh no. I can’t stay in here.” Because… made me sick. Anyway, I was patient, I stood there, interpreted, got done and went home. Doctor called and said “Please have your dad come back tomorrow. “We need to discuss something with him.” I said “OK.” So told my dad. Dad and I went back to the doctor. The doctor told my dad… “We think you might have leukaemia.” “So, we are going to send you to a specialist.” We said, “OK.” We lived in a small town and had to drive an hour away to come to see the other doctor, the specialist. And the specialist is in the town, well, back then, is in the town where I live now. I live in that town. Big town. So, anyway, came here, saw the specialist, and they ran more tests. Sent us home and said “We’ll call you when we get the results.” Said “OK.” So we got home. A couple days later I was sitting on the floor. I was separating baby stuff. Just had a baby shower the day before. So I was separating. The phone rang. Picked it up. “Hello!” And it was the specialist nurse.

Her name was Jenny. Very sweet, sweet, sweet woman. She said “Hey, Paula, we got the results back “and here’s the situation.” I said “OK.” She said “Your dad has what’s called… “Mantle cell lymphoma. “And he is in stage four.” I said “OK.” She said “We really need to see him “as soon as possible. So ask him what’s a good time. Call me back “and we’ll set up the appointment.” I said “OK.” So I walked outside and told my dad what the nurse said. And I told him “You have this mantle cell lymphoma. It’s in stage four.” Dad: “OK.” And I said “They need to know when is a good time for you to come in.” “Anytime’s fine,” he says. Said “OK.” So we went. I called. They set it up for two days later and we went. I went with them, sat in the office and that’s when we really found out… ..that stage four meant the last stage. And the kind of cancer that he had will never go into full remission.

Remission meaning it’ll never, like… ..not ‘die’, but I guess it kind of means like go into sleep. I don’t know. I have to look it up. I know what it means but I can’t really explain it. So anyway, they said that his cancer will go into partial remission but never full. So OK. For three and a half years, I might have missed one or two doctor’s appointments that he had. And other than that I went with him to every appointment. And I interpreted and I interpreted. Every hospital visit, every hospital stay. Every doctor’s appointment. Every test he had. I was always with him. So in October 2007… started complaining about his stomach hurting really bad. We told the doctor. The doctor wanted to fight it with chemo. Friday, October the 3rd, I had to go out of town. Gave the doctor, not the doctor, I’m sorry, gave the nurse at the hospital my information. The phone number, where I would be if something were to happen.

Friday night I started having a really bad feeling. I called the hospital, they refused to tell me anything over the phone. Even though I was my dad’s… ..medical… ..medical power of attorney. They still refused to tell me anything. That morning, on Saturday, drove back to where I live. Went to the hospital, walked into the fifth floor where my dad was. They said “Oh, no, he is in ICU.” Said, “What?” So I went down to the second floor. Get off the elevator and my aunt is running to me. “Where have you been?! We had the police searching for you.”

So I was like “What’s going on?” Dad had a tumour in his intestines and it exploded and there was nothing they could do. It was over. And I remember… ..all day long Saturday and all day long Sunday… ..I remember thinking while my dad is laying there in a coma, how much I hate… I hate being a CODA. I hate that I had to interpret. I hate this. I don’t want this. I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t ask to have to go with him all the time. And I felt like it wasn’t fair and life wasn’t fair. So… My dad died on Sunday, October the 5th. For about a year… ..I hated it. I hated it. I hated it. My mum moved… Alabama. And I live here in Texas. Mum moved to Alabama the day after my dad’s funeral. And I didn’t have to sign any more. Fast forward. Mum moves back. I have to start signing again.

Mum gets sick, so I have to go with her to her doctor. I don’t go as much now because of my job, but I go when I can. Now that I’m older, I don’t hate being a CODA. I don’t hate knowing sign language. And I never really did hate my mum and dad. Um… Life was really hard I thought, back when I was a kid. But now that I’m older and I look back and I realise how blessed I really was. My dad could have gotten another interpreter but really deep down, I really wanted to be the one that did it. I wanted to be the one to go with him. And those kids who made fun of me? Guess what? I have a skill that they don’t. And the girl that was in the bathroom that insulted me? Several years later after we graduated, I ran into her. She said, (GASPS) “Guess what?” I said “What?” She said “I really wish I would have learned sign language.” I said “Why?” She said “Because there’s a little boy that lives down the street. “He’s deaf. “My kids want to play with him but they don’t know how to talk to him “and I don’t either.” And all I could think was “It’s your loss.”

“I am a wonderful person.” “I am… “I can be a good friend “and it’s your loss that you never got to know me as a person. “You only chose to know me “as a deaf couple’s kid. “You never got to know me as Paula.” So… “Your loss. “Not mine.” But I never said that out loud. I did say “Oh, well that’s too bad. You can always get a book. “They have books.” She said “I know.” So we talked for a few more minutes and she left. I am 42 now. I… very happy that I know sign language. I’m very happy that I got the chance to have the best of both worlds.

The deaf world and the hearing world. And one thing that I love so much is music. I love to listen to music. And I love to interpret music. So I can pull that from the hearing world and incorporate it to the deaf world. So that they can see what the words are. I sign and… I know now that I’m very blessed. I’m very blessed to have had deaf parents. And I really wish my dad was still alive so he would know that I don’t hate him. But I’m pretty sure when he died he already knew. He already knew I didn’t hate him. But one more thing, remember when I told you that my dad said I should become an interpreter and I said “Nope. “Won’t ever happen”? Guess what my job is now? I work in a middle school and a high school as a deaf ed interpreter. And I love it. That is what God has blessed me with. He’s blessed me with the skill to sign. And I couldn’t ask for a better job. I couldn’t ask for better parents.

My parents… ..they’re a blessing to me. And my parents were the best parents that they could be. And… ..I really had a lot before, hate for myself, for how I felt and how I behaved. But now I am very proud of the person that I’ve become. And I am very thankful that I have this skill. So if you’re a CODA and you feel like people bully you all the time, just remember that you have something that they don’t have. And just remember that you are probably an amazing person and it’s really their loss, not yours. If they can’t accept the fact that you have a skill that they don’t, that means they’re jealous of you.

That’s exactly what I’ve learned, is that they’re jealous. Because if you’re a CODA, you have a lot more skills and understanding that they don’t. So, with that being said, have a wonderful day. Have a great weekend. And… ..let the CODAs unite and… know, just be the best that you can be. I will see you later. Have a wonderful day. Bye!

Accessibility CODA Deaf Hard of Hearing

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