Giana is six years old and was born profoundly deaf.
She is an enchanting child – I can tell this only from her picture, however, because I’ve never met her. But her mother, Gina, says that this is pure Giana, a beautiful laughing girl, who is also deaf and who has been struggling in her early school years.
Gina contacted me recently looking for some special help. She is involved in the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) in their Essex County chapter, which holds an annual fundraising event to support HLAA’s Walk4Hearing, which supports people with hearing loss. This year, Gina and her colleagues organized a successful masquerade ball with the theme of Don’t Hide Behind Your Hearing Loss, and Gina was looking for a poem to read that night.
She wrote to me:
“We want people to accept their hearing loss. I don’t want Giana to be embarrassed, but to be proud. If someone says something she doesn’t understand, I want her to ask the person to repeat it, instead of pretending to hear.
She uses an Advanced Bionic cochlear implant and she uses sign language. Because Giana is still struggling to speak, she was transferred to a Total Communication school**. She loves to swim and dance and is loved by many because of her personality.
I am looking for a poem to read at the masquerade ball to tell Giana that it’s OK that she is different – but also, for the people who are coming to know her, to better understand her hearing loss journey.
OK, wow, gulp. I didn’t have much time. A frantic search on the web didn’t turn up anything appropriate, so I decided to write something. Here is what Gina read to her daughter and the audience. (Note: Anyone looking for a polished, literary-quality poem is may be disappointed. It doesn’t matter – Giana liked it.)
Poem for Giana
Giana, I’ve never met you.
You are 6 and I am 60-ish.
We live thousands of miles apart.
But what joins us in our hearts
Is that we – you and me – are both deaf.
What words can I use,
To tell you, Beautiful Laughing Girl,
That being deaf
Makes you special in this world?
When I was six
I wish they’d told me that
Not being able to hear
Was OK and not bad
And I wish they’d said,
“We can help you hear
With hearing aids, CIs
And other technical gear.
But you, (Gael-Giana),
Because you will have to,
You will try harder
Look people in the eye
And see things that hearing people can’t.
There will be many times
You’ll wish you weren’t deaf
But there will also be times
You’ll see deafness as a gift.”
So, Beautiful Laughing Girl –
Keep giggling and talking and signing
Because you’re that gift to us all.
** According to the Hands & Voices organization: Total Communication (TC) is a philosophy of educating children with hearing loss that incorporates all means of communication; formal signs, natural gestures, fingerspelling, body language, listening, lipreading and speech. Children in TC programs typically wear hearing aids or cochlear implants.