Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sound Curves

Last Saturday was one of those classes: when my body and brain reach critical overload. Who knew learning how to teach Orientation and Mobility would be so exciting?

We were learning to cross the street (under blindfold) by listening to the auditory cues from the near parallel traffic (the cars traveling on the closest side of the street to us). I spent 45 minutes teaching my traveling partner/student the mechanics of crossing with the parallel traffic surge (listening for the approach of the car, determining the "now moment" (when to start crossing the street), auditorally scanning traffic to make sure no car was turning in front of you...). He was a quick study and progressed to independent crossing after only a few times with me guiding him. Then it was my turn to be the student and his to teach me.

I'd already noticed I was having trouble identifying the "now moment" when our instructor was demonstrating to the class. We all closed our eyes and pointed to the parallel traffic, then dropped our finger at the "now" moment. All the other students seemed able to identify the right timing, but I realized I couldn't accurately pick out the moment when the car noise surged and I could cross. When our instructor asked if we were "getting it," I raised my hand and said, "No." Oh well, it would just take some practice. If it were a real class with a real student, of course we would take more time and spend several lessons just listening to cars. But this was "Saturday pace" (meaning hurry!) and we had to keep moving.

I put on my blind fold and my travel partner/teacher instructed me on how to find the "now moment" by listening to the cars stop at the stop sign and then surge forward. I listened hard and then listened harder, letting several cars stop and then go, feeling dizzy the longer I stood on the street corner, listening to the cacophony of traffic noise swirl around me. It wasn't just that I couldn't tell when the so-called "now moment" was, it was the fact that the sound literally felt like it was curving around me, twirling like a huge dust devil that wrapped around in front of me and then melded into the next whirl of sound. Whether the sound was near or far, beside me or coming from in front, it was all one wild wave of noise.

The T.A. assigned to us asked me what was wrong.

"I'm really dizzy right now. The sound is swirling all around. I can't localize any of it." Gripping my cane tighter, I took deep breaths, because the dizziness was turning into panic. "I'm sorry. I have to take off my blindfold."

Tears were in my eyes as I ripped off the blindfold and tried to slow my breathing down. What the hell is wrong with me? I'm freaking out in the middle of class while standing on a street corner! Come on, Terena. Get it together. I have to get across the street!

My breathing returned to normal as my partner and the T.A. discussed what had happened and what we should do next. "Yes, it's Saturday pace, " the T.A. said, "But don't worry about that right now." She thought this was an excellent teaching opportunity for both of us. What do you do when you student is on overload and can't process the sounds coming at her?

I really wanted to get across the street, so I put my blindfold back on and stood back on the corner, this time with my travel partner standing much closer. Together, we three talked about what I was hearing. I describing how no matter which direction a car was going, they all sounded like they were crossing in front of me. While I listened, my travel partner described which direction the car was actually traveling (most were going forward across the intersection.)

When a car turned the corner and crossed in front of me, the T.A. asked, "How did that sound?"

"Loud. Much louder than when I think I hear them turning the corner." I listened to a few more cars turn the corner in front of me and each of them sounded louder and deeper than the cars going forward. But I still didn't feel confident that I could really tell whether or not a car was going straight, so my travel partner did human guide (I took his arm and he guided me across the street) with the parallel surge so I could listen to the cars while moving. That helped. As we walked across the street the car sounds straightened out and I could hear them drive off into the distance.

I never made it across the street on my own. When we rejoined the rest of the class after the exercise and I told the instructor what I was experiencing, she said, "Oh no. That happened to me too! I'm so sorry."

Really? The instructor, who is an incredible teacher of Visually Impaired children with many years of experience (I won't say how many) had the same auditory processing problem as me when she was a student in this program. If she managed to survive getting across the street under blindfold, and eventually became a teacher, I can too.

What is causing me to hear sound curve? Is it reflecting off the buildings behind me? Am I hearing all the echoes from multiple sources? I've already written about how hard it is for me to tune out incidental information while under blindfold. Is this another example of that? Is it just too much sensory information? Or could it be the shape of my ear collecting the sound? Will I ever be able to use auditory cues to safely cross a street independently? How on Earth will I ever make it across 19th ave (a major thoroughfare in San Francisco with hundreds of cars, not just a hand-few.)?

See, I told you Orientation and Mobility is exciting.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

This made me giggle. Happy Chinese New Year, everyone. It's the year of the Tiger.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ice Cream, Yogurt and Mashed Potatoes

(image from Burnt Lumpia)
While eating her vanilla yogurt, Queen Teen stared at her bowl for a long time, then she said, "If yogurt is white, and ice cream is white, and mashed potatoes is white, how do you know which one it is?"

I laughed. I couldn't help it. It was such a surreal question, so I assumed she was joking. But she looked at me so studiously I suddenly realized she was serious. Ooops.

"Um... well... you can smell them," I said.

She sniffed her yogurt. "Smells like yogurt."

"Exactly. If we had any ice cream you could smell that and see how it's different."

Nodding, she kept looking at me as if waiting for me to go on.

"And if we had any mashed potatoes, you could smell those and see how they're different from yogurt and ice cream."

"But what if you can't smell them?"

"Um... you can taste them. Also, mashed potatoes are usually hot and ice cream is usually cold. And yogurt is cold too, but not as cold as ice cream."

She took another bite of yogurt and then looked at me again, waiting.

"And you store them differently. Ice cream is in the freezer, yogurt is in the fridge and mashed potatoes are cooked on the stove." There. I had explained it from every angle. Now she would understand.

She nodded again and took another bite, her eyes looking dreamy as she gazed off into the distance, pondering my explanation.

How did she not know this? I mean, really... isn't the difference between ice cream, yogurt and mashed potatoes obvious?

Not when you're visually impaired.

This was another reminder of how much of the details in life Queen Teen misses. Everything she knows, she's had to be shown, through explanation, contact, and hands-on experience. There is very little incidental learning when you can't see clearly, and it gets even harder when your hearing is poor as well. You can't sit in your chair and watch Mommy cook dinner, you need to be beside Mommy going through the steps of a meal preparation with her.

Sometimes I think I've got this mommy-gig nailed, then other times I realize how much I've assumed she understands and didn't take the time to show her. What else has she missed?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The day Queen Teen announced she likes katsup

It's been a good week for Queen Teen. She got her hearing aids back last Monday and although they seem to bother the inside of her ears, she seems happy to have them again. Her teachers have reported that she's engaged and eager at school and even took part in a school wide, jump-rope fund raiser by rolling her wheelchair over the rope on her own several times. At home she's been joking with me and Rick again, playing with the dog and laughing more. Must be good to hear again.

One day as we were eating hot-dogs for dinner, she looked at my plate and said, "You know, I'm older now. I might like katsup."

Queen Teen has eaten her hot-dogs with butter since she was old enough to eat a hot-dog. Anytime we've tried giving her katsup or mayo she's spit her food out and yelled at us for giving her anything so "yucky." So I was surprised when she announced she might like it.

"Do you want to try some?" I asked.

She nodded.

Picking up a piece of her hot dog bun, I dipped it into some of my katsup and then popped it into her mouth. She closed her lips tightly and looked at me wide eyed. Would she spit it out?

After a moment, she chewed the bread and swallowed it, then announced, "I like it. Can I have more?"

I fed her bits of bread dipped in katsup and she gobbled each like she'd just discovered the most fascinating taste in the world. "Katsup is good. I like it now. I must be growing up."

She repeated this over and over for several minutes, right up until she climbed into the tub. "I'm growing up. Katsup tastes good. That must mean I'm growing up."

If she knew a song about katsup, she would've been singing it.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

My Birthday

Today is my birthday, and to celebrate that fact I stayed in my jammies this morning and watched Fame, the original movie from 1980. This movie had an enormous impact on me when I was 13. I already had the performing bug bad (although at that time I was dying to be a ballerina), so when this movie came out and I learned there was a real school for the performing arts in New York City... well, that was it. I HAD to go. No way was my family going to uproot from California to New York City, though, so instead I practiced singing and dancing and performing with more dedication and passion than ever before, imagining that I was just like the students in the movie, and if I worked hard enough, I too could be famous.

Then in high school, my drama and choir teachers told me about the performing arts school in San Francisco. My choir teacher knew people in The City and was able to get me an audition and a place to stay so I could go to school there. I was so excited! My dream was going to come true. At last I would be a real performer, on a real stage, not the stage in the cafeteria at the middle school in Kelseyville where I lived.

But my mom said no.

I will never forgive her for that. I'm sure she had her own, what she believed to be, good reasons (fear of sending her 16 year old daughter to a city far from home?), but for the rest of my life I will wonder what would have happened if she had said yes. Would my dreams of acting have come true? Would I be a singer? A dancer? Would I be in New York City right now?

Today when I watched Fame I felt the same sense of excitement, mixed with regret and anger that my mother wouldn't let me have the chance. Inside this 43 year old body is that same teen-aged girl with stars in her eyes who loves to sing and dance. I miss the theater, miss acting, miss standing in front of an audience with my heart pounding so hard in my chest I can barely remember my lines. So much has happened in 30 years and my life is nothing like I thought it would be. I guess no one's is.

Despite the way things turned out, I feel that I've accomplished a great deal, and I'm proud of who I am. Yes, I regret not pursuing my dreams with more fortitude (when it came time for me to go to New York or LA I chickened out, discovering I might have the talent, but I lacked "the balls" to audition). I put myself through college. I embraced writing and started my own press, and I fulfill my love of the theater by writing plays. And when my daughter is older, I'll be able to be in plays again. Maybe I'll even sing in a band (wouldn't I make an excellent Souxie for a Souxie and the Banshees cover band?).

More than my outward accomplishments, I am proud of who I am. I was dealt a shitty hand in this life, but I was also given intelligence and resiliency, both gifts that have held me together through storms and tragedies. I have love, something I never take for granted, and I have incredible friends who are loyal and true. I have my daughter who drives me crazy sometimes, but who has also taught me more about myself and how to live life with joy.

Once again, I am able to sit here and say, I have everything I need.

Although I would like someone to invent a face cream that actually worked on wrinkles and that would put my eyelids back up where they're supposed to be (and my boobs, too.).

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Back to school for mom

I haven't been writing in my blog for a while, or checking in with any of my blog friends, because... started.

Last Friday was my first day back to class, followed by a very hectic Saturday, during which we started our very first Low Vision functional vision assessment while wandering around West Portal in San Francisco. We jumped right back in to the "Saturday pace," trying to cram in too much knowledge in a single day, racing from one task to the next, not eating lunch until late in the afternoon and then leaving class after 4:30 with a spinning mind and exhausted body.

Yep, this is gonna be fun.

I love school... or more accurately, I love what I'm learning. But I have to admit I'm a bit overwhelmed by the volume of information I'm supposed to cram into my brain in only one semester. Today I did homework for over three hours and I'm only half way done. I have a paper due in three weeks and an assessment report due in two. I have to do two observations of Orientation and Mobility specialists in two different sites, plus I'm supposed to keep practicing and teaching the cane skills I learned last year.

Like I said, I love school. I love my teachers and my classmates and am so excited about my future in this profession. It is going to be great when I'm done!

When I'm done. For now, I'm just slogging through while trying not to lose my brain. I'm doing all of this while raising my depressed and ornery teen-aged daughter and publishing another book.

My press? After I finish this one book I'll be shutting down publishing for a while. I'll put my energy into marketing the books I've published, but I can't take on any more books for a while, for obvious reason. It bums me out, but I've chosen to go to school, therefore I need to devote my full attention to my classes, or at least the attention not directed at helping my child survive a bumpy adolescence.

Forgive me blog friends if I'm not leaving as many comments on your blogs or updating mine as regularly. School is going at full speed and I'm hanging on for dear life.

(I should explain the picture. On our last day of class last semester we created 3D models of our classroom. Teachers use 3D models to help explain mapping to children. The photo is a shot of the interior of our box, complete with little people, taken by a classmate (thanks, Jim!) Can you read what's written on the chalk board?)