One of the main reasons I moved back to California, more specifically to my hometown, was to take care of my brother. I knew I was going to need a community of people to pull it off. It doesn’t hurt that Grass Valley is significantly more affordable than the bay area. However, the rural high school in my hometown wasn’t able to provide the services we needed to support Dominic. This is common problem for families with deaf children. Luckily, our friends who lived in the county over, the same one we needed to live in for him to attend school, had a roommate move-out and offered to have us move-in -- giving us two rooms in their home.
It’s a lot of responsibility to take on a teenager as a roommate, and I debated whether or not this was a fair situation. On the other hand, one roommate, Sean, is a Deaf man and the other, Cheryl, is a DHH (Deaf and hard of hearing) teacher for the county. Both are incredible signers and amazing role models for Dominic.
You see, I look like a fluent signer to the untrained eye. I can handle basic conversations about the day to day stuff, but when it comes to signing in-depth conversation about politics, academics and religion, I struggle. The language gap has made disciplining or explaining the reasons behind my parenting decisions to Dominic a challenge. When we are working on homework together, I can get through most of it, but certain concepts and ideas are hard to convey. None of this is Dominic’s fault, it’s simply the consequence of learning a second language!
This is where our roommates and the Deaf community have been imperative to our journey. If Dominic has a question with his homework, Cheryl’s teacher’s mind can jump in, explaining all the concepts in precise clarity. Sean is currently studying to become a teacher as well. He is thoughtful, funny and a hard worker. If there are dishes in the sink, he does them. If there is a a light fixture to be cleaned or a fence to be fixed, he’s on it. He not only talks to Dominic about the struggles of growing-up as a Deaf male, but the importance of education and being a leader in your community. The fact that he snowboarded in the Deaflympics only adds to his “cool factor.”
We have a friend, Tristan, who comes over once a week to help Dominic with his biology. Tristan is a Deaf man who got a B.A. in Psychology. In Tristan’s off time, when he’s not working at the high school, he drives to UC Davis to help brain researchers study auditory and visual brain development. Clearly, he’s smart as a whip. His sister also happened to be Dominic’s interpreter for a semester while at the high school in Nevada City. This young woman worked tirelessly -- commuting 40 minutes to and from Nevada City every day. She started at 7:30am and wouldn’t leave until after football practice at 6pm.
When I need a “sitter,” our friends Maggie and Nick, both Deaf, are always around to help. They got married last year and often take him to their family farm where he learns to earn his keep by helping them look after the animals. He’s usually rewarded with picnics on the lake, big family dinners, and hot tubbing under the stars.
Because of all these amazing people, Dominic is growing in maturity and knowledge. He helps teach community sign classes, talks on Deaf panels, and encourages his Deaf classmates to be proud of their Deafness. It was unconventional for me to move in with roommates, but in the end, they have become such amazing friends, confidants and ultimately, my Deaf family. Dominic doesn’t just have me advocating for him, he has a team of people putting in so much of their time and love to see him through to the finish line. I can only hope that his story will inspire others to connect with their Deaf community.