On episode 26 of All Ears at Child’s Voice: A Hearing Loss Podcast, Tatum and Wendy are joined by Matt and Tim Reuter-Bowers. Matt and Tim are the parents of two young boys, one of whom has bilateral cochlear implants and is in 5th grade. On this episode we their family’s experience with adoption, navigating everyday life wearing masks,  mainstreaming, working with the professionals on your team, and much more.

Where to Find Us:

  • You can email us at podcast@childsvoice.org.
  • Follow Child’s Voice on Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram: @childs_voice
  • Follow Wendy & Tatum on social media: @WendyDetersSLP, @TatumFritzSLP

Please leave us a voice memo:

You can help All Ears at Child’s Voice continue to connect children and families with hearing loss and the professionals who serve them. Donate now!

Special thanks to John McCortney & Michael McCortney for their work recording All Ears at Child’s Voice episodes. Episodes of All Ears at Child’s Voice are graciously edited by John McCortney.

Disclaimer: Child’s Voice is a listening-and-spoken-language program for children with hearing loss. All Ears at Child’s Voice: A Hearing Loss Podcast is a resource provided by Child’s Voice. Reference to any specific product or entity does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation by Child’s Voice. The views expressed by guests are their own and their appearance on the program does not imply an endorsement of them or any entity they represent. Views and opinions expressed by Child’s Voice employees are those of the employees and do not necessarily reflect the view of Child’s Voice.

Intro: Welcome to All Ears at Child’s Voice. We aim to connect parents of children with hearing loss with the families who serve them. My name is Kate Bousum and I am honored to be the Director of Advancement at Child’s Voice. The advancement team at Child’s Voice works to raise awareness and funds to support the kiddos and families we serve. There are so many things to love about the incredible students and families at Child’s Voice, picking just one thing is really hard. However, something that always sticks with me each year is seeing the absolute glee on the faces of parents at our events like the winter festival and the recognition ceremony. To see those moms and dads light up when they see their little ones cross the stage or sing or share their speeches at graduation. It is so special because those parents know exactly how hard that kiddo worked to learn their words, sing those songs, and be successful. And the parents put in quite a bit of work too. So, it is a really special thing and something I look forward to each year.

I want to thank everyone who participated in our first remote golf outing. It was a huge success thanks to all of the amazing people who participated. A special thank you to the awesome committee for their excitement and support as we navigated brand new waters with this event. The funds raise from the remote golf outing go directly back to the programs and children at Child’s Voice. Thank you again for choosing to make a difference this year. Having some fun with your family out on the green or maybe in your backyard. And choosing to support, thank you.

Tatum:

Welcome to another episode of all ears at Child’s Voice, we aim to connect to parents of children with hearing loss, the professionals who serve them. We’re your hosts, I’m Tatum Fritz.

Wendy :

And I’m Wendy Deters. Today, our guests are Matt and Tim Reuter Bowers. They’re the parents of two wonderful little boys, Zeke and Gus. Zeke Is a bilateral cochlear implant user. He attended, um, Child’s Voice Early Intervention in school programs. And now he is in mainstream Fifth grade, and I say that because I knew Zeke when he was little, he was a little bitty baby. It’s hard to think of him almost going into middle school. His brother Gus is in second grade. So Matt and Tim are really incredible parents. We are excited to talk to them. Our topic today is to discuss, sharing their journeys specifically about adopting a child with hearing loss. So welcome to the show guys. We’re really excited to have you.

Matt:

Thank you.

Tim:

Thank you so much. Thanks for asking us to be here.

Tatum:

Yeah, we’re excited. I’ve heard a lot about Zeke. But I haven’t met him. So I’m excited to hear more from you about him.

Tim:

Yeah. Well, as Wendy mentioned, she’s known since he was a little nugget, like an eight – nine month old little nugget. So, um, it’s a little hard for us to accept that he’s going into well, that he’s in fifth grade. I’ve accepted that I guess, but that he’s going to be in middle school next year, he is just a sweet boy, a great, great big brother. And he’s really doing great, you know all things considering, and Gus is everything that a second child, younger brother should be torments him constantly. Sometimes us constantly. But Zeke is always, I’m, I’m really surprised by how patient he is with him, but both of them are, are great, great kids.

Wendy :

They are really sweet kids. So we usually ask our families before we jump into the main discussion to ask them about something cute, funny, something heartwarming. But this time I feel like I have to go first, because I have the best Zeke story that I can remember. So this little guy was somewhere between 18 months and 3 years old, he was probably about two. And I went into the Toddler classroom to just check in on something and someone had done something naughty in the classroom . And Zeke looked up at me and he goes “she did it!” to the other toddler sitting next to him, I don’t know who actually did the naughty thing.

Matt:

It may have been him. We may never know

Wendy :

It was such an advanced skill that it made me just die laughing, it was really, really great.

Tim:

That was good prep for being a older brother. Right?

Wendy :

Exactly. Okay. So now you guys have a story from the last week. Something cute, something funny, something heartwarming, what comes to mind?

Tim:

So this is actually not about Zeke. It’s about Gus, he has very, a comedic sense of humor. And so usually he’s pretty outgoing and, and he decided that he had lost his one front tooth and the other one was very, very loose. And he’d been concerned about it since June. So I’m embarrassed to say from June til like a week or two ago, he had that very loose front tooth. So it finally came out and we’re like, okay, the tooth fairy’s calming Zeke was like, Oh, this is awesome. Like you put it in the pillow, you’re going to get money. And he was like, I don’t want any money. I don’t want the tooth fairy to come here, write a note. I want to keep my tooth. I just do not want her to come in this house. Seriously? Absolutely not. He’s like that whole idea. What does she do with them? Why would she want my teeth? And Zeke was just like, kept saying over and over again, but you get money, right. You know, you get money. It’s like, it’s not worth it. I don’t care.

Wendy:

He’s not buying it. That’s really cute.

Tatum:

I have never really thought through the tooth fairy. I kind of agree!

Tim:

A little creepy

Wendy :

Too funny. Well, let’s kind of start at the beginning if we can. So, Zeke is your older child, your first child. How did the beginning of your journey as parents go?

Matt:

Sure. We worked with, uh, an adoption agency, Family Resource Center in Chicago. It’s now called, uh, Adoption Center of Illinois. It was maybe a year of classes and a home visit where the social worker came to make sure that we had everything we needed in the house, the bedroom and everything was safe. And then we had to write a letter to birth parents, either the birth mother or birth father or everybody explaining who we were, our journey coming to decide on adoption. Uh, and then waiting to get a call from a birth parent who, through the adoption agency decided to choose us as the parent for their child. Uh, we waited only about six months, little over six months. And they called us one morning. Tim was at work well, we had received an email that said there was a child that, um, may have hearing issues and may have other genetic issues. Please research this. Don’t immediately write us saying we’re interested and write us back once you’ve considered it. Um, so yeah, so we considered that and then we wrote them and said, yes, we would be interested. So once he was born, and then we got a call at 9:00 AM, Tim had gone to work and they said he’s your son. They would like you to go to the hospital as soon as you can.

Tim:

It was, it’s surreal. Well, it’s still surreal. All during the classes and you have all these ideas of what it’s going to be like, and you think you’ll be prepared. And sometimes some of the stories looked like there was a long relationship with the birth mother beforehand. And some don’t, this was a case where there was not, and we were open to whatever, but we just didn’t know how it was going to look. And so you have all these ideas and one day it’s just a phone call and you’re like, okay, I guess we’re on. And we drove, I drove home and we drove to the hospital together. He was a couple of weeks premature. So he was in there for a couple of weeks. But from that point, Matt was there all day. And then I would come home after work and stay until, not all night. Cause the nurses made it very clear. Like we will babysit overnight. This is your only chance to go home. So we wisely took them up on that, but otherwise we were there the whole time until he was released.

Tatum:

That first email, it’s interesting that they prompted you to kind of think about it. Do you remember what that process was like for you?

Matt:

Like I said we hadn’t been waiting too long. But in our minds you’re ready whenever. So anytime those emails came, we wanted to reply. Yes, we will be on board, but we had a friends who had adopted through the same agency and we had called them and said, do you have any pediatricians that we could talk to? So they pointed us to their pediatrician who is now the boys’ pediatrician. She took our call. She listened to all of our questions about the genetic issues and the hearing issues. So at least we felt we had a little bit more information before we said, sure, yeah, let’s go ahead and jump into it.

Tim:

People have different ideas again about what their reason for adopting is and what, you know, brought them there. But we had been through a couple situations where we had been chosen and then it had, you know, that the parents had decided to parent or what, or we thought there was a possibility. But the email about hearing impairment was for us was that was not, it was about a five minute we called her. We said, we’re comfortable with the hearing part. There’s another part. And so she gave us some advice and we said, okay, we’re, you know, we’re interested. Um, and that was it. It was kind of like, we’ve been waiting a long time. So

Wendy :

So it sounds like you had friends that had gone through the same agency. What other kind of supports did you have when Zeke was little?

Matt:

We didn’t have much support. We don’t have real close family nearby. We have some family nearby, but it was mostly friends that we had made along the way. And then once Zeke was born and diagnosed with a hearing issues, we started with EI, uh, early intervention. So his therapist became our friends and our support system, whether they wanted to or not. Um, so yeah, I mean, we didn’t have close family nearby. We had some friends, but yeah, once he was in early intervention before we were even at Child’s Voice, we were busy with lots of things to do with him. And the days went by quickly,

Wendy :

The longest shortest time, I hear people call it.

Matt:

That’s. Right. That’s right.

Tatum:

So it sounds like you knew there was a possibility of hearing loss, before he was born, but once he was officially diagnosed. What was that process like for you? How did you find out about his official diagnosis?

Tim:

So, like I said, because he was, um, a couple of weeks premature. He was already in, um, the NICU where he was born and, um, he was really healthy and doing well, the only thing he was kind of working on was feeding. And so there was a lot of time to get, you know, some of the preliminary testing done. So they did the initial hearing screening, um, which he didn’t pass and we got the standard, you know, that can happen. It could be fluid. Um, and then they ran it again. And so, you know, he still didn’t pass. And so they’re like, we’re here, do every test you need to. And so we were, he was still in the NICU when they said, no, you know.

Matt:

They did the ABR.

Tim:

ABR exactly while we were there. And so I remember, um, it was one, it was either you found out or I,

Matt:

I was there, the doctor came in it’s, you know, we kind of assumed based on our interactions with him, we’re not doctors, but we can snap and clap and there’s no reaction. Uh, so they did the ABR and then the doctor came and it’s, you know, it’s, I think he assumed I was immediately going to break down, uh, but took the news okay. Then, uh, but then Tim came after work and you know, then we had our crying. Even though we went into it thinking, Hey, there’s a chance he could be deaf based on his family history. You still are surprised. You still don’t know what is going to happen. Whether it’s your birth child or an adopted child you just kind of wait, you accept them for whatever they are.

Tim:

It’s no different than any parent. It was the first lesson. And, “Oh, I know you had these expectations, but here’s what life is giving you.” And you look at it, you grieve it and then you move forward. I mean, there was no other, you know, choice. We were to be fair. We were kind of ecstatic anyway, to be new parents. And we had some forewarning, so we’re like, what do we need to do? That’s what we want to, this is what we wanted. This is what we, you know, trained for. We went to classes, we have had everything. So it was like, all right, I guess we’re starting on day, you know, three.

Wendy :

Okay. So before he was born and you started learning about hearing loss and what that could mean for him and your family, what kinds of things did you research? Did you look at technology? Did you look at communication?

Matt:

We did a little bit, I lost my hearing when I was in between first and second or first and third grade. So I’ve worn hearing aids since third grade. So that was another reason why, when they said that there maybe hearing maybe deafness, the joke was I really, that really shouldn’t be a reason not to go forward with the adoption since I have a hearing impairment. Uh, so we knew, you know, hearing aids obviously we researched a little bit about cochlear implants or knew about cochlear implants, but not as much as we do now. And we were open to doing sign language, if that’s what was going to have to happen. Or if that was the mode of communication that would work best for him. We did some research, but most of it was, well, we’ll take what we can on this hearing side, we’ll be able to figure something out. We’re very lucky that he was born in Evanston, but once he had his diagnosis after his ABR, it was just name after name, after name of specialists go, you need to go see Dr. Young at Children’s right away and get fitted for this. So it was very good that they, they were already clued in on who the best people were that we should go see.

Tim:

And that started again with our pediatrician. I can’t that’s one tip. I never would have thought for people who are potentially adopting is to find a pediatrician that you don’t have to have children there. Their whole profession is to help children and parents. And we have called her, you know we went through the adoption process again. And every time there was a situation, we would call her without fail and say, what would this look like? Or what, what might this mean? And no hesitation. So, you know, reach out to somebody you trust or talk to your friends. And if they love their pediatrician, you don’t have to have a kid to talk to them. They’ll be more than willing to help.

Tatum:

That’s awesome. I would never have even thought about getting connected with a pediatrician ahead of time. Since you had some, some forewarning, some idea, how long did it take you to get set up with Early Intervention? What was that process like?

Matt:

It was, well, I don’t know. I mean, it was pretty fast.

New Speaker:

I think we, once we got in touch with Dr. Young, she said, you need to get involved with early intervention. And, you know, she gave us some names. She mentioned Child’s Voice. And we immediately started the process of like we didn’t know what that meant to what is early intervention. He needed it for multiple things, not just for hearing. And so, um, I think we just, honestly, somebody at the hospital, I remember spoke to us initially about it, but once we were connected with Children’s and through Dr. Young, then we kind of went from there and, um, started as soon as we could. I think the coordinator for our area probably had our names blocked on her phone. I feel bad for her, but we were a little eager. I mean, I remember calling to schedule a visit at Child’s Voice. I mean, he was months old and you probably were like, who are these people?

Tatum:

No, people come in with very young babies.

Wendy :

Oh, absolutely. I remember the conversation because you, I know I’ll never, I’ll never forget it because I never had a parent asked me this before. And you know, you said, I’m interested in what’s going to happen now. And then the next couple of years, but I’m thinking about college. So, tell me what are we doing to get him ready for college. I was like, wow. I’ve got to think about how to answer that. Every parent is thinking that, every parent is thinking way down the line. It was just one of the first times that someone had voiced that. And I appreciated that so much because that gave me a sense of where your thoughts and feelings were.

Tim:

Yeah. No pressure on him. I will say, I remember distinctly when we were, when I was doing research about it. Cause I had not had any experience with hearing loss other than that. And so I was reading about what does this mean? And, um, got really concerned about the literacy rates and you know, it was like potentially, you know, top out at a fourth grade reading level. And these were things that were resonating with me, like fourth grade? That means we have to, now we have to focus like right now, just start planning for that. And they, you know, we just wanted more.

 

Tatum:

Yeah. Yeah. I think Wendy is right, a lot of parents are looking ahead to the future, no matter what their goal is for their child’s future. But it is, I would agree. It is rare. I haven’t had a lot of parents directly ask me what happens at age 20 when their baby is 2 months, but that’s great that you guys were thinking ahead.

Matt:

But they’re very happy because you know, then at some point this year, I don’t think it was last year. Somebody said, well, do we really have to go to college? And you know, without Tim being there, I said, no, you don’t have to go to college. We want you to find something that you really enjoy. And if you don’t have to go to college for it, we’re not going to pay for it. You don’t have to go, you can go to trade school. You can, it doesn’t mean there are, they’re like, wait, we don’t have to go to college. I’m like, well, you’re not done right away. You got to finish high school. Yeah. So that’s right. That’s right.

Tatum:

He is in fifth grade, he is getting closer and can see if college is on the horizon.

New Speaker:

When he goes off to college we will play him this interview. And then Gus too.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. It would have that

Wendy :

So, you got into early intervention. We talk about a lot with families especially those in early intervention about communication, modality and how that was presented to you in the beginning. Do you remember, like, what were your experiences in the hearing loss community about, um, modality of communication?

Matt:

We didn’t have too much pushback from anyone. I think for us, we decided we would start. I mean, he was getting a hearing aids, bilateral hearing aids three months, I think. And, but we started him learning, you know, Signing Times DVDs, just little things, you know, around the house that even hearing parents or hearing children are utilizing that.

Tim:

And we both took class.

Matt:

We both took classes. Um, but we didn’t feel pressure. We even went to that deaf expo, at Harper college when he was very young, uh, he did have his one cochlear implant. By that time we had some looks, but nobody gave, nobody said anything. Nobody made faces. But it was nice to see, okay, we are really not prepared here. We don’t know enough sign language at all for this to be viable for us here at the deaf expo or anywhere. But he just, once he had his implant and still had use of the other ear through his hearing aid, he just was interested in talking. Yeah, he has zero interest right now in sign language. And it’s something we bring up because as he gets older, there are times when he wants to take his implants off. And one, I’m very jealous of that. That’s one of the only times he’s like, I just need silence, but we’re running into, he’ll have them off. And he wants to communicate with us and he’s asking us, you know, big question, sometimes life questions. And it’s, it’s like, do you want to learn some signs so that we can communicate when they’re off? And he has no interest. He just is not. And so we, we used him as the barometer. He had one implant, he was four years old and he said, this hearing aid does nothing for me. I want another implant. We were like, okay. And we made the appointment then. We couldn’t let him decide on the first one, but clearly he was like, this is much better. I’m not getting any use out of this. He was able to like express to us that he was frustrated and wanted another one. So, you know, we’ve been fortunate. We followed his, you know, kind of what he wanted and our exposure to the deaf community, our sign language teachers. I never had them you know, say anything about the fact, the route that we had chosen. So it’s been luckily very supportive.

Tatum:

With either route that you choose, you want to make sure that you have all the tools that you need for your child to be successful. So with sign language you realized at that time that you didn’t have those skills. But even going with the listening and spoken language route, there are a lot of tools that you need and a lot of work, you have to put in to make sure that a child is successful. So there’s still probably a lot of learning that you did at that point. A lot of appointments that you made, uh, you know, even at that time, if you didn’t have that opportunity or like that skillset to learn a fluent new language, there’s still so much work that you guys probably put in, in the beginning. And that’s amazing, that at four, he’s advocating for a new side.

Tim:

That’s that is the reason we chose child’s voice. And the most valuable lesson he got, or skill is to self- advocate, from the minute they were babies. I remember saying this, you need to be in charge of your devices. He is, he is in charge of his implants. He tells us when something’s wrong and that’s not now that he’s 10 that’s since he was four, you know, it’s very important and we won’t be there. We aren’t there in mainstream and he needed to know by first grade when to say, I don’t know what’s going on. Or, um, you know, I remember him coming to us and telling us that the FM that he’s using, like he actually wants it turned off when there’s small groups, because he’s hearing the entire classroom and he wants to focus on the people that he’s with. And he recognized that and told the teacher and that’s all, all the skills that he had to learn.

Tim:

Yeah. So I just think that that’s, it’s invaluable, not just with hearing impairment, but in life, you know, to be able to advocate for yourself. And he definitely learned that early on.

Tatum:

What was your first experience like with the professional community? What about just like when you were interacting with like with Audiologists, Therapists what was that kind of like getting all that set up?

Speaker 3:

We went through Lurie Children’s Hospital. We were lucky, one of the people that we worked with for getting the hearing aids had implants. So it was just wonderful to have an adult there who had implants later in life to see and ask her questions about what, what it was like for her. Everyone there just made us feel comfortable. Um, no one batted an eye about the two gay guys bringing in the black boy to get his implants or his hearing aids. I don’t know that that’s the case for everyone. And I hope it would be, but we were very lucky that, you know, that was never an issue for us. We were able to go in and bring all of our paperwork and, you know, they hooked him up. Did the hearing, you know, we’ll just, you tell us what steps we need to do. And then he was, had hearing aids for the six-month trial period before we would go forward with, uh, the implant surgery. And like Tim had said, we decided we would just go with one because he seemed to be getting some benefit from the hearing aids. So we went with the one and again, luckily, you know, we were able to get hooked up with some really great people that gave us really good information.

Tim:

We still remember the nurses from the NICU at the hospital. I mean, we have been really lucky. They, you know, we go to this reunion or we haven’t been in a couple of years, but we went for at least six years of all the babies that were born there and the professionals we met in EI. Zeke had two different deaf mentors through EI. Um, one of them, she was even going to teach Matt how to sew, she bought cookies from, you know, the cookie sale Child’s Voice. And we have had, we had to lean on our professionals a lot, I think. And so, um, we are, we’re lucky that we found the right ones to work with We’ve have all good things to say about Child’s Voice up and down everyone before we went there led us to that point and said, you know, here’s what you need to do, but supported whatever decision we made. I, I don’t know that that’s everyone’s experience, but we were really lucky.

Wendy :

I like that you said that you leaned on the professionals that were in your life, so you didn’t depend on them. You guys still made all of your own decisions. You took in all the information, but you allowed that support to be there, which I think is, is really important and really, truly felt like more of a partnership that’s something that I think we as early intervention professionals really strive for.

Tim:

It is, yeah. We didn’t know what we were doing. So teach us please.

Wendy :

Yeah, nobody does when they have a baby. Well, maybe a little more with your second baby, which we’ll talk about in just a moment. So now Zeke’s in fifth grade, he’s in the mainstream and he’s been since first grade. How was that transition for you guys as parents?

Matt:

Nerve wracking? We were very used to 40 people total or whatever it was at Child’s Voice at the time. And you knew all the parents or almost all the parents, but we had a great team at child’s voice who helped us with establishing our IEP with the school district, or I guess we had it during his kindergarten year. But it was a good transition. We were able to go from Child’s Voice to the school district in a meeting, the IEP meeting. And we were very lucky that Zeke’s first grade teacher was, not strict, structured, very structured, which is exactly I think what he needed, just putting him into a larger classroom and a larger school altogether. He was placed in that classroom where, you know, everyone stayed quiet and everyone followed the rules mostly and everyone listened. So he had a little bit quieter of a school environment. I think that first year that he was allowed to kind of interact with his classmates and the teacher and feel a little bit more comfortable maybe that first year then if he had had a different teacher.

Tim:

It was a very smooth transition. His Hearing Itinerant from day one, they’ve had a great relationship. They just earlier today were on a zoom call, giggling. I was telling Matt that he was telling her all the house gossip, everything that’s happened. You know anything! They have a great relationship, the school, the way they’ve supported, how to use the technology and what the Hearing Itinerant tells them. They really listened to it the first year he was put in the same class with one of his classmates from Child’s Voice, which had its ups and downs. He, it was very funny. They were advocating for each other and helping each other with their equipment. But it also turned out to be kind of a nightmare for the Hearing Itinerant to have two in one class, but they’ve worked with us through these, like how do we figure out what’s the optimal situation for them. There are a couple of kids that have hearing loss in the school. And the impression I get is that everyone feels just as supported as, as we have. So it was, it was a scary, but a good transition.

Tatum:

That’s awesome, it sounds like his first teacher had great classroom management.

Tim:

She did.

Matt:

She was a special Ed teacher for a long time and had taught older, upper grade elementary. And she just was, I don’t know. We’re very good about, “Hi, we’re going to introduce ourselves right now. This is Zeke and these are the things he needs. Don’t forget who we are.” Well, I guess we did that early on and now everybody knows who we are, but it’s, you know, I feel like it’s good to have the parent go in there and not get in the teacher’s face, but advocate for them just as much as the student will for themselves, just to make sure they know who they are and make sure they reach out to the parent. If there’s any questions about the technology or the hearing loss. Zeke just kind of talked about it himself.

Tim:

He told them what was the deal. Yeah. It’s kind of what he is. We’re the kind of parents who were like, I’m not looking for an excuse. I just want to know what’s going on and what we can work on. And, um, it was a good first, it was a great first teacher to have, we may have talked about it for several years, hoping that maybe our second child would have her as a first grade teacher, which happened. I don’t know if it’s luck or that we’re just so in their face that they’re like, fine. What, what do you need? Uh, but we’ve been lucky.

Tatum:

I’d be curious to see, like, to hear a little bit, if you guys are comfortable, like the transition to zoom learning, like how that’s going. Um, cause I know that’s a whole new world for, for all parents and kids.

Tim:

Yeah. It’s it’s uh, for us, for our family, it’s going well. Um, like we, we started e-learning in our district at the end of the year, like everyone else, but they had planned to start this past year to use it for snow days. So we’d actually had some introduction to, you know, what it might look like. Um, so the, the transition was, you know, awkward a little bit. Um, but once they got into a groove, I was really impressed with what our district was able to do. Um, and it worked well for both of our kids. We had the choice early on as to whether we would send them back in person or via, you know, e-learning and one of the first things we thought of one thing that happens all the time with us is when Zeke and Matt are in masks and they rely so much more on lip reading than you realize. And it really makes a difference. You’re unable to get expression and um, just, he has a really difficult time hearing, it’s muffled. Um, so the first thing we thought is, well, that’s not gonna work. We would love the kids to be in a normal situation. Both of our kids did well on e-learning. So that’s what we’re going to go with. And it’s proved to be the right decision. Ultimately, the district sent everyone back via e-learning. But the kids were comfortable with it. They picked up right back where they were from last year, from the spring, they know everything about Zoom and all the technology way more than we do. It’s been a good transition for us.

Matt:

Zeke has speech therapy has special services through school and his IEP. And so that wasn’t like he has hearing itinerant, which he continued to meet with regularly in the spring and now, but speech therapy we weren’t able to get that figured out through the school system. So we have him in private therapy again, just in speech just because we thought, well, we don’t want to let this period go too long without any kind of speech intervention. I don’t know that he needed a lot, but we just wanted to keep the ball rolling with the goals that he had at the end of last school year.

Tatum:

Is the speech therapy also via teletherapy or is that something he’s doing in person?

Matt:

Right now we do teletherapy I think they’ve now opened up where we can go back in person, but we’re just sticking with teletherapy for right now.

Wendy :

What kind of strategies do you guys use when you, when you both have masks on or when you’re out, what has worked? What doesn’t work?

Matt:

We’ve just spoken loudly, unfortunately, you know, we just get real loud. We haven’t bought any, uh, clear or plastic masks or anything like that. It’s usually the four of us around each other, so we’re usually okay. But yeah, out in public, it’s just, we just get a little closer and be a little louder with each other. Maybe. He’s pretty good about saying I didn’t hear what you said.

Tim:

You’re not as good at that. But we’ve done a lot of outside stuff trying to, you know, we’ve been really careful during this time. And it is it’s difficult. So there aren’t a lot of situations where we’re all masked together, it’s hard. We’re pretty loud though. So that does solve a lot of the problems.

Wendy :

That’s good.

Matt:

We went into meet the teacher in the classroom a couple of weeks, right before school started and you know, six feet distance. And we were standing on our little circle waiting to go in and the assistant principal ran over and she said, I am so sorry, we don’t have the plastic mask ready. If you give me a minute, I’ll go get it in the office. I was like, for what? I just wasn’t even thinking, I’m like, Oh no, we’ll be fine. If he doesn’t hear something, he can just scream at them, like we’ve been doing, but yeah, the school was ready. They didn’t have it then, but they were ready to bring a mask when we needed it.

Wendy:

Can we talk a little, a little bit about Gus and siblings? That’s something that also comes up a lot on our podcast. It sounds like Zeke is a really great big brother. and I’m sure Gus is a really wonderful little brother. How do you think their relationship is different or is it because of Zeke’s hearing loss?

Tim:

That’s very interesting. I think necessarily it is. Um, because they both recognize there’s something different. For a while, Gus didn’t understand why he didn’t have implants. Zeke still is jealous that Gus wears glasses. Um, but for Gus, it’s just always been how his older brother is. He could explain it probably as well as Zeke could at this point. There’s a lot of, you know, did you take your ears off? Are you not listening to me now? And then he’ll put them back on and say, you know, I don’t like when you do that, you know, you can’t hear me when that happens. And um, we just talk about everything. So, I don’t know how it’s affected them. Yes. I think they see their differences. But, um, it’s funny, this just came to my mind, but for instance, a lot of gusts his drawings when he’s drawing himself, he draws himself with much darker skin than he has. And it’s gotta be because the one kid he’s looking at all the time is Zeke. And so he doesn’t even notice it. So he knows about it, but I don’t think he thinks anything of it other than it’s something that he has to deal with in terms of, you know, when we’re at the pool, come on and get your swim ears on. We’re ready to go.

Wendy :

That’s really interesting. I’ve never heard that before of a child drawing themselves sort of reflected from their sibling. That’s really interesting.

Tim:

They are siblings, they fight a lot. But, Gus is in love with Zeke he just thinks the world of him. It’s interesting to be siblings during this time. I can’t imagine my sister and I having been in like that kind of a confined space having really, we were obviously our first playmates, but we had other ones and they’ve spent a good six months playing together and you know, their daily life revolves around each other. I think this period may affect their relationship more than anything that happened before.

Wendy:

Okay, so you made a comment that you, you talk about everything, which is wonderful and probably why your kids are so ready to advocate for themselves. But if you are comfortable sharing, how do you talk to them about adoption?

Matt:

We have been talking about adoption since the beginning because they realized that we didn’t biologically make these children, or we were clear that we didn’t do that. We were just very open and honest, starting out with Zeke. Uh, again, mostly because we’re two men and then we have a biracial or black child. And so we just kind of kept that conversation going with Zeke and with family whenever they were around. I know historically, you know, when you hear stories of adoption from years ago, you would find out when you’re 18 or something like that. And when we went through the classes, they were very clear. Please don’t keep this a secret. You really need to make sure that this is not a secret, that you’re just being open and honest with your family, with yourselves, with your child. And since we were doing that with Zeke all along, we continued the same with Gus. They were about three and a half years apart. We don’t have any relationship with Zeke’s birth parents. They wanted keep it closed. So we have provided pictures of him and updates that are there at the adoption agency, whenever his birth family chooses to collect them. But we do have a relationship with Gus’ family. So it’s different. Um, a couple years ago it was kind of difficult for Zeke because, my little brother has this other family and I don’t have this other family. So, we talked about it. He was a little upset, obviously. We reached out to the agency and said, if you ever speak to the birth mother, just let him know, let her know that he would like to speak to her if she ever changes her mind or if she ever wishes to. But yeah, we’ve just been open and honest. So it’s not different for us here at home. And it’s always interesting to hear how people at school react. It’s never been anything negative. It’s just sometimes it’s like, no, you don’t have two dads. Or, well that can’t be your brother because he’s black. I think because we been open about it here at home, they feel more comfortable in themselves when they’re at school. It’s not something that’s a secret. They just, you know, draw our family when it’s the beginning of the school year to say who we all are. And if they have questions, they’ve been able to answer them.

Tim:

Because we have a different, we have an open relationship with Gus’ birth family on both sides. We confront that often we visit with them and it almost now it’s more become a thing of where Gus is like, Ooh, why am I, the focus of this? All of these people are here to see me. They’ve been wonderful to Zeke , Gus’ birth family. And so I think Zeke is kind of more comfortable with the visits. And now Gus is more feeling like, Oh, this is about me. And he’s not big on being the center of attention. So every time we have an experience, we have a conversation about, you know, what it means. It’s kind of goes. So it’s an, it’s an ongoing daily thing for us. I, one of our ongoing jokes is for a long time. We’re like, how do these people remember our names? Like, and then we’re like, Oh yeah. We’re like the two gay guys with two adopted kids. One of them is biracial and has cochlear implants. And so it’s like, we may stick out, but in our heads, we’re just same as every other fifth and second grade family just kinda going about our business. And that’s what we want our kids to feel like.

Wendy:

I think you also stick out because you’re very like involved, wonderful parents. Matt was the King of pizza lunch at Child’s Voice, wrangling, you know, 20 preschoolers with cochlear implants.

Matt:

That’s right. That’s right. Yeah.

Tatum :

Yeah. That’s awesome That you’re always so open and sharing with your kids. Like in my family, my parents are divorced and they divorced when I was two. And I don’t think my family realized like, Oh, even though I was, I was there when this happened, that like, you have to have that dialogue. I didn’t realize until I was five, that it wasn’t normal for your dad not to live with you. So I do think sharing those family stories from a young age is talking about, you know, your family dynamics, just like, just like how your kids now can advocate for themselves. If questions come up at school, like share, you know, about their family and it’s no big deal.

Wendy:

And really respecting your kid’s intelligence and your kid’s ability to process their lives. I think kids are more complex and more able to handle difficult information than we think they are. But if we have these, you know, really, like you said, open conversations, like, look at how beautifully they’ve responded to that.

Tim:

It’s like being consciously comfortable when we’re in public. And someone asks a question, being comfortable to say, these are, our sons, we are married, we are a family. You have to let them have that sense of normalcy. And if it was constantly like, I’m embarrassed, I’m embarrassed to say, well, how are they going to feel about that? You know, and about your family structure. So, we’re physically visibly, can’t get away with it, but, you know, we even, we still tried to be like, well, there’s people that look like us. There’s people that don’t, it’s great when they’re different. It’s great things we have in common, but this is who we are.

Tatum:

So the other way, so usually wrap up a show is just asking for general advice. You may know our main listeners are parents and professionals, so it could be for either audience or for both anything that you’d like to share with the listeners of the show.

Tim:

For me, one of the most important things is, and I think we’ve made it pretty clear is building a relationship with the people who are trying to help you, so you can be an advocate for your child. But don’t be an advocate to the extent that you’re alienating the people who really are trying to get what’s best for your child. And so we are very, we have a great working relationship with all of the professionals we’ve worked with. There have been times when we pushed back and said, I don’t think that that’s the best for my child. And they’ve been receptive to that because we’ve been receptive to them all along. So I think there’s this sense of, okay, the school district or the state’s going to be really bad. And they’re going to try to take time away from you and like go into it as a collaborative effort with your positive attitude, with your district and talk to them. These people are all professionals who work with children. Um, so I just think that it really doesn’t help to be so adversarial and really see it more as a partnership.

Wendy :

That’s good advice.

Tatum:

Yeah, I like that advice though. And I like what you said about realizing you’ve been reciprocal in the past, I know some of our families can feel like nervous about speaking up for themselves. Um, but you know, that relationship goes both ways and they should also advocate for themselves, even with their professionals in their lives.

Wendy:

And I think a good, responsible professional shouldn’t take offense to a family disagreeing with them. If it is done respectfully it’s part of a conversation. They’re not telling you that you are wrong and nobody’s perfect. No professional knows it all. So, if you really listen to what someone is telling you, you should be open to some disagreement. Well, thank you guys so much. This was so fun to talk with you.

Tim:

Thank you. I preferred when we were talking at the pool though, with the kids.

New Speaker:

Yeah. Maybe next year.

Tatum:

Thank you everyone for joining us for another episode of All Ears at Child’s Voice, be sure to join us for our next episode. If you’d like to reach out to us, you can find us on Twitter and Instagram. I’m @wendydetersslp and you can find Tatum at @tatumfrtizslp.

 

Tatum:

You can also email us at podcast@childsvoice.org and you can find episode show notes and episode transcripts that are on Child’s Voice website, childsvoice.org/podcast.

Wendy:

And if you’re interested in learning more about Child’s Voice, we are on Facebook as well as Twitter and Instagram with the handle @childs_voice.

Tatum:

Ok, we will see you next time.

Wendy:

Bye

 

Tatum:

Bye

Child’s Voice kids:

Bye! Thanks for listening!

Kate:
Thanks for listening. Be sure to subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen so you don’t miss any episodes. As always we appreciate your feedback so please send us an email or voice memo at podcast@childsvoice.org If you are interested in supporting Child’s Voice and programs like this podcast please visit us at childsvoice.org. You make a difference, thank you so much.