A Roses Q&A with @DeafMom Karen Putz

I very rarely miss my stop on the CTA. A nanosecond too long on the Red Line feels like an hour I'll never get back.

Karen Putz made me miss my stop once.  Not intentionally, of course.  But, I was reading her blog entry Going Deaf Was a Blessing and the next thing I knew, the doors were shutting. Damn!

It's OK.  I think in the mathematics of the universe, there is an equation that goes something like ~
Hot + Irritable < Reading something that opens your eyes + Inspires you

Is that an equation? Oh, stop laughing. I'm a CPA but I hate math.

All I know is I didn't mind missing my stop because Karen Putz opened my eyes and inspired me.  So, I owe the universe and Karen with a big THANK YOU!!

Check out Karen's blog Barefoot In The Burbs!
And you can also check her out this month in More magazine and also in the new edition of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness: 101 Stories about Finding Your Purpose, Passion, and Joy!

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Q: Karen, in your entry Going Deaf was a Blessing, you explain how you received your first hearing aid when you were only 9 years old.  Do you remember the day you received it? What did it look like? That can't be the easiest thing for a 9 year old. How did you handle it?

A: I remember that day well-- I hated the hearing aid.  It was the typical ugly tan model and the earmold hurt my ear. All of the sounds coming through it were loud and it gave me headaches after a while. Looking back, I now know that it was programmed with sounds that were just too loud. I complained to the audiologist but she assured me that I just had to get used to it. I hardly ever wore the hearing aid. It didn't help me. I was hearing mostly vowels when people talked to me so a lot of the consonants were lost in conversation. So as a result, I developed the ability to lipread.

Q: You mention that you basically read lips until you were 19.  But at 19, while barefoot waterskiing, you had an accident that caused you to basically lose your hearing altogether.  Do you ever find yourself thinking about that moment?

A: At the time that it happened, it was almost a non-event. The fall was a hard one and when I climbed in the boat, I just figured I had water in my ears. I developed tinnitus, a horrible ringing sound in my ears.  This went on for nearly six months.  I thought a lot about it in the beginning, but today, I've come so far that going deaf was actually a blessing. My life opened up after becoming deaf-- I met a whole new community of deaf and hard of hearing people and discovered a whole new me.

Q: You describe being in denial for awhile after the accident. But then finally accepting it.  What got you to the point of acceptance? I imagine it's a lot like forgiveness in how forgiveness is sometimes described as the best thing you can do, not for the other person, but for yourself.

A: Yes, it's a lot like that. I had an epiphany one morning. I could either continue to make myself miserable or I could change my attitude. I was tired of crying at night and crying in the shower. So I put my hair in a pony tail, slapped my hearing aid on and went out in public for the first time with my hearing aid on display. I had never done that before-- I spent years hiding it. That was the day everything turned around for me.  I accepted myself as a deaf person, began to learn American Sign Language and a new journey began.

Q: Going back to the accident at 19.  You stopped waterskiing until you were 44.  What made you start again?  Do you remember the moment you got back up after all of those years? It must have felt victorious!

A: In the fall of 2009, my husband sent me a link to a Today Show segment featuring 66-year-old Judy Myers barefooting on the water. (You can see Judy Myers segment here.)  I watched the video over and over, even though it wasn't captioned. I had a friend interpret it for me. The more I watched the video, the more I wanted to try to barefoot again. So I got in touch with Judy and she invited me down to the World Barefoot Center.  I met with Keith St. Onge and he went over some pointers on the dock. The first time I put my feet back on the water, all of the old passion came flooding back.  I was hooked.

Q: Ok, I saw the video on your website. Barefoot waterskiing looks both scary and fun! I imagine it's not something you can do in the cold weather here in Chicago so I'll have to wait until summer to come out to the burbs and try it.  What advice do you have for a klutz like me?

A: Actually, you can ski as long as there's no ice!  Just three weeks ago, I was skiing on the Fox River in St. Charles, IL with two other guys. We wore dry suits and warmed our hands and feet with a hot water shower in the boat.  For those new to barefooting, I strongly advise people to work with a pro for the first time. You can save yourself so many falls if you learn how to do it right from the very beginning. At the World Barefoot Center, they teach people on land before getting in the boat and they progress from one skill before learning the next.

Q: Where did you meet your husband? What are his thoughts on barefooting?

A: I met my husband at Northern Illinois University, a few months after becoming deaf.  He was born deaf and grew up with deaf and hard of hearing friends.  He is really supportive of my barefooting and he holds down the fort at home when I'm gone.  I could not do it without him!

Q: Anyone who reads your blog knows that your mom also eventually lost her hearing (and is also a force to be reckoned with!) and that you are also mom to three children who are also hard of hearing or deaf.  First, is it OK if I say the term 'hard of hearing'? You never know what's PC these days! But, you use it often in your writing so I'm guessing it's OK?

A: Yes, that's acceptable.  What's less politically correct is the term "hearing impaired."

Q: Ok. So, you've talked about a 'wacky gene' that is responsible for the hearing loss in your family.  Did you know or have some idea that your kids would also eventually lose their hearing? How did you prepare them?

A: We have a gene that goes back five generations and we're the first family in the United States identified with this gene.  My kids know about it. My daughter will pass this gene on to her kids but the boys will not.  She's perfectly ok with it!

Q: I love that your mom sometimes confuses the ASL sign for "I Love You" with "That's BS." Do you have any other stories of signs that got lost in translation?

A: Not so much signs, but I mess up on lipreading all the time.  In fact, there's a memorable story of how I learned about the birds and the bees.  I was in elementary school and I had just lost my hearing for the first time.  I asked my sister how babies were made.  She gave me a simple explanation of how a man puts "peanuts" inside of a woman and yadda, yadda, yadda...  Well, for a long time, I couldn't eat peanuts...

Q: I love it!!! I also think it's great how technology is your friend. Are you going to get the new iPhone? Is it an understatement to say that hearing aids have come a long way since you were 9?

A: My current iPhone is awesome-- I have a videophone from ZVRS loaded on it and I can make and receive phone calls using this.  Hearing aids have come a long way since I was nine-- I have several different buttons such as "music," "phone" and "zoom."  My favorite button of all is the "mute" button, especially when my kids ask me for money.

Q: You wrote an entry recently about choices.  What are the three best decisions you've ever made?

A: The three best decisions I ever made?  That's a tough one...  1. My husband/three kids and the decision to homebirth my third kiddo.  2. To go to college. 3. To get back on the water barefooting again.

Q: What advice do you have for anyone evaluating their life today and perhaps facing something that they might be challenging - healthwise, careerwise, lifewise?

A: My advice is to embrace the challenges that lie before you and enjoy the journey as you work through them.  I've learned that there are no "mistakes" in life, only experiences-- and we learn and grow from our experiences.  I have a saying up on my wall, something that I received from a teacher in high school:  "The grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for."

Q: And, of course, because this is Stop and Blog the Roses ~ on this day, what three things are you grateful for?

The three things that I'm grateful for:

All of the amazing folks that are in my life-- family and friends.

Chocolate.

The ability to wake up each morning and experience another day.

Karen Putz

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