Dazed and confused
I’m sitting here trying to think of a short, succinct sentence to describe Freshman Orientation Day at the public university my son will be attending this fall. Words fail me.
I’ll go the long, rambling, wordy route instead. First off…WHY? Why do they schedule such an important day to start so dreadfully early?! Sure, they offer coffee and Danishes and juice but what we all really needed was a direct IV of caffeine in order to be alert for the entire day. Even though I went to bed earlier to accommodate my 5:45 am wake-up buzz (love that vibrating alarm clock!) it made no difference. By 1:30 pm, my body was dragging and my mind was wandering. I was ready to cry from exhaustion by 9 pm, and was actually in bed, asleep, by 10 pm. I know Eric only got a few hours of sleep the night before even though I told him over and over that we had to leave by 7 am, so be sure to get to bed early.
The day started at 8:15 am and the school is an hour away. I need at least a good hour or hour and a half to fully wake up, eat breakfast and get ready. I debated wearing my hearing aids…I actually put them in the day before, just in case they were giving me some kind of vibrotactile help that would be apparent if I put them in after going for days without them. Well, no. They make no difference at all anymore, and I’ve finally accepted that. (I think – to be honest, I woke up today and put my hearing aids in on autopilot. I had NO idea I had them in until around 10 am when I realized it felt like something was in my ear. I put my hand up to my ear and was stunned to feel my hearing aid there!)
So anyway, we made great time and got there with plenty of time to spare. I had been kind of drilling Eric on the things he needed to do, since the kids and parents had separate sessions. He’s got ADD and really awful organizational skills. (I made him leave his laptop in the car so it wouldn’t distract him.) I especially went over the fact that he should take the English competency exam and also gave him the details for opening his first checking account. (A local bank offers free student checking accounts and it was a great deal.)
After we checked in, we wandered over to the auditorium. Eric had gotten a red backpack full of materials and we received a parent handbook. I was dying to know what was in the backpack. I’m one of those people who loves literature and supplies – getting school supplies every year was always a highlight for me. If I’m given a stack of brochures and literature to read, I always read everything. So this backpack full of stuff was like a treasure chest to me! Eric, of course, could care less and couldn’t even be bothered to open it up and look.
We grabbed seats in the front row, in front of the podium. The people speaking all stood at the podium and didn’t walk back and forth across the stage, which was a good thing. However, I really couldn’t lipread them at all. They talked too fast, and in the case of one woman (who did the majority of the speaking), she was just slightly taller than the microphone. The microphone completely obscured her mouth. (We eventually solved this by sitting more to the left of her rather than directly in front.)
We did a lot of wandering around – we’d leave the auditorium, go to a room in another area of the building for a more personalized session (for instance, they separated us based on our kids’ majors so that we could find out the requirements for a degree in that major), then we’d go back to the auditorium. Amusingly enough, nobody but us sat in the front row – it was not a problem at all to get “premium” seating! Really though, it was impossible to catch 95% of what was being said. Dave had just as hard a time as I did but he could get the gist of the subject, so he would pull out a notepad and make quick notes: “anecdotes about family involvement”, “talking about graduation requirements”, that sort of thing.
Eric was only with us for a short period, while they welcomed all of us. Then they had student leaders, holding up colored signs, gather the kids by their major and lead them out of the room. I think both Dave and I felt extremely lost once Eric left, because he was filling us in on what was being said. As long as we were just sitting in one place it was fine – I could look at the large screen and read the presentation stuff up there, try (in vain) to lipread the person speaking, and just kind of look around the auditorium. The panic set in whenever they told us to get up and go somewhere else. Dave couldn’t understand what they were saying and of course I couldn’t either, so we were clueless.
The first “get up and go” event was when they had us go to separate rooms based on our kid’s major. They had people with colored signs that we were supposed to follow. From reading the parent orientation brochure, I figured out that our name tags had a colored bar on them that corresponded with a field of study. So we had brown bars on our tags, for Visual and Performing Arts. The signs were also colored and I realized they corresponded to our tags (this information was spoken, I’m sure, but we didn’t catch it). Dave tapped me to get up and follow him, and I realized we were following a red sign not a brown one. We were totally lost! Finally we found somebody who directed us to the right room. That was a little nerve-wracking and set us both on edge, but once we settled down in the room we developed our little routine where Dave would jot notes down to me about the topic of conversation. We also did a little signing, mainly fingerspelling.
We went from the Arts advisory session back to the auditorium, where a couple more people spoke and them some current students answered questions that were asked of them. Again, none of this was comprehensible for us. Now that I’ve been through it, I can see that CART would have been immensely helpful during the auditorium sessions. When we signed up for this, though, we had no idea how the day would be set up and I didn’t think it would be possible to use CART services. I think I imagined us walking around all the time – I didn’t realize so much time would be spent sitting for presentations in the same room.
After that next auditorium session, we were told to pick from 5 or 6 areas of interest and attend one session (again, in another part of the building). We chose computers and technology, which was being held in the basement. The guy leading that group happened to be standing right in front of us with his little sign, so Dave was able to catch the fact that we should follow him and I was able to read the sign, which said “Technology”. We went down to a computer lab and once again, no idea what the guy was saying. I don’t think Dave caught anything either, really.
From there we followed everyone and went to a big room with a bunch of tables set up, where they were giving information on all kinds of stuff – study abroad, parent’s association, the bookstore, health services, sports, honors, help for students with disabilities, etc. etc. It was kind of like a job fair but for information and not jobs. Of course, I couldn’t hear anything but I’ve been in situations like that and I know how noisy they are. Dave couldn’t hear anything through all the background noise. We wandered around a bit but neither of us wanted to have to actually talk to anyone and that’s what the whole point of this was – to chat with the people at each booth.
As we meandered around in a circle, making sure not to make eye contact so people wouldn’t try to talk to us, I realized that I recognized somebody. What are the chances?! Here we are at one of the biggest public universities in Illinois, an hour from home, and I see somebody I used to work with. She was actually my closest friend when I worked there – it was the last job I held outside the home. I was just horrified – the last thing I wanted was to have to make small talk with her and explain that I was now completely deaf!
I did a quick about-face and steered Dave in the opposite direction, and she didn’t see me. Whew. As we were standing there wondering what to do next, a student came up to let us know we could go to lunch any time we wanted. He motioned toward the stairs so we figured it must be upstairs somewhere. We walked into the cafeteria and saw signs listing the entrees available. I had no idea what we were supposed to do, so I just followed the people in front of us. We had been given swipe cards, kind of like credit cards, when we checked in and everyone was in line, handing them to an attendant. I assumed this was how we “paid” for our food.
After that, things split off into two lines and again, I was completely confused. I grabbed silverware and an empty glass, and a fruit plate as we walked past a dessert section. I couldn’t see where the soft drink dispensers were – so far we’d just passed a machine that dispensed milk. I could see that we were heading towards a place where they were serving the entrées and I thought, “Oh no. I have to talk to someone!” I knew I wanted chicken tenders and not a hamburger, but I couldn’t figure out what it came with (or if I could choose all of the sides…not that I would’ve done that!) Dave got mac and cheese with his chicken and he was ahead of me, so when it was my turn I just said that I was having the same as Dave. When I didn’t get my plate back after the mac and cheese, I realized they were going to keep putting more sides on it. I waved my hands “no” and got my plate back. I was pretty hungry and probably could’ve eaten more if I could’ve figured out what else there was, but I was too stressed out trying to figure out the whole “ordering” procedure that I just stopped there.
Eric happened to be sitting right where we ended up after we got our food, which was a happy coincidence. We got seats and Dave went off to get pop for us. Lunch was nice – the food was good and it was fun talking to Eric, who seemed to be enjoying himself. He couldn’t tell me what he’d actually been doing, but when I asked specific questions (“Did you pick your classes yet?” “Did you open your checking account?”) he finally started giving me some information. I got a chance to peek in his backpack and then suddenly he was standing up, telling me he had to go. I realized there was a podium in the lunchroom and the same woman from earlier was speaking. She must have been telling the kids it was time to go to their next session. (They had gotten to the cafeteria before us.)
Dave and I finished eating, and the woman started speaking again. Dave couldn’t understand anything that she said. I was starting to get stressed out because it was obvious we were going to be broken up into groups for a walking tour, but we couldn’t figure out what group we would be in. The orientation brochure said it would be based on the numbers on our nametags, but we had no numbers! We got up to walk over closer to the podium – I was going to wait for the woman to stop speaking and then ask her where we should go. (Hopefully the groups wouldn’t all be so far gone at that point that we couldn’t catch up to them!) Suddenly Dave said, “Oh! We go with group 10 – she just said if you don’t have a number, go with group 10.” It’s amazing how incredibly stressful these kinds of things are – it really puts a damper on things when you’re constantly confused and not sure what you’re supposed to do.
The walking tour took a long time but it was nice. I could read our tour guide’s lips every now and then, but we’d been on a shorter version of this tour over the summer (when I could still hear) so I already knew a lot of what we were seeing. One thing that was new was our visit to the Health Services department, where the kids can see a doctor, get prescriptions, etc. I had brought Eric’s immunization record with me, just in case there was an opportunity to drop it off. The girl who spoke to us at Health Services was really, really easy to lipread. Apparently she had a really soft voice, though, so Dave wasn’t able to catch what she was saying. Suddenly I grabbed his arm and said, “We can drop off the form here!” He was skeptical but sure enough, that’s what she had said and we were able to give the form to a worker at the front desk. Mission accomplished!
Every now and then our tour guide would try to get us to do a little chant with him for some kind of contest we were going to be in later. Of course, I had no idea what he was saying so I stayed silent, but every time the group went through a little practice session I was cringing, hoping he wouldn’t single me out and say, “Hey, you aren’t doing it!” It was like hoping you wouldn’t be called on in school. Luckily he never did that, and if he had, I was already prepared to explain that I was deaf. (I was hoping it wouldn’t come to that, because it probably would’ve embarrassed him if he’d singled me out and then I dropped a bomb like that on him. I’ve had that happen before – people saying, “What are you, deaf?” as a joke, and then when I say “Yep!” they are just mortified! They’re never doing it to be mean, so I always feel really bad but there’s no other way to say it. LOL)
After the tour there was a little information session like a Jeopardy! game in another auditorium. That was cute and fun – the questions and answers were displayed on a screen so it was easier to follow along. This was when the ‘contest’ came in – each tour group was supposed to yell out their chant, and try to be the loudest in the room. I stood up when our time came, but I kept my mouth shut! 🙂
After that, I caught sight of my friend again (the back of her head). I looked the other way and held back a bit, but this time she saw me – she came toward me and grabbed my arm with a huge grin. We hugged and she asked how I’d been, and I immediately told her what happened with my hearing. Since she used to work the switchboard and I often had to cover for her, she knew about my hearing loss (and how awful it was for me during those switchboard shifts!) She was really concerned and surprisingly, she knew what a cochlear implant was. I caught that she said she knew because of her sister, but I’m not sure of the rest of the story…if her sister has one, or works with people that have them, or what.
We didn’t talk long – the parent session was over and it was time to walk back and meet up with our kids. I suspect we would’ve walked together and caught up if it wasn’t for the fact that I couldn’t hear anything. Walking and talking is really, really hard for me – I have to be looking at the person speaking, so I can’t watch where I’m going. If the sun is out, it’s usually hard to look right at someone because the sun gets in my eyes. I really, really hate having to have a conversation now when I’m walking outside!
That was pretty much our day. We got back to the main building around 3:30 and Eric wasn’t done til after 5 pm, so we wandered around, checked out the bookstore, etc. He was one of the last kids to finish. Want to know why? Because he completely forgot that I’d completed all the paperwork for his checking account (even though I went over it with him twice) and he filled it all out again from scratch. Then he forgot to give them the money to deposit into his new account, so we had to go back and do that. He also had no idea when they were offering the English competency exam so he didn’t take it and just signed up for English 103 instead. Crazy kid!
We had an hour’s drive home and by then I was absolutely worn out…exhausted from getting up so much earlier than usual, and then expending so much energy just trying to figure out what was going on, where we needed to go, what was being said – it was completely draining.
Yesterday I sat down with that backpack of his and read through all the material. That was all I really cared about … give me literature! I can figure it all out if I can read it!
Next up: Paige’s high school orientation in August. Thankfully the school is a 5 minute drive from here and I already know what’s going on, since Eric just finished four years at this school.
I’m ready for a break now…give me a book and let me just sit here in my house, where I know exactly what’s going on!