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Hear Me Out: A Mother of a Deaf Child

Hear Me Out: A Mother of a Deaf Child

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How far would you go for your children? Everyone who’s a mother—or who has a mother—knows a mom’s love is infinite. But some moms have found themselves doing things for their kids that are extraordinary. Here is a story of a special mom who went above and beyond the usual in helping her kids—and some of the life lessons she learned along the way.

Annette Rhodes was a typical Cleveland mom with four kids. Then her youngest son, Itamar, came down with meningitis. He recuperated, and as he was a happy baby, Annette and her husband, Michael, didn’t think there were any How far would you go for your children?lasting effects. Several months later, when Michael banged a pot and ladle together for his young son, Itamar didn’t flinch. They realized something was wrong—the meningitis had left him profoundly deaf and cognitively impaired.

“I believe every mother is challenged to use her skills,” Annette says. “This is the hardest job in the world.” With this attitude, she set to work mothering Itamar, as well as her other hearing children.

“I treated Itamar like a normal person, to the best of his ability,” she recalls. That meant insisting he dressed nicely and that he learned good manners. The entire family learned sign language, and they encouraged Itamar to learn to speak vocally, as well. “I always insisted he behave well,” Annette says. “There was one Shabbat: we were sitting at the table, and Itamar wanted to go outside.” He got upset when his mom insisted he stay at the table like everyone else, and yelled “No!” “Wow, Itamar—that’s a great vocalized ‘No!’” Annette recalls saying. “But you still can’t go outside!”

Later, when Itamar was bar mitzvah age, he told his mom he wanted a “normal” bar mitzvah, like his brother’s. Annette and Michael had high expectations of him: They engaged tutors, and he was able to read a sentence from the Torah at his bar mitzvah.

“I’m a positive person,” Annette says. “I don’t frown much—I He told his mom he wanted a “normal” bar mitzvahsmile. Smiling is the best medicine. The Jewish sages say what you do externally, you become internally. [When parenting,] you don’t have to be the happiest person, but smile and look kids in the eye. They’re little people; they deserve a smile.”

Annette’s determined good humor got her and her family through some of their darkest periods. When Itamar was eleven, he was rushed to the hospital with a seizure. He was given incorrect medication, and was hospitalized for a month in terrible agony. “I stayed with him,” Annette recalls. “At one point, he asked, ‘Am I going to die?’ I said, ‘No, you’re going to fight—fight real hard.’ Then I went into the doctors’ lounge and cried for five minutes. Then I stopped, put my makeup back on again, and went back to him.”

When Itamar was eighteen and craved independence, his parents faced a new dilemma. An observant Jew, Itamar wanted to live in a Jewish environment, but there were no Jewish group homes for the hearing-impaired in Cleveland. The Rhodeses worked with various local agencies, and eventually Michael brought a lawsuit to their local Board of Mental Health to start a Jewish home for the deaf. “It was all a miracle,” Annette says. The funding came through, and since then, two group homes for Jewish hearing impaired residents have opened.

Today, Itamar is 40 years old. He still lives in the group home his parents helped When Itamar was eighteen and craved independence, his parents faced a new dilemmaestablish, and he has a job he loves packing machinery. He also paints, and has even sold some of his paintings professionally. Annette continues to work with deaf children and adults as a professional sign-language interpreter.

“I think every mother is special,” she says. “We’re given something important—a human being to raise—and this helps us feel a connection to G‑d. I think all mothers sense it. It’s really a miracle.”

When asked what life lessons she’s learned from her experience in parenting a special-needs child, Annette doesn’t hesitate. “You have to have a happy home. Add simchah (joy). This doesn’t mean you’re always happy and laughing. It means you’re a happy person—that you take joy from your family, from your children and your husband. That’s the biggest thing.”

Yvette Alt Miller, Ph.D., is a mother and adjunct professor of political science living in Chicago. She is the author of Angels at the Table: A Practical Guide to Celebrating Shabbat (Continuum, 2011).
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Anonymous NEW YORK January 28, 2014

HEAR ME OUT very inspirational. Reply

ANONYMOUS January 28, 2014

wonderful story even with shortcomings you can be very functional! Reply

Bassie Jaffe S. Paul MN. November 4, 2013

Loved it I also have a son with a hearing impairment and some cognative delays. Reading other peoples comments reminded me that in the deaf world, people question why this young man is in a group home. They need to consider that in this situation as the writer points out, the young man is not only deaf, but has some cognative issues that need attention. A Jewish Group Home is such a great accomplishment. More are needed in other major cities to accomidate the Jewish Deaf with other disabilties as well. Reply

Rhonda Israel November 3, 2013

To "Deaf Jewish Home" It says that he is also cognitively impaired. That is probably why he is in a group home. Reply

Anonymous November 2, 2013

Deaf Jewish home Are you saying deaf adults can't be independent and able to support themselves in the world? What happened to marriage and family? I'm a deaf adult myself and I have a college degree, am married with a beautiful family and know of many other deaf adults who also have a family. Is there something you left out in this story because I see no need to stick a deaf person into a group home. Reply

Anonymous New york November 1, 2013

Limit Sorryi am deaf in one ear and head of hearing in other
I am 40 noe with full time job and married with 2 kids. Also my husband without job. Why you put him in a home for hearing? He is not mental. He just can not hear. Deaf people can live a normal life. Reply

chuna October 30, 2013

positivity entices! Loved the article. Chabad.org continues to report good news, and the decision of putting this article streaming on their front page is really respectable.
Kol hakavod. Reply

Anonymous Midwest October 29, 2013

Seek TA from Rhodes family re Jewish Deaf group home Thank you for this inspiring story.
Could you pls share my contact info with the family?
I would like to get some TA re establishing Jewish Deaf group home for my adult child to share with provider agency. Reply

Craig Hamilton Sandwich, MA October 28, 2013

Thanks! Wonderful story. I love hearing/reading stories about overcoming. Reply