Whenever it was my time to experience motherhood, I knew that I would teach my children American Sign Language. At one point it was viewed as odd because it wasn’t your typical second language. Spanish, French and others were more popular. I of course wanted my children to learn other languages as well, but sign language was near and dear to my heart.
The reason you ask? My father was hard of hearing. He could hear well with his hearing aids (as much as the quality back then would allow), but without them the world would go silent. I remember the panic he would go in when his hearing aids would lose function, or when he needed a new battery. All of the TV’s needed to be at the maximum volume in order for him to not feel he had gone completely deaf. If one were to turn a TV down or off, he would throw a tantrum until he could hear again. But with his hearing aids, you couldn’t tell him nothing! His confidence level was through the roof, and if there was a volume struggle he would adjust the hearing aids and read lips. He used this to his advantage whenever I would try to whisper secrets about James (who was my boyfriend back then) to my mother. While talking to her, we would hear him turning the volume up on his hearing aids and quickly change the conversation. I laugh every time I think of that now. I thought it was so annoying back then, but now as a parent I would do the same thing!
My father would experience the highs and lows of being hard of hearing the entire 17 years of my life that he lived. By the time I hit high school, I wondered why we hadn’t learned sign language as a family in order to make communication with my father much easier. My mother told me she believed that my father refused to learn sign language because it would really signify he was deaf. She said that it took him an extremely long time to even get hearing aids. She never asked him why he refused to learn, she just accepted his wants. That’s love.
I believe my father was slightly ashamed of his disability and didn’t want to be treated differently. I think he saw it as a weakness instead of it being something that showcased his fighter mentality. My mother’s response sparked a desire in me to understand deafness and hearing much further. I wanted my family to understand my father’s needs. I get frustrated when my husband or daughter doesn’t talk clearly, and I have to strain to hear them. I can’t imagine that being a struggle every moment of the day. No matter our struggles, I loved my father with every fiber of me and wanted to make things better for him.
I would mention taking classes as a family, but it never happened. I went away to college, and my father died two months later. I needed a way to feel closer to him. I needed something that would make me feel like his memory was still very much alive. Early in my junior year of college, I switched my minor from Spanish to Deafness and Hearing Studies. I honestly wish I switched my entire major to that department (Speech Pathology/Audiology) because I thoroughly enjoyed my classes and everything I learned. Nevertheless, there was still a void because I didn’t have enough time to take the ASL courses. I learned about the history and foundation of the language and more, but no phrases or words.
As I stated in my earlier posts the “My First Go at Pregnancy” series, I graduated college 7 months pregnant. I made up my mind then that I would teach myself sign language, take courses whenever I could, and teach my daughter. I wasn’t able to have the experience with my given family, but I knew that I could establish it in my new family. It was one of the ways I would be able to honor my father, teach my child about my father, and also prepare her to be able to communicate and understand those who are deaf and hard of hearing.
That was my motivation in the beginning! When I actually saw the benefits of communicating with an infant through sign language, I was adamant to continue. I began to teach my mother and sister as well because I wanted them to understand her needs when she used ASL. Again, I was getting what I wanted. My family was learning! I fell off with teaching Taniya for two years, but picked it back up once we began homeschooling. I knew that I would be teaching Jayla as well so I wanted to reestablish what we’d learned years prior.
Taniya continues to grasp new terms each day, and Jayla is watching, learning, and eventually using the signs as well. She walks to the beat of her own drum, and I’ve learned to accept it. Although James is over-the-road most days, like every other subject we keep him involved. As I learn, everyone else learns. My children will understand there are many types of people in this world, and they include deaf and hard of hearing people. I can’t wait for the moment they encounter a deaf child at the playground and are able to communicate with them. I know my father is proud…. because I sure am.