Spending time with friends is something that I really enjoy. Having little girls that struggle to communicate effectively can make that challenging, as it’s not just a typical “play date” with hearing children whilst the moms catch up over tea. Usually, my friends’ children are also quite little, and so concepts like deafness and hearing aids are difficult to understand and equally difficult to explain. Usually the hearing children get frustrated by our girls’ inability to follow the theme of play or lack of response to questions. I always look on, feeling the frustration of our friends’ kids as they usually make every effort to engage, and then often just give up due to difficulty in understanding why our girls are a bit different. What usually ends up happening, is that the two groups of children, my 3 girls, and then the hearing children, end up playing independently unless the adults become mediators of conversation and play. Special one-on-one friend time is something I cherish, so becoming a 3 year old for the whole visit invariably doesn’t happen. Of course there are concepts that are grasped through the act of play and the odd spoken word here and there that the girls may hear. The fact that we are all more similar than different by virtue that we are all human, all lends itself to some play time and interaction between the children which is wonderful. But there is usually the feeling of something being missing, and this is usually evident in the frustration shown by the hearing child.
When one of my friend’s children points out the hearing aids and starts asking questions, there is sometimes a moment of awkwardness. Desires to be careful and not hurt feelings, being truthful and yet explain it at the level of a child, the mom’s desire to not offend and secret concern that saying the word ‘deaf’ brings a certain finality to a situation that they have been careful to tip toe around, can sometimes result in a pregnant pause. I’ve now chosen to interrupt this by assuring a friend that it’s completely okay to say it as it is, in whatever way, that they feel their child would understand. My friends have all been amazing as they embrace my reality, as something no longer needing silence, but rather a form of engagement. The hearing children respond so differently to the explanation. One little girl burst into tears, as she was overwhelmed by a sense of sadness for a little friend that she dearly loved.
A few weeks ago, we had quite a different experience. Six children under the age of 7, two very brave moms, and a bunch of ingredients to try make a gingerbread house, found a potential recipe for chaos. In the end, it was actually so much fun, and the basic engineering behind getting 4 biscuit walls and a roof to hold its form, was not the only thing we all learned that day. Whilst my friend and I were waiting for the gingerbread pieces to bake in the oven, the kids were outside together. The eldest child, 6 year old Ethan, came inside with a frustrated look and explained that he just could not talk to our girls or understand anything that they were saying. A potential awkward moment….but it wasn’t. A potential moment of self-pity on my side, and in a second I decided that it would not be. Together with his mom, we explained that the girls were deaf and that they had started learning to use their hands to say words that they struggle to say with their voice, and that they could best ‘hear’ words made in the same way. This little boy’s eyes lit up as I started to show him some examples. I showed him how to sign “hello” – big smile! Then I showed him the sign for “cat” as the girls had turned their cat into a baby (and Tahlita was rocking the obliging kitty outside), “walk on the grass” was an appropriate phrase for that time and we went through a few colours. He dashed outside, so excited to try to communicate with the girls. After practicing the few signs and engaging with the girls, the twins’ faces totally lit up. Tahlita was giggling as he signed “the green cat” and Hadassah had a huge smile on her face. After observing me once, he became my little helper, as he eagerly would sign to Eden to “sit down” when things were getting a bit boisterous on the trampoline. In a few minutes, his 4 year old sister was joining in, and there was a real sense of friendship amongst these little people.
The gingerbread house was gratefully a success, and we left feeling a real sense of love and acceptance for who we are. My friend has been amazing, and has continued to teach the children more signs that she discovers, and even had the children sign “Merry Christmas” and sent us a sequence of texted photos depicting this. What a special little boy to have taken interest and not be put off by something different and potentially strange. What a special family to embrace us in our differences simply as a result of acknowledging that our similarities far outweigh the differences. How much more enriched our lives would be if we continued to adapt ourselves to make others feel comfortable and at ease instead of being the ones to need to feel comfortable. Comfort zones breached, flexibility embraced… I’m starting to notice a few key threads being woven through our lives! I’m also finding that heroes take all shapes, ages and sizes!
“I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.” Maya Angelou