Simple conversations around the dinner table whilst passing the gravy or smuggling the peas under the table to the dog….chatter around the day’s events, sharing high-lights and low-lights and just simply enjoying family time together -this had been an expectation of mine long before I had kids, a mere expectation, since such communication time and fellowship would usually be considered as rather ordinary. Ordinary, maybe, yet something I had so looked forward to. After realizing that the girls are deaf, and experiencing crazy levels of frustration over who-knows-what-they-wanted at times, this expectation faded into a dream, a fantasy of what I longed to experience sometime in the “future”.
After only 14 months of learning to communicate through a mixed means, including oral communication and gesture but mostly sign language, I tasted a little of my dream a few weeks ago. Our little round dining table with her clutch of different pastel coloured chairs, had welcomed us once again for our evening meal. It was towards the week’s end, so our groaning fridge was overloaded with a mix of left overs which we decided to recycle for dinner. Winnie-the-Pooh plates with little piles of all sorts were seated in front of the girls. I was quite proud of myself for the variety of nutrients that were up for offer. I thought dinner looked rather appetizing, and one of the little piles was a special treat. Ruby red pomegranate seeds. The girls had never tried these before and they were sure to be a hit considering their jewel like elegance among the mashed avocado and little mound of minced beef.
We started dinner with grace, and each of the girls offered to say a few words (sign a few words). In spite of always being a little shy when they pray, as the concept of talking to someone that they can’t see is still developing uniquely in each of their little minds, their hands get going, little voices initially at a whisper, until the prayer becomes bold and their fingers have thawed out with expression.
This evening’s grace was simple. “Thank you Jesus for daddy who works far,far away,” was Eden’s contribution. This particular sentence is included in almost every prayer, as for some reason her dad’s dedication in traveling 30 minutes to work every day has clearly made quite an impression and is greatly appreciated. Tahlita mentioned each of us, as well as a few family friends by name, and gave thanks, and Hadassah was thankful for school. The meal began, and I wondered whether we had a combined sign vocabulary between us to engage the questions, “What made you happy today?” and, “What was the worst part of your day?” I posed the first question and was met with 3 pairs of puzzled eyes.
“Mmmm, okay, let Mom start…I felt very happy today when you came home from school, I missed you and felt happy to see you. The worst thing that happened was….mmmm…oh, was when i lost my earing, I lost one earing, and now only have one left. That made me feel sad as they were my favourite pair.” Graeme followed me with his high and low for the day, and after two examples, the idea had taken. “Hadassah, what made you feel happy today?” I asked. She felt happy remembering that Caleb was her friend. Tahlita felt so happy when she saw her favourite teddy, Nikki, after school. This was followed by her expressive giggly elaboration about how cute Nikki is and how much she loves her. Eden, the pensive soul that she is, took some time to think…oh yes! The favourite part of her day was the party that had happened at school for one of her friend’s birthdays. She especially enjoyed the cake (a girl after her mother’s heart).
“Ok, girls, I’m glad those things made you feel happy, now what was the worst thing that happened today?” The three of them looked at each other with questioning expressions, they then looked around the room, thought a little for a few minutes, and then looked down at their plates of food. And almost in unison, three little index fingers confidently pointed out the piles of tiny ruby gems on their own plates. They glanced up at me, then at each other and laughed at the fact that they had all thought of the same thing simultaneously. The pomegranate seeds! These sweet little nuggets that hadn’t yet been tasted, were the very worst thing that had happened to them all day! We all had a good laugh and I promised never to buy them again. Grateful, that their days had obviously been quite wonderful, since this little innocent detail was the low-light, I sat back in my lemon coloured chair and realized…It was happening! Conversation was simple, but my dream of chatting and signing and conversing as a family around dinner,was starting to become a reality…a reality that I thought would take years to first experience.
Communication really is what matters…their words aren’t pronounced perfectly, our sentence structure whether in English or SASL is not flawless, we are not fluent in SASL, and heck, we even make up a few of our own signs as we go along, but we are functioning as a family and communicating around the dinner table. Such an otherwise ordinary event is celebrated as an extraordinary milestone in our family. This deaf journey has made us appreciate some of the simple aspects of daily life, and truly cherish the gift of communication. I listen harder and observe more carefully, this heightened awareness is a blessing that I am truly grateful for.