It’s been a while and there’s much to catch up on, but for today, I want to share something that I’m doing solely for the fun of it.
Those who know me, even those who know me well, may not know that I know American Sign Language. Now, I’m not as fluent as I was as a kid, but I can still make my way around a conversation. I’ve had a love affair with ASL as long as I can remember.
I had the good fortune of being in Ms. Killkenny’s second grade class. Her in-laws were deaf and every day she would teach us a new word of two of sign. Finally she was being pestered by the kids enough for more new signs that she broke down and started teaching sign language after school for 30. Minutes a day a few times a week for free. I was one of the lucky ones who attended those classes. She continued teaching ASL to the many kids of Adolph Link elementary until the day she became the principal of the school.
After moving over to junior high, I didn’t have much opportunity to use my hands for communication. I didn’t have anyone to speak with who understood. And then the summer before high school I was hanging out with a friend at her complex pool and I met a girl named Jodi. We clicked even though she was two years younger (which is a lot at that age).
One day Jodi invited me to come hang out at her house. I arrived and rang the doorbell. Or at least I thought I had. I heard no sound…so I rang it again.
When the door flew open a mom stood before me in her robe, her hair in curlers and makeup half done. She was obviously agitated, And then from behind her I saw my friend coming quickly to my rescue.
Jodi tapped her mom on the shoulder and her mom turned around to ask her why I was so impatient — why I kept ringing the bell and not giving anyone a chance to answer? She asked the question with her hands. Jane, Jodi’s mom, was deaf. And the reason I couldn’t hear the doorbell? It made no sound. It only triggered lights within the house to flash on and off with every ring.
I had just entered a world that would capture my heart in ways I never could have imagined.
It turns out both Jodi’s parents were deaf. Her mother from birth, and her father had a bout of scarlet fever when he was a young boy which caused his hearing loss at around age 13. Joe could speak words more clearly than Jane because of this delayed loss, but chose mostly to silently sign.
The Chicago area, like any big city, has a large population of deaf and hard of hearing people. It’s a rich community. Just like the Greek or Italian community is there.
Both Jane and Joe had attended the Alexander Graham Bell school for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. The same school Marlee Marlin attended and began her love of drama and acting.
Being with this amazing family (and they were amazing not because they were deaf, they are just the warmest, kindest people) gave me insights into the deaf world I never could have picked up in a classroom.
Watching Joe and Jane was like being with my own parents. They were navigating raising two young kids, Jodi who was entering junior high and therefore knew everything…and her younger brother Joe Jr. who didn’t like chores and preferred to be outside playing with his friends until the street lights came on each night.
Most of the time they enjoyed each other, made each other laugh, embraced the love they shared. And then there were times their signing would get high in the air, super animated, above their heads. This, by the way, is how deaf people “yell”.
I spent a few years with Jodi and her family, and then, as it often happens, Jodi and I grew apart. That 2-year age gap became more problematic as I entered my senior year and she entered her sophomore year.
I have had so many opportunities throughout my life to use signing. I’ve met others who sign, deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing. I consider myself an ally to the deaf community. It’s been years since I’ve dusted off my hands and had the opportunity to sign.
I taught both my kiddos sign when they were itty bitty. They new all the basic signs, more, I love you, please, thank you, airplane (because Jake was a bit obsessed when one would fly overhead)…they remember a little even now. But for sure my signing is rusty. Some of the signs I learned 40 years ago are just plain old out of date.
Out of date? Yep, you read that right. Out of date. Sign language is an actual language. It’s not American English in hand signals. It’s got it’s own unique sentence structure, flow, and slang. And I have been out of the world for a long, long time.
Which brings us to current. Kenzie is an avid streamer. She loves all things Netflix, HBO Max, YouTube. There are so many more deaf actors in the shows and movies she watches today she’s developed a bit of a fascination with signing herself. She expressed an interest and, like I said, I’m rusty so didn’t feel like I could teach her current sign. Instead, I found us a class on line.
Last Monday she and I started a level 1 signing class through CSDHH (Communication Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing out of Greensboro, NC). We were able to squeeze into the last slots of the last session for this month. We are having so much fun.
There’s eight students in our class. Some are brand new to signing, some know the alphabet and a few signs, and there’s a couple of us who have a bigger vocabulary, but are still learning new things. And Kenzie and I are taking it together, which is super fun. Thank goodness for Zoom!
The best part is the teachers are deaf, and not using interpreters to teach the class to all us hearing folks. And I’ll tell you, it’s the best way to learn. Like any language being thrown into the deep end and immersed in it gives you no other alternative than to start figuring out what you’re hearing, or in our case, seeing.
The class is not a university class, it’s not for a grade. CSDHH teaching community sign language — Level 1 – 3 — for conversational use. Secretly I’m hoping it spurs Kenzie in ways she hasn’t considered. She’s picking up so quickly and so naturally, I’m wondering if she’ll get bit by the bug? Who knows where that might lead?
Anyway – the rest of my life is so chaotic right now with the incredibly business and pressure of work filling my days (and by days I mean all day – sometimes 12 hours) I decided I had to do something just for fun. I’m so glad this is it and that I get to share it with Kenz.
If ASL is something you’re even the least bit curious about, I would encourage you to look up CSDHH (you can just follow the link by clicking here).
What are you doing for fun these days?