It is especially common for these thoughts to strike me when I'm about to start a brand new class or have just completed a class with brand new students. Having done this for 7 years, I'm still amazed at the little things that I continue to learn and what revelations I have, proving this is a journey and it is the journey that is worth celebrating.
So this thought I had today....
Image credit, Stills by Hill
When I look into a baby's eyes and talk to them, for me it is clear that they are thinking, absorbing what I'm saying and forming thoughts and coming to their own conclusions. The conversations I have with the babies and toddlers in my class are pretty much an example of how I conversed with my own babies.... knowing that they are taking it all in and that rapidly growing brain is processing and storing everything. Sometimes when I'm conversing with one baby, another interjects. The new moms tend to laugh at the cuteness or just don't know what to make of it. What I make of it is that the child has seen that I'm open to listening to what they have to say, giving them the space to share and feel a sense of belonging and value. See, for most babies that do not yet have the tools to express themselves fully or be "heard" completely, I imagine it is frustrating for them to not be able to participate fully in regular daily conversations..... much like the experience my mom shared with me about how it is to be a deaf person in a room full of hearing people, where no one is signing and she feels isolated.
Much of my childhood I was a little interpreter for my mom. I gained a 6th sense in being able to determine if someone was getting their entire message across.... as it is with any two languages sometimes there is not a literal translation from one language to the other and some part of the true message is lost. So a little more explaining is needed by the interpreter. There were many occasions in my work life where that 6th sense came in handy and my superiors would always comment on this uncanny ability I had. There were little things to watch for, listen for that helped me identify that the words coming across were not "exactly" describing the picture in the customer's mind. I would do more fact finding and viola! We'd navigate the true course to solve the problem.
There were times I would not want to be "the interpreter," say for instance at a birthday party or at a school function, where my mom knew who these people were, but didn't "know" them because she couldn't converse with them. I was a kid and I wanted to play with my friends. Now that I'm an adult I can be at peace with those times that I was frustrated with the role I had. I commend Deaf parents who do not put this responsibility on their child.... even though I gained from it. There's not a right or a wrong here. It's a tough debate that I can see both sides of clearly. The biggest thing I gained from it was that sense of empathy for someone who could not fully express themselves because of a language barrier.
As a mom, specifically as a mom who embraced attachment parenting, I saw it as my responsibility to help build the bridge to effectively communicate with my children. As they grew their signing vocabulary I could see where they were more and more capable of jumping into a conversation when they heard something of interest being discussed. Most parents of toddlers and preschoolers will know what I'm talking about... but I'm saying that this happened every single day with my children as babies. They expressed pure delight when they got to share their thoughts, point out their observations, and really just connect on a conversational level.
So, I have discovered yet another reason why I'm so deeply passionate about the work that I do. Being witness as a child to what it was like for someone to feel isolated due to a language barrier, I hope some of the moms that take part in my programs feel courageous enough to introduce themselves to someone in a social setting who is Deaf and could use some conversation. I also like to think that the babies in my classes are developing this 6th sense that I gained due to their access to language at an early age. And finally the sense of empowering a new mom to be that interpreter for her pre verbal baby is a gift that I never grow tired of giving.
Joann Woolley is owner and instructor of Sign4Baby in San Diego teaching parents how to communicate with their preverbal baby using American Sign Language. With her in depth knowledge of ASL as her first language she takes you beyond just the basics in signing, also filling your parenting tool belt with parenting tips and tricks coupled with signing as a great boundary teaching (discipline) tool for toddlers. View the schedule of classes at Sign4Baby.