I stopped at the grocery store near my dad's house to pick up some groceries for Madelyn. The woman ahead of me was reading the gossip magazines and didn't put her item on the belt right away. She eventually put the mag back and gestured at a picture of Elizabeth Edwards. I wasn't sure what she meant, so I just shrugged. Then she pointed at Corey Haim. At this point I was ruling out that she spoke a language other than English and wondered if she was Deaf. In a true "I'm a professional, I can handle this" manner, my face got hot and, I assume, red. I wondered if I should throw a sign out to see.
I did. She was. I haven't signed with a Deaf person in a couple of years, or with a hearing person in about nine months. Rusty does not begin to describe how I felt, but we had a lovely conversation about what a stupid waste of Corey Haim's life, how nice the weather was today and even why the heck we moved to Victorville. We even hugged.* It was the best three or four minutes I've spent in line in quite some time.
*If you know Deaf people, you understand that bonding conversations happen pretty quickly. If you don't, you might feel thrown by the familiarity, close proximity and physical contact that are not a part of typical American culture.
My kids both sign, but not conversationally. Corey learned how to spell and to say that he's hungry, tired or wants to play. He knows some other stuff, but that was sufficient for him. Madelyn can recognize most of the alphabet and sign maybe seven of them. I tried to teach her THANK YOU yesterday, but instead of signing it, she just bowed at the waist each time.
Grandma Margaret took a sign class five years ago. She aced it, but missed out on the next course because of a heinous car accident that completely paralyzed her for a few weeks. Her mobility is probably about 70-80% of what it was. Going back to the class might have been an option, but I don't think it entered her radar as she adjusted to a life that initially involved daily physical therapy.
Recently at Grandma's house, Mad watched an episode of Barney that was all about shapes. She's pretty good with the three most basic (circle, square and triangle... rectangle comes and goes... parallelogram does not compute). Barney or one of the kids demonstrated how to make shapes with your hands. Grandma was excited to have Mad show me her latest skill when I dropped her off the next morning.
"Show Mama circle."
Mad made a circle with her thumbs and indexes. Nice!
"Show Mama square." I don't really remember if she made a square or not.
"Show Mama triangle." She made a triangle, but then stretched out her thumbs too far.
Did you know there are several signs in ASL that do not have the negative connotations people in the hearing world attribute to them? For example, there's an Italian gesture involving the thumb and teeth. In ASL it's just PEANUT.
Conversely, if you don't sign and you saw what Mad did after triangle, you might think, "Oh, it's a diamond!" Well in ASL it's the sign for VAGINA. When she showed Dad and Bwuwa her shapes that night, guess which one Corey picked out...