Back on the Boat

We took a sign language course hiatus over the summer due to that overwhelming feeling of needing one less obligation during a stressful time. See, we’re getting married next week.  Early summer was spent finalizing the planning: a small, immediate family-only City Hall ceremony, followed by photos, then dinner at Dodge City Steakhouse.

One of my few non-negotiables for our wedding is that I required a sign language interpreter.  Through the recommendation of our ASL instructor, I contacted a local interpreter found on – Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf.   The Mayor’s office provided us with the ceremony transcript ahead of time, which we forwarded to her to prepare.

The brochure for the fall ASL courses came out from the CAIU.  They will be having ASL 1 and ASL 2 this fall. Although we have both completed ASL 2 this past Spring, D expressed interest in retaking ASL 2.  So we will be doing just that.  This will be great practice for us, and hopefully there will be enough interest for the IU to hold the more intense, conversational ASL 3 course next Spring.  That is the one I am really looking forward to.

Deaf Socials are held monthly at the local Wegman’s. We attended one and it was pretty darn awesome, but overwhelming. Particularly when we first walked in, everyone stared at us then all began signing to us at the same time.  But once we found a seat and started conversing with a few people, we found our rhythm and made new friends.  Hopefully retaking the ASL 2 class will supply us with the confidence – and classmates – to attend a couple more of these Socials.

In the Beginning

I Was Five.

I was four years old when I got a baby brother.   I don’t remember much.  He was a baby, and I was four.  I had two security blankets; I kept my favorite and gave him the other one.

He was only eighteen months when he became very sick.  I remember being woken in what felt like the middle of the night.  “Your brother is very sick, and we’re going to the hospital.”  Still in my pajamas and wrapped in a robe, I pretended to sleep in the backseat of the car while my brother cried.

Days passed, I was home.  Sometimes I’d visit the hospital to see my brand new baby brother attached to wires and tubes, my mother sitting beside his crib either asleep or looking worried and scared.  I slept on the floor in my brother’s empty bedroom on sleeping bags.  I asked my father when my brother was going to be coming home.  “He’s going to be in the hospital for thirty days.  Or longer.”

I was five.

So I Prayed

My father would stay with me as I laid on the floor of my baby brother’s empty bedroom beside his empty crib.  He’d leave after I’d fallen asleep, but I only pretended to sleep.  After my father left, I’d cry silent tears for my absent, sick baby brother.

I was five, and I was scared.

By this time, I had only been a big sister for eighteen months, but I kind of liked it.  It felt good, it felt like it was what I was supposed to be.  But even though Mom and Dad never expressly said it, inside I knew that I was dangerously close to not being a big sister any more.  I was five; what could I do?

I prayed.

I prayed to God, asking Him to make my brother be well again; he belonged home with his family and not in the hospital with strangers and tubes and wires.  I promised, I promised God that I would take care of him, watch over him, protect him, help and teach him.  I promised to be the best Big Sister in the world; if only He would let me keep my baby brother.

I don’t remember much, but I remember crying myself to sleep, silent tears, nearly every night.

Turned The Corner

Then one day as I was visiting my baby brother in the hospital, the scene was different.  He wasn’t in a crib connected to wires and tubes any more.  He was in a playpen, bouncing and laughing as the nurses teased and cooed over him.  My mother was smiling again, and he looked absolutely wonderful.

They still needed some time with him in the hospital, but it was going to be soon that my baby brother would come home with us.

At home I was helping to clean the house; I was organizing all of my brother’s favorite toys so he could play with them when he came home in a couple of days.  Mom and Dad sat me down to talk, very seriously.

“Your brother is going to be coming home soon.”

I know.

“But there’s something you need to know.  Your brother was very very sick.  So sick, that he is going to have to learn how to crawl, walk, and talk all over again.”

Okay. I’ll help him.

“There’s something else.  Your brother, his fever got so hot that it burned the insides of his ears. He cant hear anymore. He’s deaf.”

So. He’s Deaf.

I was five.  I didn’t give a care that my brother was coming home deaf.  All I cared about was that he was coming home.  I was the luckiest big sister in the world, and I would uphold all of my promises to be the best big sister I could possibly be.

I was six when the first lady from the local Intermediate Unit came to our house to teach my brother, and my family, how to sign.  He was two.  We learned words like “milk” and “dog”, “toilet”, and “sleep”.   We all learned sign language together as a family.

Over the years, the triumphs and the challenges brought us closer together. My brother and I fought and argued, as siblings do, but we also played together.  I went to all of his program events, he came to my band concerts, I kept score for his little league baseball team as Dad was the assistant coach and Mom led the cheerleading from the stands. I helped teach him how to drive.  And I got to pick on him when he got his first part-time job when he was 16.

He did everything I did.  The only thing he couldn’t do was hear.

So what if he was?

It was Spinal Meningitis

He was eighteen months when he contracted spinal meningitis.  I am thirty-seven years old now and I STILL cannot bring myself to read about the awfulness of that disease.  I can only get so far before I become overwhelmed.

I do know how incredibly lucky I am that I am still a big sister.  My brother came home from the hospital deaf; many babies who contracted spinal meningitis didn’t come home from the hospital at all.

Signed English and Me

It was the 80s, what can I say? When we were learning sign language as a family, we learned Signed English.  In fact, we learned Signed Exact English (SEE-II).  Though who in the world ever really signs those tenses and gerunds in real life, I want to know.

I have many strong opinions on SEE-II, and many strong feelings. Maybe I’ll share them with you someday. Buy me a drink and find out.

ASL is different from Signed English.  Not much different in some ways and worlds apart in others.  My Signed English background really is apparent when I default to an initialized sign (using the handshape of the word’s initial) rather than the  ASL handshape and gesture.

I may never get “car” right.

If you’re out with my brother and I, you’ll see me using Signed English as I speak out loud so as to include you in the conversation.  Perhaps not doing every “a”, “an” or “the”, I will still be signing each word as I speak it.  That’s Signed English.

ASL happens when I am signing with just my brother. When I am not using my voice as much, I am simply communicating.  I am only now learning the mechanics behind the grammar, the science behind the syntax.  It isn’t easy. Yet it is entirely natural and intuitive. I never realized there was a pattern, I signed words in that order because they seemed to fit best that way.

Signed English is my comfort zone, it is where I retreat when I am thinking. It’s where you’ll find me when I am speaking while signing, particularly when I am signing while amongst the hearing.  Signed English was good for us as children and as a family learning together.  Now that I’m no longer a child, it’s time my signing evolved.

ASL Grammar

The ASL Level 2 course was set to begin this evening; sadly the first session was cancelled due to today’s snowfall.  D and I had practiced, going through our binder from the Level 1 and wondering when we’ll find it necessary – in typical daily company – to know the sign for alligator.

These are the things I worry about.  I describe my sign language proficiency as “conversational”.  ASL 2 is all about conversations: learning the grammar of ASL, as opposed to the Signed English I learned as a child.  What if ASL breaks my head? What if I don’t ‘get it’?

Example:   In English, we’d say “How much is that dog in the window?” In ASL, it’s more like “Dog window it, how much?”

Weird, right?  Awkward.  I really fretted to properly compose that ASL-grammar sentence for our last ASL Level 1 class.

Then I relaxed.  “How would I say this to my brother,” I asked myself.  Not interpreting, not speaking out loud while signing to include someone else in the conversation.  Just me and him, how would I sign this concept of a dog over there I can see through a window and I want to know how much that dog costs? Dog. Window. It. How much?

We covered ASL grammar in just that one class thus far, but it felt so natural. So intuitive. So “of COURSE that’s how it should be signed!” I think more when I use Signed English than when I am simply talking with my brother.

If I can simply turn off the thinks and turn on the feels, I should be just fine.

Hello There!

Giving the ol’ weblog another reboot, this time to help me release the feels and memories triggered by taking an American Sign Language Beginner’s course at the local Intermediate Unit.  I hope to write about what it was like growing up the big sister of a deaf brother, our adventures as a family, and what it’s like now that I’m shaking the rust off and diving back into signing.

So bear with me as I develop this site to where I want it. Maybe get some pictures, share some links, this is going to be fun!