Wednesday, July 27, 2011

SHARING MY DEAFNESS -- "The Hazards of Working the Drive Thru"

Checkers. She wanted Checkers for lunch. Or in some places they call it Rally’s. But what she wanted was definitely those spicy french fries slathered in warm, saucy cheese and bacon. But it’s July. I mean, man, it’s hot outside. The last thing I wanted to do was park and get out of my air conditioned car. But she said, “Please,” so sweetly. It was the least I could do, right? No way. It was too hot, I tell you.

“I’ll help you in the drive thru,” Mollie signed to me as I weighed the options. I mean, sure, I could have gone through the drive thru and just told them at the window that I’m deaf and need to order face to face. But I’ve never been one to test waters. So, I took her up on her offer.

There I was, face-to-face with the speaker and depending solely on my 14-year-old to let me know when to speak.

“I need an order of french fries with cheese and bacon added, please.” I spoke into the speaker as best I could, but apparently they couldn’t hear me or understand me (one of the two). I repeated. Mollie said they still didn’t get it. I raised my voice, “I’m deaf and I’m going to pull around to window and order there.” Don’t know if they understood me that time, but it didn’t matter, because I was taking the initiative.

Pulling up to the window, the girl inside looked extremely confused. When she opened the window, using the same decibel level I just got done using at the speaker, I shouted, “French fries!!! I need french fries!!”

The girl stared at me, looking totally flabbergasted. She then left to take care of my order.

Mollie gently placed her hand on my leg. “Mom? Do you realize that you just screamed at the top of your lungs at that girl?” So that’s why she looked so shaken. I’d just blasted both of her eardrums out. But we got our fries. Yes, indeedy. Sure, the girl will be deafened for a good two hours, but I had to do it. I needed those fries. Offering her the name of a good ENT, I paid the girl.

“Sorry if I screamed at you,” I sheepishly said.

“What???” she screamed back. Hmmm. I guess my work here is done.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Oh, to learn a new language! If you’re one of the millions of people who have decided to learn a foreign language, perhaps you’ll consider learning American Sign Language. As you may know, ASL is a totally foreign language from English and it takes just as much time and dedication to become fluent in ASL as any other foreign language, like, say, Japanese.

As people begin to learn a language, there are inevitable mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes can get you in a heap of trouble, too. Almost as much as bluffing, if you aren’t sure what’s been said or how to say what you want to say, guessing can cause chaos…not to mention a pretty bad reputation.

So, as you begin to study ASL, please be aware of some of the signs that can get mixed up in a shuffle. Here are a few of the signs I’ve seen confused with each other:


It’s true that some of the above signs are frequently rearranged. Check them out and see if you are guilty of a mix-up to two.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Being born without a right ear, I grew up making sure that whomever was with me always stood on my left. It was more for the sounds I could hear, but there was an additional benefit. See, because I’m lopsided, I always tend to walk to my left. So, naturally, I would put people over there to soften my inevitable fall.

This wasn’t anything unusual for me. I always preferred things that would help me when I would plummet into them, whether walking or riding my bike. My entire life, I’ve always been terrified to use the brakes on my bike’s handlebars in fear that I would press the wrong brake and flip the bike. So, I’ve always done the logical other choice…when I’m ready to stop, I aim for a bush.

This can get very ugly, but it serves the purpose. Unfortunately, sometimes there isn’t a bush to brake my fall. In these cases, I aim for the person I’m riding with. See, in all likelihood, they’re already stopped at the bottom of the hill, waiting for me to join them. And join them, I do. And, depending on how steep that hill was, I always pray on my way down that they will stay there and let me ram my way to a stop. Otherwise I just brush pass them into oncoming traffic and, although I eventually will stop, it usually isn’t very pretty.

I’ve met many deafies who have uneven balance. Whether it’s Meniere’s or just lopsidedness, like me, many times they have had to hang on to things in hopes that they would not fall.

So, if this is you, I wanted to share my tips. Bush or pal—either one will do the job. And the fatter the pal, the better. If you’re lucky, you’ll bounce off of them into a standing position and all will be solved. Me? I’m plenty soft, except where my own adventures have formed welts. But you get the gist.

So, good luck to you. And if I happen to run into you while biking, just let me say, oops. Sorry. This area definitely needs more foliage.

Friday, July 8, 2011


Whenever I get into a grouchy mood, I always make sure I let my husband know by telling him, “I’m a Magoo.” In case you don’t know him, Mr. Magoo was a very happy-go-lucky, almost blind cartoon character from when I was growing up—and before. Although, in general, he was a pleasant guy, I always think of Magoo from when he played the part of “Scrooge.” I pretty sure he got grumpy (not 100% sure though, but it’s enough for me…and Kenny knows what I’m talking about anyway). Therefore, when I say, “I’m a Magoo,” he knows what I mean: I’m in my hate-everything mood.

In fact, I’ve been a Magoo for quite some time this summer. Summer is usually a total Magoo season for me. I’m stuck at home with three kids who are always “bored,” with no money to go anywhere but the library or Speedway for a slushie, and with no friends to hang with. To add to that this year, I’ve been in charge of planning my parent-in-laws’ 50th wedding anniversary. And, after months of planning and sending out invites and buying decorations, the time has arrived for the party. It is to be held on the 16th of July (one week and one day from today).

There is a pretty big difference between my family growing up and my husband’s family growing up. My family is a bit more formal, while his parents are pretty low-keyed and easy going (when it comes to hanging out).  So, for MY parents’ 25th anniversary, we had a pretty fancy schmancy party. That was about 15 years ago. And this year, for KENNY’S parents’ 50th anniversary, we rented a pavilion at a nearby park, invited family from all over the country, and will be having a BBQ. To make matters even more casual, when my mother-in-law found out about the party, she immediately decided she would be the one to prepare the lunch.

And so the plan is for us to decorate, have lunch, do a toast, eat some cake and enjoy ourselves. At least, that’s my hope….for others. For me? I’m a Magoo. Sure, I’m excited about the decorating and I really hope they have a wonderful time. But that last part – “enjoy ourselves”?? That would include “me” and that’s one I don’t know if I’ll be able to do.

There I’ll be. One solitary deaf member of the family standing around in silence while 100 other hearing people surround me. I’d say, of the 100 people that are going to be there, only four of them have been around me since I became stone deaf. No one can sign. I can’t lipread. I am not a people person. All of these things make me cringe a bit when thinking of what’s to come.

So, I did what I normally do when I’m feeling something I’m thinking is wrong: I went to the library and got myself a book on happiness. Didn’t like it. Nothing they said made me happy. Phooey on them.

Then I got a book on optimism, but I never read it because it’s probably not any good anyway.

Next was a book on how to tolerate being around anyone annoying. I couldn’t read it. The picture on the cover annoyed me and the inside picture of the author made me very unhappy and pessimistic.

Finally, I got a book on appreciation. It wasn’t bad, though it probably wasn’t very hard to write. I mean, it’s not like the author had to work very hard to say, “You got it better than you think you did, so stop whining!” Yet, it did make me feel a bit more in place. (But it wasn’t making me appreciate anything either). Kidding…….

We leave for Illinois on Monday. The party is the following Sunday. I will have paper and pen in my hands, a keyboard sitting on the side of the table I’m sitting at, and a book to read as I hide in the corner. That’s my plan. But there’s gotta be more advice out there on having a relaxing time and making communication not as difficult besides, “Ask them to write,” and such.

Perhaps you have some advice for me? How to smile and actually enjoy myself for the long party and the visiting before and after (we’re talking days). Other than, “Stick close to your husband and kids so they can interpret for you.”

So, if you have any advice, now would be a great time to give it to me. I may be a Magoo, but, if I remember correctly, he was all ears (well, all head anyway). And I’m all eyes. Hit me with it!

Monday, July 4, 2011

THE DELIMMA: Does Correcting Someone's ASL Cause Friction?

Independence Day is almost finished and I’m left with the remnants of a BBQ gone awry. Actually, since “awry” means “off from the expected course,” perhaps it doesn’t apply here. I mean, if I’m going to have hearing guests in the house, I should expect some trouble. Yet, time after time, I keep my fingers crossed (which, by the way, makes it very hard to sign) in hopes that this time things will be different. But, I can honestly say, although I’ve tried to keep my optimistic self in hand (another hard way to sign), most of the time, things do go “awry.”

We’ve had this couple over a few times. In fact, we don’t really have that many friends that we hang out with and this couple seems to be one of the only ones available at any given time. They’re a nice couple, don’t get me wrong, but they’re also kind of hard to talk with…literally and figuratively.

After we had hung out a couple of times, Kenny and I decided that, with the sign language class we were teaching in the near future, we would invite them to attend for free. This way, they learn to sign and I can socialize with them without a lot of problems.

That was the theory, anyway.

In the class, the female part of this boy/girl couple caught on pretty quickly. She had taken another workshop with me in the past and seemed to have learned well. However, the male half simply couldn’t get his hands to match what his mind was trying to express. If you’ve ever taken an ASL I class, you know what I’m talking about. It’s those few students who, try as they may to express that they’re feeling perfect today, end up signing that they’ve been feeling their penis all day. And so it went for ten class sessions.

Fast-forward four years and picture that very same person trying to remember “all” that they’d learned and then have a conversation with me. Let’s just say it isn’t pretty. So I sit and smile, counting the ticking of the clock and trying to be as hospitable as is possible when what I really want to do is go stick my head in the oven and pray the gas line is leaking.

So, there I am. Four years after the class, the girl seemed to do OK. She messed up quite a bit, but I could understand her enough. The boy sadly struggled to the point of disappearing off with my husband whenever possible, so he wasn’t put in the awkward situation of having to make conversation with me.

They arrive for the 4th with a two-liter of soda in hand and two loads of laundry to do in our washing machine. They smile and we hug (because it’s what we’re supposed to do, I guess).

Awkward silence.

“Just put that soda down anywhere. Glad you could join us for the BBQ,” I said/signed, trying to make them feel welcome. All of that lasted a total of 30 seconds and then the silence returned.

“IT GOOD SEE YOU. THANK YOU FOR DO-DO US. WE DECIDE YOU NEED GOOD MORNING” (Translated: It’s good to see you. Thank you for INVITING us. We HOPE you’re HAVING a good DAY.”)

“It’s nice to have you here. Anything exciting happening with you guys lately?” Kenny signed and spoke so all were included.


The conversation would have continued in this manner had I not faked the need to pee and run off to the bathroom to hide for the first fifteen minutes of their visit. Yet, when I came back into the room, things kind of went back and forth between what I just described and them totally ignoring me. I preferred the latter in this circumstance.

So, what do I do? What is the polite thing to do? Should I nicely and casually try to correct them? Or should I let it go, because I know they’re not out in the Deaf community and I’m the only deafie they know?

At first, I tried for the first option. I repeated what they said, only in question form and with the correct signs. I thought they would appreciate it. I mean, I was, after all, their former teacher. But I suppose “former” is the key word there. They didn’t take well to the correcting. A slight scoff and a stare off to the side of the room were pretty “telling.” It was saying, “Hey! We don’t have to sign to you AT ALL. Take what we’re giving you. We’re not here for a sign language lesson!”

Good point.

And so the question pops up…when faced with a person you know fairly well, and who has asked for signing help from you in the past, is it proper to correct them or just let it slide (unless they directly ask)?

My sister told me at my Grandma’s funeral that she was Satan. She meant that she was paranoid, but got the handshape WAY wrong. At the same funeral, my mother told me not to cry because “GRANDMA is WITH QUEEN.” She meant that she was with the Lord, but Queen came out and, just to be honest, it was just what I needed to kick the crying I was doing. Here I am at a funeral surrounded by Satan and the fact that my newly deceased grandmother has gone to England to practice waving and riding around in a carriage. Not a bad scene, Grandma.

In those instances, I did correct them….after I stopped laughing. But I did it jokingly and with love. Were they made to feel embarrassed? I hope not. I don’t think so. Who knows? But, in that instance, too, I had to weigh the benefit of correcting them with the idea of whether it would be beneficial or just me being superficial.

I want it known that I DO appreciate people who have a basic knowledge of sign language trying their best to include me in the conversation. I’m not mocking that and saying it shouldn’t happen. But when the mistake is made over and over, when does the point come where I should stop them and show them the right way? And, after I do that, what should happen if they continue to sign it wrong anyway?

The way I see it is, I’ll show them the correct sign simply by signing it myself in a sentence. If, after that, they continue to do it wrong, I’ll just chalk it up to their decision not to learn. And, if in doing that, it makes days like today go “awry,” well then, so be it. I guess it doesn’t matter anyway. Ninety minutes into the BBQ I was hiding in my room with my laptop. Live and let live I say. But sign and let sign? Eh…that depends.