A DEAF PERSON'S GUIDE TO HOLIDAYS WITH NON-SIGNING FAMILY
It’s Christmas time and, chances are, you’re going to be spending some of that time around family and friends. Perhaps you’re Deaf or hard of hearing and your family is not. Perhaps those hearing relatives don’t know sign language either. What’s a deafie to do to make sure they don’t go completely berserk at this time of year?
Here, I’ve put together ten holiday tips for staying sane and making the most of your time with hearing friends and family.
1. If you're worried about getting the perfect gift for that special someone, but the thought of battling through all the holiday traffic, spending hours finding a parking place, then remember that sometimes the best gift is a simple one. You can buy almost anything online from the comfort of your own home. Gift cards are also an easy way to go. But if you really want to “shake things up,” why not give them a vibrating alarm clock? No need to wrap it. Just sneak into their bedroom at night and place the vibrating part under their pillow. Although they’re usually meant to be placed under the mattress, putting it under their pillow will give them a much deeper and immediate appreciation for what you go through to wake up in the morning.
Just sneak into their bedroom, plug it in, and set the alarm for 1 minute later. Then sit back and watch the festivities begin!
2. If the thought of a party, family gathering, or other "mandatory" social event leaves you knotted up with anxiety, plan ahead for some "escape time" for yourself. If you are suddenly feeling overwhelmed with all of the lip-flapping and none of the hand-using, do what the experts tell you to do: Hide in the bathroom. (OK, maybe the experts don’t exactly say this, but I do, so we’ll just go with it, shall we?)
Not only can you lock the door and ignore all of the knocking and hands waving under the door, but you can go through their medicine cabinet and get to know them in a more personal way. Then, once at least 5 notes have been pushed under the door to tell you that they need to go to the bathroom, you can simply flush the toilet, let the water run for 10 seconds and emerge rejuvenated and wiser to the ways the host’s family deals with medication.
3. If you’re one who can lipread a bit, it might behoove you to determine in advance what subjects will be discussed. Try to take a moment and think about what each guest is interested in and then practice lipreading words that might be said. You never know when learning to lipread “Sheboygan” and “antidisestablishmentarianism” will come in handy.
4. Greet every family member with a hug and sign, “It’s great to see you!” You never have to recover from a good start. Then again, if you start things off on a bad note, it might just ruin the entire visit. Do what you think is best. If you think hugging Uncle Larry, who often looks at you like you’re about to smite him down with his own deafness, would benefit you (such as scaring him so badly that he loses all blood flow to his brain and passes out---fun to watch!) then hug away. Otherwise, a nice wave across the room should suffice.
5. Whatever issues exist, it is not the fault of your nephews, nieces, and grandchildren. So, be sure to be nice to them. In fact, it’s a well-known fact that eating at the kids’ table is much more enjoyable. Not only can you play with your food, but, if you behave yourself, you can often get a second piece of pie.
6. Form alliances with those you like and stay clear of the dysfunctional ones. In other words, there’s no point in hanging out with Uncle Larry if your cousin Tammy signs well (and you like her). Just think of the things you can do! You can have long, gossipy conversations in sign language and no one will have a clue. In fact, I’ve even had people tell me that it’s rude to have signed conversations in front of people who can’t sign. My response is to explain how they’re doing the exact same thing when they speak around someone who can’t hear. Helloooo!
7. Don’t expect others to be different. It’s very easy to go into a situation like this, hoping that the people you haven’t seen in a while will be more receptive to you and include you more. Unfortunately, it’s those who haven’t seen you who will probably treat you worse. Out of sight, out of mind, applies to a person being deaf as well. So, don’t get your hopes up regarding people changing. Try to change your own attitude and let the ignorance of others roll off your back. (Easier said than done.)
8. Keep busy! If you’re at a party and you feel bored or left out, find the host and ask what you can do to help. Whether it’s washing dishes or changing diapers, there’s sure to be something to occupy your time. Give it a try! If it doesn’t help, at least you can know that you helped someone else out that day.
9. Use laughter and humor to take off the pressure. This is probably the most important tip of all! Everyone needs a sense of humor, and us deafies need it the most. Instead of focusing on why you’re unhappy or feeling excluded, try to think of things that are happening and what is funny about them. So, you’ll be off in the corner laughing to yourself. So what? They already think you’re a freak because you’re deaf. Mental illness isn’t that far a step now, is it?
10. Make an exit plan and use it. Escape, flee, run for the hills, hightail it out of there…anything you have to do to make it all go away. As soon as you’ve had enough, it is OK to tell people that you need to leave. Don’t stay until you’re so stressed you want to vomit in Uncle Larry’s shoes. He probably won’t notice it anyway. So leave. You may never enjoy these family gatherings, but, if you leave before total insanity has set in, you just might be able to find something good that came out of it.