Sound and Silence
language would make the most sense—at least in the short-term when Geneva had no access to sound. We chose to pursue ASL, the official language of Deaf culture (the capitalization of "Deaf," we learned, was a way to signal the sense of community among deaf people who use ASL). With that decision, a new, exciting—albeit daunting—challenge lay ahead: the task of learning a new language as soon as possible. Again, Tami was our guide.
Idon't know if Tami said it, or if I picked it up elsewhere, but the concept of "bathing Geneva in language" was one that I kept foremost in my mind. I'd repeat it to myself silently throughout the day and use my limited signing vocabulary to narrate anything and everything. "Look, I'm washing dishes with my yellow gloves," I'd sign. Folding laundry was a chance to practice color and clothing signs. Grocery shopping was a chance to practice food and people signs. "See that tall man. Look at his red hat," I'd sign. Everything was a language opportunity, a chance for both of us to practice this new language. My favorite times were when it was just us—Geneva andme, or Christian,Geneva, and me—or when we were with someone else who knew ASL. Those were the times when I felt like everything was going to be okay.
As a new mom, part of me craved socialization with other moms and female friends, but part of me also dreaded those interactions because most of the time I'd be worried about how little I was signing while I was talking with my hearing companions, and thus how little information Geneva was taking in. To talk with other adults, and even other children, without simultaneously signing was to ignore my daughter; but with my limited skills in ASL, I found it hard to both sign to Geneva and carry on a real conversation. Once again, Tami filled another role in my life. She became a close female friend, not just because we shared common interests but because we could socialize and still sign.
The concept of "bathing Geneva in language" was one that I kept foremost in my mind. I'd repeat it to myself throughout the day and use my limited signing vocabulary to narrate anything and everything. "Look, I'm washing dishes with my yellow gloves," I'd sign.
At the time, Tami was also the only professional we dealt with, medical or educational, who emphasized the importance of exposing Geneva to language immediately and in any way that we could. I found the lack of support from all other quarters frustrating and perplexing. The extent of the
encouragement that we got from the rest of the medical world regarding signing seemed to be "Oh, that's nice." And I couldn't help feeling irritated when people who knew she was deaf—medical professionals or not—wouldmake no effort to sign, gesture, or even use animated facial expressions.
Now, looking back, I realize that what I interpreted as the medical profession's lack of encouragement about signing may have been an effort to be unbiased. To sign or not sign is almost as controversial as whether to have a cochlear implant.
American Sign Language was developed in the early 1800s and became widely used as more and more schools for the deaf opened. For the first time in American history, deaf children learned