Learning How to Listen from Those Who Cannot Hear

I took my three kids out last night for a bite to eat. Soon after we sat down four deaf couples came in, I’m guessing all 30-somethings, several of whom had small children. A number of things I saw were fascinating and beautiful, but two things in particular really stood out:

One: It was remarkable to watch them parent, which required very deliberate and attentive face-to-face eye contact in order for the children to see the sign language, which is so different from how I communicate with my kids most of the time. Our yelling between rooms, our grunts, the heads in Lego projects and books, our dull dismissive nods…

These children and parents, on the other hand, needed to be fully present, to look at each other, and in doing so, they did not just understand each other’s sign language, they also were full witnesses to each others’ body language, facial expressions and gesticulations.

It made me realize that those who can’t biologically hear might actually be “hearing” each other better than many of us who are not impaired in this way, because we are so frequently only half-paying attention to the actual speaker, trusting only our ears.

There is something very special to learn from that level of fully-present attentiveness.

Two: I said nothing to my children while in the restaurant, but when we got back into the car I asked them if they had noticed anything different about the other families we saw inside. My daughter, age 11, very casually said, “The other people were speaking sign language, and it was really cool.”

What astounded me, and impressed me, was how she noticed, appreciated and totally normalized the experience. I never would have known that she had noticed had I not asked. And that is exactly how it should be. She saw people who did things a bit differently, interestingly so, but ultimately she still just saw people.

If that’s not a parenting win, I don’t know what is.

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