Emily Howlett: What it’s like to be a deaf auntie

Posted on August 29, 2014

It’s one thing being a mother. It’s quite another being a deaf mother. And being a deaf auntie is a whole different ball game.

At least when you are the parent of a brat, you are allowed to acknowledge that it is, indeed, a brat and decide how you will deal with it. You don’t have to worry about following anyone else’s rules because, hell, you make those damn rules.

Recently, I decided to leave my beloved offspring alone for the first time with only my sister to guard him, feed him and generally ensure he continued to exist. It was extenuating circumstances; I needed to go somewhere hugely unsuitable for small children, and nobody else was available.

At least, that’s what I told her. The truth is; I felt it was about time she got to see what a little horror her outwardly angelic nephew can be. She sees him regularly, of course, but turning up for a few hours as the latest plaything is hardly the same as being left in charge of him. It’s hardly the same as being The Boss.

“Do not let him go in the crisps drawer. If he does, you have to pretend to take some out and then give him a pack of healthy crud instead. He won’t notice.”
These were my parting words.

I hadn’t even reached the end of the driveway when my phone buzzed. He was in the crisps drawer. He wasn’t being fooled by the healthy crud. Well, of course he wasn’t. Good luck, sister dear!

I duly trotted off to talk to many important people about many important things that I actually know nothing about. I like to think I blagged it rather well. But all the time I was waffling on about this jollop and that jabber, I couldn’t help wondering exactly how traumatised my sister’s first nephew-minding experience would prove to be.

I mean, she might be able to hear better than me, on account of her fancy hearing aids, but she’s still pretty much a deafie. She doesn’t sign though. And my little man only tends to sign if you sign to him; the rest of the time he just yells random syllables until you look at him and immediately pander to his every whim.

It seemed highly unlikely that my sister would either spontaneously start signing or suddenly develop sufficient hearing to notice his frustrated yelping.

I began to worry about the possible communication breakdown. I began to worry about this more than my original worst fear; an epic, unconstrained poo explosion.

I also wasn’t sure if my sister would actually be able to cope with any first aid emergencies, or even just one of those bumps to the head that look monstrous but can actually be cured with Milky Bar and half an hour of Baby Einstein.

So, it was with slight trepidation that I approached my front door later that afternoon. Having spent the day talking crap, I didn’t really want to walk into a house smothered with it.

However, there were no outward signs of destruction. The door was still attached, and no windows were broken. The neighbours didn’t come flying out to warn me of a wailing banshee that had apparently taken up residence in my home.

Once inside, I waited for the thundering gallop of a small child who has missed his mother so acutely that every extra second is a thousand little knives in his heart.

I waited.

I called for them, and still I waited.

Eventually, sometime before I turned 105, I realised they weren’t going to rush to greet me. So, I went in search of them. They were painting, at the table, as neatly as a small child and his helper can. There was no paint on the floor, the ceiling or the dog. Just a row of abstract pictures stacked carefully on the sideboard to dry.

I crossed the room without having to negotiate an army assault course of toys and clothes. There were no dirty nappies left where they didn’t quite make it to the bin. It was a picture of calm contentment.

I was horrified. I took a hundred photos in case it turned out to be a mirage. Then I said, “Hello.” And my beautiful boy nodded, briefly showed me his blue and red fingers, and merely carried on.

“So,” I said, “I’ll put the kettle on…” Nobody bothered to reply, they were too busy painting green onto yellow.
I went into the kitchen, and it got worse.
“The kettle,” I said, “is warm.”
“Yeah,” my sister said, “I made a cup of tea earlier.”
“Oh, you made a cup of tea.”

And the worst part of all? She had even managed to drink it. While it was hot.

I will be listing her on eBay soon. Fellow parents; get your bids in early. I think she’s unique.

Emily Howlett is a Contributing Editor to this site. She is a profoundly Deaf actress, writer, horsewoman and new mum. Emily used to be found all over the place, but motherhood has turned her into somewhat of a self-confessed homebody. She now has not one, but four grey eyebrow hairs. C’est la vie. She tweets as @ehowlett

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