Emily Howlett: I no longer accept responsibility for not hearing what my son says (no matter how bad the tantrum)

Posted on June 7, 2015

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A little while ago I wrote about the recent heart-wrenching change that had occurred in my life as a Deaf Mum; my little man deciding to drop the signing in favour of speech.

Although it took me by surprise at the time, I can now conclusively say that I’ve got used to it and… It’s fine.

*wipes away single tear* It’s FINE.

*wipes away flood of tears* No, really, IT’S FINE.

Ah, no, it really is fine. He’s so adorable that, to be honest, he can do whatever the hell he likes.

For example: his monstrous meltdown in Boots last week, in the middle of the aisle so that a line of buggies and old people with walkers was backed up all the way to Patisserie Valerie?

Not a problem, because when he finally stops yelling ‘til his eyes are bulging and they recede back to normal size, they’re beautiful.

I know what you’re thinking though. I’ve written enough times about what a wonderful, sweet angel my son is. Ahem. So, I know you’re wondering what could possibly have caused such a meltdown.

What horrific trauma could send such a wondrous child into this terrific tailspin of despair?

Oh, that would be having a deaf mum. Yeah.

See, I thought he was saying “ice cream”. It was getting really, really close to actual dinnertime, so there was no way we were going to stop off for ice cream.

So, I said no. No ice cream.

And he asked again. And I said no. And he just stared into my eyes and gave me this look (which he totally gets from his great-grandmother, despite never having met her) of such derision, allowed the bones in his entire body to turn to jelly and crumpled on the floor.

I don’t tend to bother too much about public strops. I mean, I was the master of them in my time and can still throw a pretty good one, should the situation call for it.

I was quite happy to settle in for the long haul, despite any number of glares and comments from people passing by. Or trying to pass by and finding the way thoroughly blocked by such a surprisingly small creature taking up such a surprisingly large area, purely due to the size of his tantrum.

Eventually, after an eternity, during which the children in the waiting buggies had grown up and had children of their own, he calmed down enough to say, “Mummy… Mummy… face cream.”

Oh. He’d seen the shelf full of potions and lotions and recognised the E45 that he has for his eczema. And Mummy hadn’t listened or acknowledged his cleverness. Damn.

I felt a little bit scummy, I don’t mind admitting. I’d made those beautiful blue eyes cry for no good reason – only the fact my ears didn’t work well enough.

I did feel bad… But it soon dawned on me that he could easily have signed ‘face cream’, and, actually, nothing about the situation truly warranted a full nuclear meltdown while lying half under the mascara counter.

So, I no longer accept responsibility for the fact I can’t understand him well when he chooses to speak instead of sign.

I no longer assure hearing people, “No, no, he’s saying FORK.” I don’t bother trying to decipher snotty wails that could be either ‘I need a cuddle’ or ‘I ate the hamster’.

I certainly don’t engage with the tormented cries that accompany each rejected bowl of cornflakes (he says both ‘Cheerios’ and ‘cereal’, but I have no way of knowing which other than trial and error).

This new approach has given me a peace of mind, regarding my parenting. He will pick up the signing again soon. In the meantime, I simply can’t hear him, so there’s no benefit to either of us if I pretend I can. It’s all good. It’s fine.

Apart from the fact that it’s now an all-out war of deliberate mistranslation. I don’t give him the right breakfast… His countermove is to hear “Put the Ribena back in the cupboard” as “Pour the Ribena over the dog”.

So, I retreat, regroup, (clean up) and come back into the fray by stupendously ignoring him wailing plaintively because his toe is trapped in a fire engine.

It’s a good comeback, but it’s not enough; after five repetitions of an indecipherable phrase, I ask him to show me, as usual. And he shows me. And what was it he was trying to tell me?

“Poo in shoe.”

Game, set and match.

By Emily Howlett. Emily is a Contributing Editor to this site. She is a profoundly Deaf actress, writer and teacher. Emily is co-director of PAD Productions and makes an awful lot of tea. And mess. She now has not one, but four grey eyebrow hairs. C’est la vie. She tweets as @ehowlett

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