Rebecca-Anne Withey: My first year as a ‘deaf playground Mum’

Posted on July 26, 2017



When my son started nursery last September I dreaded the compulsory ‘standing in the playground with other parents.’ Not because I dislike people, of courseIt was the fact that I’d be expected to chat to / get to know the parents of my sons classmates for the remainder of the school year.

Talk about being out of my comfort zone. To begin with I remember feeling self conscious, quiet and not really myself.

To most parents making small talk and general chatter in the playground is fun, laidback and an enjoyable rite of passage. It’s a chance to speak to another adult for a fraction of your day and find some solace in the stresses of parenthood.

But for me, it’s exhausting. Having to lipread, notice what’s happening around me AND keep track of a 2 year old and 4 year old leaves me feeling hyper vigilant and on edge.

But verrrrry gradually I got the hang of it. As time went on I came out of my shell and began to feel comfortable with being surrounded by non-signers on a daily basis.

I’ve done a lot in a school year. I’ve learnt most of my sons school friends names, conversed with several parents, attended kids’ birthday parties and struck up friendships with a few ladies too. Not bad for the only deaf mum in the playground…

Looking back, though, there was a pivotal moment that changed things for sure. It was the first time the other parents saw me with a sign language interpreter.

We (the parents) were invited to a meeting about phonics and the school had booked an interpreter so I’d be able to participate in the talk. The look on the parents faces when I walked into the room, sat opposite the interpreter and began signing, was priceless. 

Oh, she’s deaaaaaaaf. I could almost feel the pennies dropping.

I reckon some people had their suspicions beforehand, a few already knew (but hadn’t seen me sign) but most were clueless.

There were a few friendly smiles, some stares and a couple of flummoxed faces. The following day, one of the Dads (who had previously never spoken to me) came up and started signing, “I heard you’re deaf. My uncle is deaf so I learnt to sign for him.”

Woweee. I thought. Finally I can sign to somebody!!! 

Admittedly, there were a couple of parents who began to avoid me, not wishing to make eye contact and generally acting frostily around me. No more hellos from them, I noticed.

And then on the opposite scale were the ones who overcompensated, rubbing my arm before speaking to me and slowing down their speech to aaaan extreeeemely diffficcculllt speeeeed toooo liiiipreeeeead.

Bless ’em. 

But generally speaking, once it was ‘out’ that I was deaf AND a signer, it felt a whole lot easier to be myself. I seemed to attract the right people to talk to, some who knew sign, some who didn’t; but overall the good eggs who were happy to get to know somebody who was a bit different.

You know, making new friends as an adult is hard. And I find it even harder being deaf. I know there’s no rule that says you have to be friends with the other parents at school but it isn’t a nice feeling to be standing on your lonesome while others chat around you.

And as my son begins a new school this September I face the prospect of starting all over again. Meeting new people, explaining I’m deaf, asking their names – several times – and still getting it wrong.

I found out last week I’d been calling a girl ‘Millie’ for the whole school year when her actual name is Amelia. I’d called another Mum Sara instead of Sandra and I’m still not sure what my sons teaching assistant is called… (Mrs Dutsvord, Mrs Tutsford, Mrs Tuxford?!) so I’ll have to do my research before writing the end of year thank you cards…

I’ve had whistling hearing aids, moments of completely misunderstanding people, and I’ve also had days where I’ve buried my head in my phone because I was too tired for strained interactions.

But it hasn’t been all bad. I’ve met some really lovely people who I wouldn’t have known otherwise and my confidence has definitely grown.

Because I’m so used to being around deaf people it’s been extremely insightful and such a learning curve to find myself interacting with hearing folk every day.

I’ve realised that despite not always feeling 100% comfortable, I can do it. I can hold conversations with others (however brief or stilted,) I can say or wave hello and more importantly I can just be who I am, lip reading stumbles and all. I don’t wanna be friends with the prejudiced bad eggs anyway.

And that’s the attitude I’m going to need in September when I begin this journey all over again.

Wish me luck!

By Rebecca-Anne Withey. Read more of Rebecca’s articles for us here.

Rebecca-Anne Withey is a freelance writer with a background in Performing Arts & Holistic health. 

She is also profoundly deaf, a sign language user and pretty great lipreader. 

Her holistic practices and qualifications include Mindfulness, Professional Relaxation Therapy, Crystal Therapy and Reiki. 

She writes on varied topics close to her heart in the hope that they may serve to inspire others.

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