Does She or Doesn’t She?
Insights from the Dinner Table


by Sara Kennedy

My kids have named us “the strictest parents in the west.” A look under any of my four children’s beds will clue you in that we haven’t earned that title, but one of the weird things we still do is eat together as a family. Kids who join us for sleepovers always look appalled to learn that they have to eat in the dining room and actually pass food and communicate.

We always ask for news about everyone’s day, often tackle a current events issue, and frequently make a run to the dictionary or the Internet to do some quick fact checking. (This is a far cry from my childhood dinners, where we had to give… I kid you not… assigned book reports.)

Our daughter, Maddie, goes back and forth about wanting people to sign or not. I hang my head when I confess that we “peaked out” as signers when she was a second grader. After she lobbied that year for a cochlear implant, she has gradually dropped signing to us and needs it less and less, but her dad and I still try to sign nearly everything we say to her. It doesn’t seem fair to expect her to listen so hard here in her own country, as it were. Her older siblings, however, have resorted to a truly annoying Manchester-like method of spelling when they do sign. And I will add… they fingerspell badly.

I model, I cajole, I catch them doing the right thing, but their signing is dreadful.

Given this scenario of bad signing, strong personalities, and six opinions on any given subject at any meal, we have some lively conversations.

I recently learned, though,  that Maddie is a fine actress. I thought for years that she truly didn’t understand some of the things she asked us.  She thought lawsuits were suits one wore in the courtroom. She would complain that Wall Street was just a street – how could it have anything to do with the nation’s investment system? We had trouble explaining that the 4th of July was another term for Independence Day.  In our defense, there have been true misunderstandings, such as the time she thought she was getting a new teacher (her class was getting new students from a teacher moving to a new grade) and the time when she burst into tears while reading the Ugly Duckling. She thought the swans had eaten the “duckling” when she read his thought that he’d “rather stay here and be pecked to death by these beautiful birds than return to his former life.”

We had a particularly long discussion about “Uncle Sam” one night that lasted well past dinner and the dishes. My older two kept insisting that their dad and I thought Maddie was dumb. We were trying to explain ad nauseum to them that she didn’t understand idioms or more figurative language, and can’t “overhear” things people say, which is how hearing kids often learn new vocabulary. They countered that she understood perfectly well what Uncle Sam was, and what lawsuits were, and was just trying to “get our goat.” (We are addicted to figures of speech.) I looked across the table and the formerly frustrated Maddie and saw that she was grinning from ear to ear.

We have been had. It never occurred to me that seeing one’s parents go through enthusiastic examples and gymnastics to try to get across an idea or a bit of current slang was highly entertaining to her. So, now, when she ignores her older sister’s requests, I sometimes say “you heard that, didn’t you?” And sometimes, she says, “there ought to be a perk to being deaf.” Yeah – there should be. But we’re going to have to read the Boy Who Cried Wolf with her at least one more time. ~

Sara Kennedy, Colorado Families for Hands & Voices


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