When I first started primary school, we lived only two blocks from the school grounds and I begged mum to let me walk to school each morning. I would walk past the old folk’s home, then continue down the road past the park, then cross the road where the lollypop lady stood and I would be at the school.
To begin with mum would follow me in the car, until she was sure I knew the way and was able to get there safely. Once I was able to walk on my own, without having mum creeping along behind, I began to stop and talk to people along the way. I never got the hang of the ‘stranger danger’ thing and always spoke to everyone as though they were long-time friends. As a matter of fact, I still do.
There was one family that I saw every morning that I was intrigued by. A woman with older kids would be out the front of their house every morning, waiting for a short orange bus to come and collect her two children. I always wondered why the children didn’t go to our school. Even though they were a lot older than I was, I assumed that since my school was so close by, they would just go there.
I was told that I wasn’t allowed to cross any roads, other than the one in front of the school where the lollypop lady was. So talking to them was going to be a bit of a challenge. I walked past their house slowly and watched them every morning on the way to school and every afternoon on the way home. I never heard them talking to each other, but they were always moving their hands around.
One morning mum left for work early and I began walking to school. When I got to the house where the woman and two older children were, I decided to cross the road. Mum wouldn’t know, since she was already on her way to work.
I approached the woman and said hello, then smiled to the children. One was a boy who looked like he was about 15 and the other was a girl, who looked like she was about 12. I said hello to them and reached out my hand.
The woman told me that her children couldn’t hear what I was saying, as they were both deaf and they talked with their hands. She showed me how to say hello to them with my hands and when they responded, she translated for me. It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen.
After that, I took the risk of crossing the road every morning and afternoon, so that I could learn more about talking with my hands. Eventually I became quite good at it and I was able to talk to the other children on my own. I asked their mother why they had to go on the orange bus every morning and why they didn’t go to the same school as me and the other local kids.
She explained to me that her children went to a special school for deaf kids, where they learnt with sign language. The more I learnt about their school, the more I wanted to go. I ended up telling mum about my friends and she went with me one afternoon to meet them and their mum. Our mothers talked for a long time, while we all played and talked to each other in sign language.
I told my mum that I wanted to go to their school. Mum ended up getting me a tutor, to teach me sign language, but explained to me that I couldn’t go to their school, because it was only for children who couldn’t hear and since I had very good hearing, I wasn’t allowed to go.
I was never very popular in my own school and was picked on all the time. The more I got to know the deaf kids around the corner and meet some of their friends, the more I was sure that I would fit in at their school much better than I had ever fit in at my own school.
One weekend, after a particularly bad week at school, mum came looking for me, since I was being too quiet for her liking. She found me in my play room, with one of my lead pencils lodged firmly in my ear. She panicked and rushed me to the doctors. Luckily I had not caused any damage, but when mum asked me what I had been doing I told her I was trying to make myself go deaf, so that I could go to the deaf school with all the nice kids.
Mum got me involved with a lot of extra-curricular activities that were linked with the deaf school, in the hopes that it would satisfy me. Luckily it did and I never tried to deafen myself again. I remained friends with the deaf children right through my primary school years, until we moved away. At which stage I did some volunteer work with other deaf children.
I still know sign language, though I have lost contact with my deaf friends and have since also learnt braille. It seems like such a natural thing to me now, but at the time it was so new and fascinating. It was a remarkable experience, though I am very glad I wasn’t successful in damaging my own ear drums.
Becoming deaf didn’t seem like such a bad idea to me at the time. All the deaf children were so much happier that the children from my own school and they were much kinder to each other. Whenever I was around the deaf children, they were extremely friendly and paid a lot of attention to me. I guess being able to talk to and pay with a ‘normal’ hearing child was a novelty for them. For me however, I got a taste of a popularity I had never experienced before and I was keen to spend as much time as possible relishing in it.