How it works

Jason Smith


Sometimes the simplest of moments can result in the most profound revelations.

I had one of those moments recently with my little girl. It’s no secret to those who know me, that this child’s imagination captivates me on a daily basis. But even I wasn’t prepared for what she said on this day.

My daughter was, as is often the case, playing with her Barbie dolls when she began to tell me about one of them specifically. She carefully emphasized that when I talk to this particular doll, I have to look at her directly, and that I might even have to use signs to communicate with her.

Being the son of two deaf parents, I had an idea where my child was going with this, but I wanted to hear her explanation for it. She’s four years old, and I was curious to see how her mind processes things.

I asked my daughter why I might need to sign words to the doll, and without missing a beat, she said, “That’s how it works for her.”

I asked her if she knows anyone who she might use such signs with, to which she nodded and said, “Grammy,” which is her name for my mom.

At this point, I started to get a little emotional. I was so proud that my little girl wasn’t looking at her doll with a sense of pity or condescension, but with an understanding of a world that is a bit different.

If that weren’t enough, seconds later, my daughter amazed me yet again by demonstrating her grasp on the concept of lip-reading. Regarding the doll, she said, “When you talk to her quietly, you have to whisper into her eyes.”

In all my years of watching the deaf culture in action, I’d never heard it expressed quite like that. But it was possibly the most accurate description I’d ever heard. She understands, even at four years old, that Grammy listens with her eyes.

Having grown up in the deaf world, I knew my life was very different from that of kids with hearing parents, but I didn’t really think anything of it. My siblings and I were called upon regularly to make phone calls for Mama and Daddy, or to interpret TV shows before the advent of closed-captioning. To borrow my child’s phrase, that was how it worked for us.

In the early days of me and my wife’s relationship, I was reminded of how strange the deaf world might look to someone who isn’t as accustomed to it. She and I were at my parents’ house, and Mama was busily putting dishes away in the kitchen – something she was never quiet about doing.

At that time, my wife still wasn’t used to how it works for my family. She approached Mama and asked if she realized how loud she was being. Mama, with a genuine look of surprise on her face, exclaimed that she had no idea.

Mama then looked at me and asked why I had never told her she was making so much noise. Truth be told, she was downright mad at me for it. I told her the noise never bothered me, and that a loud kitchen was all I’d ever known. To put it another way, that was just how it worked for my family.

These days, I’m well aware that various aspects of my daughter’s life aren’t what some might call “normal.” In addition to having a deaf grandmother, my child has numerous relatives – including my father-in-law – who live out of state. My daughter also understands that her Grandpa – my dad -- is the one who “went to be with Jesus.” While that’s not uncommon, it contributes to her understanding of who she is and how she views the world around her.

She also has family members of different ethnic and racial backgrounds. It has never even occurred to her to question how that happened. That’s her family, and that’s all that matters to her.

I hope that, as my child grows, she will continue to value people who don’t look or act like her. I pray that she will always appreciate those whose life experiences might be different from hers.

So far, she seems to be making those adjustments with ease. I guess that’s just how it works for her.

Jason has worked in newspapers since 2005, spending the majority of that time in Henry County. He lives in Covington with his wife and daughter.