Playground Loneliness (as a Deaf Mummy)
Updated: Feb 5, 2019
The dreaded playground ...
When my daughter started Reception class all those years ago (10 years) to be exact. I remember thinking I need to make the transition from nursery to BIG school as easy and smooth as I can. My daughter was so excited about going to big school.
I had a sinking feeling of dread ... the compulsory ‘standing in the playground with other parents.’ Not because I dislike people, of course. I love people! When I'm with those who I care for you can't shut me up sometimes! It was the fact that I’d be expected to chat to / get to know the parents of my daughter's peers for the first time in my life and this would have to continue throughout my daughters education. I thought I'd make the first move. I wrote a letter to the headmaster of the school to explain that my daughters parents are Deaf and the dynamics of how our family works through communication (giving him a heads up basically) and asked for a meeting before the school year started. To my disappointment, I didn't get a response back and throughout both my daughters education he never once spoke to me. Not once.
Talk about being out of my comfort zone. To begin with I remember feeling self conscious, quiet, avoiding eye contact and not really being myself.
To most parents making small talk and general chatter in the playground is fun, laidback and an enjoyable way of getting to know each other and feel you are not on your own going through the trials and tribulations of being a parent.
But for me, it’s exhausting. Having to lipread, notice what’s happening around me AND keep track of a 6 month old and 4 year old leaves me feeling hyper vigilant and on edge.
Slowly I felt like I was getting 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 did a lot in that school year. I learnt most of my daughters 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 I had booked an interpreter (after battling with the school that it was our right to have one. They agreed that they would pay half of the fee. Unfortunately this never happened again) this was 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 an eye opener.
"Oh, she’s deaaaaaaaf" ... I could almost feel (not hear) 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.
After this there were a few parents that continued to talk to me and smiled at me ... it was still isolating as parents tend to talk in groups. It is not easy to walk up to a group and stand there and expect them to talk one by one, move their mouths and face me at the same time. 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 ... the novelty wore off for those too.
So I went back to being the parent that sat on the bench either reading a book or "looking" on my phone to avoid awkward moments.
Isolated ... not a nice feeling.
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.
My youngest daughter starts high school this September. There's a relief in me that there's no playground pick ups. But at the same time a sadness fills in me knowing that I wasn't successful in being one of the playground mummies. I have a slight dread of meeting my children's new friends parents and having to explain that I'm Deaf and to communicate is through lip reading or signing. And to make "play" dates they have to text me, not call me.
I found out last week I’d been calling a girl ‘Esmae ’ for the whole time when her actual name is Daisy Mae I’d called my daughters parents by the wrong names ... and teachers ... and TAs. OMG. Embarrassing or what.
I’ve had batteries going flat half way through a conversation ... 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.
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.
I would like to see schools who have Deaf parents be more proactive in welcoming them to the little community of the school and think (or ask the parents) what they can do to make the Deaf parents feel part of it and even encourage the class teachers to do some Deaf Awareness within the class where the child has Deaf parents. (My daughter was playing with the sand and a boy said to her "your parents can't talk properly, they are stupid" ... my daughter walloped him and shouted "my mummy is a teacher! She's not stupid!" My daughter was told off. She had to apologise to the boy. I was mortified as I thought where has HE learnt that attitude from?! Shouldn't the teacher explain to the boy HE WAS WRONG?! - I told my daughter she couldn't wallop people ... but good for her eh?! :-) )
Talk soon. F x