I remember when I was in fifth grade my teacher, Mrs. Harvey, told us that she was going to teach us sign language. We all thought it was weird since no one in our grade was deaf or even used sign language. Mrs. Harvey explained that a few years back she had a student who was deaf and taught Mrs. Harvey and the rest of the students in the class sign language so that she could communicate with them. So she taught us the alphabet; she made us say please and thank you; we learned how to say bathroom; and by the end of the year we were expected to sign the pledge of allegiance with out saying it. I always thought it was pretty cool, but I couldn't help but wonder "When will I ever use this?" Why do I need to learn to communicate with my hands when everyone around me can speak and hear fine. Of course, Mrs. Harvey realized that some of us didn't understand why she was forcing us to learn such an uncommon skill, especially in our small town where everyone knew everyone, but she reminded us that we never know when we could use this skill. She explained that just like some of our parents needed us as translators because they don't speak English, one day we might run into a situation where we want to communicate with someone who can't talk. I'm not sure about any of her other students, but she couldn't have been more right with me.
Gio is four years old and still has a very limited vocabulary. He's learned a to say a couple more words like "no" (which he uses frequently lol) and Cruz (my brother's name). He's been doing more syllables than words. He seems to hum the syllables of whatever word I say. He tries to mouth mama and papa. He signs milk and juice very well. He says more without the sign and when hes hungry he will sign "eat" without being prompted. So he has made some progress. Slowly, but surely we will get there. There are days that go by and I don't notice that he doesn't tell me what went on at school that day, or that he didn't eat because he was angry. I don't notice that something is bothering him, or even that someone might have made him mad that day. I don't notice that he doesn't explain to me what he sees out the car window and instead of going to his great-grandpa's house he wanted me to turn right so to go to his grandma's house instead. There are days I don't try to read his mind and we both kind of just go with the flow. He doesn't stress out because he can't express himself to me and I don't push it. But then there are weeks that I tell him every morning to have a good day at school and to be good and don't forget to share with his friends when they ask. There are times I ask him when I pick him up how his day was and by his expression I can kind of guess it was an extra good day or just a regular day. Most of the time I'm watching him to guess what he is looking at and imagine what he is thinking, what he is feeling. Most days are pretty good and I can guess at 90% of what he wants or needs. I enjoy these days the most. I dread the days where he's just as frustrated or more than me because he feels something or needs something and cannot tell me what it is. He is very impatient and sometimes his days exhaust so much so that he rather be left alone. I want nothing more than to take him out for lunch and have him tell me what he's thinking. I've had a few people ask me why I let him watch so much cartoons. Why I allow him to play on his tablet so much. To answer this, I allow it because it is when he is most at peace. he is at peace with his movies and cartoons because he can imitate them over and over. He isn't frustrated by not being able to explain himself because he just reflects what he sees. If the characters are playing he plays, if they are singing he pretends to sing, if they are dancing he dances, the characters are happy so he is happy. To me this is the way he socializes because there is no expectation of him needing to respond to someone. He can't tell another child what he wants to play or how they made him feel so he isolates himself. As much as I know movies aren't what is best for him to be doing, that is the only time my son has that he feels social. I will continue to push him to communicate with others, but I will not take that away from him. Recently he asks for someone to sit and watch the show with him. He wants you to imitate it with him. That is him asking to play. I love that he asks for someone to be with him. Especially after the rough days where he isolates himself. Gio is like any other little boy who just wants to have fun. If that means I watch the first 5 minutes of The Croods over and over for an hour then so be it.
My dad had also taught us a sign when we were younger. He taught us "I love you" in sign language. When he first did it I said "No, that is for rock'n'roll." He laughed and said showed me the sign for "rock'n'roll" and he only had his index finger and pinky up. When he signed I love you he had his thumb up, as well. My brother and I nodded in amazement that my dad knew how to say "I love you." I remember even asking Mrs. Harvey if that was really how you say "I love you" and she smiled and said, yes. So after that, whenever we would see eachother from far we would sign "I love you." When my dad would drop me off at school he would sign and I would reply. When we would go to Mexico and we visited my grandma's grave my dad would do the sign as we left, and anytime we passed by the cemetery we would all do the sign. As I got older, we wouldn't sign to eachother as much. My dad would do it at us once in a while and we would just laugh.
Although Gio doesn't speak, he tries to mouth "I love you." When I'm dropping him off at school I'll tell him "I love you papi" and he will just move his mouth as though trying to say it back. I taught him to sign "I love you" just as my dad had taught me. He does the sign very well and will do it if someone signs to him or says "I love you." One night, we were laying in bed ready to fall asleep. He seemed to have been talking to himself saying "bravo." He usually says this when he's done something right or after signing "I love you." When he signs "I love you" his hand and your hand have to touch before he says "bravo." Now he usually holds my hand when he is falling asleep, so I didn't think anything when he was search for my hand. But when he finally grabbed it he would say "bravo." So I turned to see what he was doing, and I saw his hand making the "I love you" sign. He had been trying to sign to me before falling asleep, but needed our hands to touch before falling asleep. It was so beautiful to know he finally grasped the meaning of the sign. I made the sign as well and our hands met right before he finished by saying "bravo." He then leaned over to kiss me and fell asleep hugging my arm. There are very tough days, but moments like those are what keeps me from giving up.