You can heave your spirit into a mountain and the mountain will keep it, folded, and not throw it back as some creeks will. The creeks are the world with all its stimulus and beauty, I live there. But the mountains are home.
Do you feel at home, at home? What makes you feel like that? Trying to define ‘home’ is a big ask – especially when I try to keep my blog posts concise. Is it about walls, environments, people, relationships? I have always felt immediately at home in mountains. The furthest I’ve been from home: the Vumba Mountains of Zimbabwe and the Himalayan foothills, have been places I’ve felt deeply ‘at home’. I wonder if this is because the mountains were where my Dad felt ‘home’; space to breathe and rest his head and heart. My memories of Dad are rich when I’m in a soaring landscape and I sense him near me because of that.
I’ve been wondering recently what home means to Smiling Flower. It is now over 12 months since we moved to Derbyshire. I have been making new friends and seeing old friends in that time. On a number of occasions when Smiling Flower has been at home and I have invited a hearing person over for coffee I have been quite taken back by her reaction. Once she has worked out that this person doesn’t sign at all she starts signing to me “I don’t want them” and “are they going home?” She often becomes more withdrawn and just wants to sit on my lap. Even though I try to sign some of the conversation I find it very difficult to walk the line between making a new friend feel comfortable and ensuring smiling flower doesn’t feel alienated in her own home. And of course my BSL isn’t nearly good enough to translate everything fluently.
At 4½ years Smiling Flower isn’t able to see the bigger picture, she experiences the moment for what it is without comprehending how my brain is trying to split itself into two languages whilst also trying to be ‘great new friend material’. Clearly, in these moments, she feels that the essence of home has changed.
Whilst grappling with this I also came across some fascinating research. Mike Gulliver is based in Bristol and has funding to explore deaf spaces (www.mikegulliver.wordpress.com). He was looking for a PhD student to help critique the first deaf church and the research will partly explore how deaf people feel valid within their own spaces. To quote him from his blog:
Internally referenced, DEAF space flows between a pole of total autonomy; where DEAF people become less ‘DEAF’ and more simply ‘people’ who are utterly ambivalent towards the expectations of hearing society and free to author reality from a starting point that assumes nothing more than a visual experience of the world… and a pole of total colonisation; where DEAF people have no opportunity to even imagine what ‘DEAF’ might be like, and are authored as the less-than-human ‘deaf’ until they comply with the expectations of an Other, hearing world.
As he goes on to explain, people’s stances are rarely quite so polarised as his example. But there is definitely a lot of work to do in terms of “considering the validity of realities other than our own”.
So what of the spaces our family inhabits? When Smiling Flower is excluded from the language flowing around her what does that do to her experience of this space? It brings me back to communion. I am at home in mountains because I sense a communion, an intimate sharing of emotion with my Dad. Is this how we can create home – by developing a place where thoughts and feelings can be shared and accepted?
Half way through this blog I got up and put my earplugs in. I wanted, for a time at least, to inhabit Smiling Flower’s spaces more fluently. I haven’t done that for a long time and it made me feel stressed. I could sense Ben and Pete talking and felt irritated that I couldn’t immediately understand them. I found it difficult to switch to a purely visual awareness. Where was each child, what were they doing? All my auditory clues were gone. I missed the background hum of the radio. However, immediately, I felt more connected to Smiling Flower. I was instinctively watchful for her communication and less distracted. I imagine, at breakfast that day, she felt at home and enjoyed inhabiting a shared deaf space. In toddler sign, that was probably, quite simply, ‘I am here, Mum is here with me.’
I am not sure how to juggle and interweave the spaces we create when it is just us, when we are socialising and when we are alone… I hope to improve my sign language, care less about others’ perceptions and sign, all the time. How stunning it would be if Smiling Flower’s home was a place where she always felt valued through language and always felt that her language was valid.