“Why are you doing that, Lydia?”
She turned around, still standing with her arms pressed to her sides like some kind of duck.
“Doing what?” she asked.
“Why are you standing with your arms pressed to your sides like some kind of duck?”
She looked down, flapped her elbows a few times, and then looked back up at me. For a second she seemed to still be confused, but then her expression changed. “Oh! You mean, why am I standing here with my arms pressed to my side like this?”
“Right,” I sighed. “What in the world are you doing?”
She was suddenly very excited. Her little head tilted and she leaned towards me at what seemed to be an impossible angle. “Well! You see, I’m doing my stretches.” She bowed, much like how a skinny chicken might bow. And then one at a time she brought her hands away from her ribs and showed them to me. “You see?” Only her pinky and index fingers were extended. “It’s hard for me to do this with my fingers, so I’m trying to get them used to it,” she shrugged, “You know, just in case.”
I shook my head. “Okay. Um, actually, no, I don’t know. Why? Just in case of what?”
She looked perplexed and glanced around as if the reasons were completely obvious and she was hoping someone else was nearby to explain it to me. There was no one else, so she finally she explained. “What if I ever have to do this,” she held out her thumbs and lifted her hands up above her head and waved them back and forth, “Right?
“You know, to say ‘I love you’ to a room full of deaf people!”
I had been expecting nonsense. I admit my eyes were already half rolled preparing for whatever ridiculous answer she was about to produce. But I was not ready for this. The sincerity and honesty of her answer caught me off guard. I looked deep into her eyes and I saw something change inside of her as if at that moment a tiny part of her fell away so that some other part of her could grow taller.
You see, she had thought this through. What would happen, she had asked herself at some point, if I needed to tell a deaf person that I loved them. I would have to hold my fingers like this in the sign for ‘I love you’. And that’s hard for my hand to do, of course. Oh no, but it’s even harder to do with my other hand. But why would I ever need to say ‘I love you’ with BOTH of my hands? Maybe it’s okay to just say it with one hand? Well sure, she had debated with her self, but what if I am on stage somewhere and there is a room full of deaf people in front of me and I want to clearly say ‘I love you’ to ALL of them? What will I do then? My fingers will not stand up correctly, and this room full of people that I dearly love will never know! So, here’s what I will do, I will develop an exercise routine to help stretch my fingers. Every day I will walk around with my hands stuck to my sides in order to force my fingers apart. Then when the moment comes, I’ll be ready.
I motioned for her to come closer and then pulled her in for a hug. “Sweetheart, if you are ever in a situation where you are standing in front of a room full of deaf people and you want them to know that you love them, I assure you, they will know.” I pulled her away and ran my hand through her hair, “But go ahead and keep stretching.”
“Thanks, Dad.” She smiled and hopped in a circle, slapping the floor with her bare feet. Her hands were already back in their positions, pressed awkwardly against her sides. She flapped her elbows a few times and then darted up the stairs.