My “J”-word is a bit of a stretch, but it’s the only way I could find to talk about an important subject without taking up another letter. So here we have “jab,” by which I really mean “point” and “poke.” Both actions are important in American Sign Language, more the former than the latter, however. Confused yet? I’ll explain.
Growing up we’re all told it’s rude to point. Pointing though, is an essential part of ASL vocabulary. You, me, he, she, and it, are all indicated by pointing. It took me a while to get over the ingrained sense of right and wrong; of needing to point but not wanting to. Now I do it all the time – and I get a lot of strange looks, particularly when Alex and I are out, pointing all over the place.
Poking, on the other hand, is a less-desirable way for a Deaf person to get someone’s attention. Alex loves to poke me with a sharply pointed finger, especially when he wants something he can’t have. Normally, a tap on the shoulder is used. Coming into physical contact with other people, even strangers, is natural in the signing world. It’s necessary. The other day in a coffee shop, I was watching a lady who I know is Deaf, trying to get through the line-up for the counter; she was on her way out. Her shoulder-taps were met with a mixture of surprise and, in one case, almost hostility. All she could do was smile and try to look friendly. The people in line had no way to know she was Deaf, and probably wondered why she didn’t just say, “excuse me,” like any civilized person would.
Alex is still small enough that he can get away with a lot of things in public. He smiles at people and they smile back. He touches them and it’s innocent; he’s still only a little above four feet tall. I’m not sure he’ll grow much more in height, but he’s bound one day to grow facial hair. When that happens, he’ll go from cute to uncivilized in the eyes of society. It’s difficult, even for a mom, to explain away.
My A to Z theme concerns the joys and challenges of being the hearing mother of my Deaf son, Alex. To learn more about his beginnings in life, click here to go to my first A to Z entry.