Can you hear me?

My kids are grown and gone now, and my house is very quiet. But a few years ago it wasn't like that. The walls resounded with banging doors, stomping feet, screaming and hollering, laughter and crying.

They showed their love by pinching and hitting, poking and jabbing, arguing and fighting. No conversation was ever quiet and arguments abounded over the slightest misdeed. Who ate the rest of the cereal, who took the last cookie, who drank the pop, who took my toy, where's my baseball glove, who changed the channel, where's my shoes, why can't they leave me alone, get out of my way, I had it first, why, why, why, screaming and shouting laughter and uncontrollable giggles, etc, etc, etc.....this was the language of love in my home.

Hardly a day went by that I wished my name was Aunty Sue instead of Mom, and bed time never came soon enough. Mom's taxi was emblazed on my beat up jalopy. Our phone rang constantly, the door bell was worn to a frazzle, and my fridge door was falling of its hinges.

But every day, I thanked God for the noise. Alister  taught me that!

I met Alister, when he was only four. His little life had been filled with mountain tops . His days were spent wrapped up in a world that only he could  penetrate. There was no noise, no sounds. Alister was hearing impaired.

Angie and  I  had gotten to know each other at a soccer game where our oldest children were portraying their greatness, and we were discussing hospital visits. I conceded her victory over the most emergencies and we became fast friends. All the time we chatted she jumped up and down to rescue Alister from one disaster after another. I soon learnt that Angie's heart was slowly breaking over the silence of her youngest child's world.

Alister's developmental skills were hampered by autism, it was later discovered. He was tested to see if there was any hearing and the results came back negative.  He seemed to be allergic to every chemical known to man. A new detergent, dish soap, bath soap, could send him off, running and laughing hysterically throughout the night, leaving him and his mom exhausted to face a new day.  A tiresome journey for his mom and dad  that left them physically and emotionally drained.

He had a charming personality and could easily win you over with his charming little smile and big blue eyes. A sweetheart if I ever saw one, and to most he appeared to be a normal little boy. But each day brought new problems. He learnt how to open doors to escape the safety of his home and as the locks moved up, so did Alister. Chairs, stools and eventually ladders were utilized to help expedite his trip out the door. And his fascination for lights, became a constant trial for his parents. One night, when Alister was 5, his Mom found him hanging precariously off the kitchen counter unscrewing the light fixture from the ceiling.

Alex and I become good friends. Every time he saw me, he came and held my hand and in his own way of communicating begged me to take him with me. I often did, with Angie following not to far behind. I would take him to my home. Once there, he would run wildly through my house, collecting the little toys and treasures I  left there for his amusement.

I had a hard time remembering that he was deaf. He would unplug my lamps, and run and  look for a new place to plug them in. I would holler and shout to no avail. He ignored me, much the same as my own three children did. I felt the pressure of caring for a handicapped child as I tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to explain to Alex that he might electrocute himself.

I took the time to learn some signs. I bought a book on sign language and carted it with me when Alister was there, thinking I could somehow make myself clear that he could not ransack my house. But all the signs I used were negative. "No, don't touch, bad boy!". What I really wanted to tell him was that in spite of his attraction to my best china, I loved him dearly and wanted  him to be my friend. That was not in the book!

New problems seem to crop up every day for Alister and his family. The teachers at the school he went to, didn't get much eye contact and its hard to teach a hearing impaired child anything when he won't look at you. Angie and Phil took him out of that school when they got his report card and he failed scissors.

One day Angie and I were talking about Alister's disability. She told me she often wished that she could have a normal conversation with him, and I understood that feeling. But for the hour a week I felt that couldn't possibly compare to the days that went by that she struggled with just saying "I love you".

Sometimes, he would sign wildly to his mother out of desperation to be understood. The signs were unrecognizable and meaningless.  And Angie, frustration overcoming her, signs wildy back at him... "I can't understand you, what do you want? What are you saying". One day Angie found Alister perched on the counter top in his bathroom signing frantically and waving his finger at the stern image in the mirror. She wondered, in horror, if the only communication she was getting across to Alex was negative!

From that moment, she made a decision to try a different tactic. She needed to communicate with him in a positive confident manner and hope that soon she would see some positive results.

She needed to encourage him to focus on people and language in what ever shape it would take. The whole family joined in the game, hoping to get Alex's attention. Every time he made a noise, they covered their ears and signed "I hear you", and laugh to let him know how happy they were. They signed, even the negative words, with a smile on their face. They showed him how much they loved him and tried desperately to draw him into the family. They slammed doors and reacted, they shouted and signed to each other, "I hear you". And they waited.

One day, Alister  was startled when his mom slammed the garage door. He turned and ran to his mom and wiped away the tears of joy that were running down her face. He signed, "I love you".

No one knows for sure if Alister heard the noise or just felt the vibration that day, but no matter what, all of us cheered him on.

How often we take for granted the noises our children fill our homes with and how easy it is for us to ask them to be quite while we sit and watch our weekly sitcom on the never silent TV. Songs we could have stayed and listened to, stories we could have read, and games we could have played,  but we were much too busy cleaning the house, reading a book, or watching TV.

Alister made me think. Maybe parents  are like Alister and the hearing impaired, and children are like Alister's family.  Banging doors, stomping feet, screaming and hollering, laughter and crying and saying "I love you"are the way our children are begging for us to hear!