a light…

and a smile…

When I was in high school (go Wildkits!), I took two semesters of American Sign Language. I really enjoyed the classes and learned so much. I still remember many of the frequently used signs to this day.

Amazingly, sign has followed me everywhere since my high school days in the mid-90s.  I have had to use ASL (American Sign Language) at every job I’ve had since.  I have been able to support Deaf clients if they needed assistance as the sole person on staff that knows any sign language.

As I got older I decided that one of my lifetime goals is to become a ASL interpreter and/or instructor. When I became pregnant, I knew that sign would be a learning tool I would use to teach my baby language skills. Needless to say, I have now begun to do some of that more recently with my daughter, Ahimsa.

It all started quite by accident. I took Himiwe to work with me. I was telling one of my  favorite co-workers that baby had recently discovered that she has hands and thus has started to play and suck on them non-stop. My co-worker began entertaining and playing with baby while I was stressing out about what folks tend to stress out about at work. My co-worker began showing her how to count in sign language. “1…2…3…4…,” and so on. Himiwe lit up and just laughed the entire time (a million thanks Letty).

Now, have you ever had to just stop life for just one second?  Stop and smell the flowers, coffee, or whatever clichéd phrase folks use to articulate “slow the funk down.” It was such a beautiful sight, I vowed to change the way I looked at my life as a working mama and try to remember what my ultimate priority is; that my child has a meaningful and happy life. Since then, I make it a priority to spend a little bit of time each day to show her what else she can do with those hands she loves so much.

Yesterday was no different. In middle of a meltdown and pacing through the house, something above caught Ahimsa’s eye as we walked through the living room. Baby became so focused and quiet that even I had to look up and see what she was staring at. It was the overhanging light and its 6 bulbs we have in our front living room.

I explained to her that what she was seeing was a “light” and that we use light to illuminate or to make our way, our path, our spaces more visible. I explained that I turn on the light next to our bed sometimes so I can see her better in the night. I showed her the light I turn on to see my way to the bathroom so I don’t trip over all the clutter by my desk. I told her about the big light outside, the sun, that isn’t out right now making everyone in Chicago cold and sleepy.

It was then that I made the general sign for “light” after pointing to the bulbs above us. With that, my baby made the biggest smile I had seen from her within the last few days. Every time my fingers expanded her face would light up and that little gummy smile would appear only to disappear when my fingers went away.

We went to every room, discussed every light, counted each bulb and signed for each light for what seemed like forever. I couldn’t get enough of that smile!

My Smart Hands is a website and company founded by mama Lara Berg to assist folks in showing how to use baby sign language as a way to cognitively engage their hearing baby and/or toddler. I love MSH’s mission:

Our mission is to bring a better understanding to parents, educators and children of the value of visual communication early in life.  Promoting ASL as part of a dual language to the hearing community can act as a bridge to more meaningful communication in our homes, our schools and our communities.

MSH’s website is also great! It has a dictionary where you can look up the words you’re interested in and see the founder sign them for you. And for those who have an iPhone, My Smart Hands now has a phone application. It was featured on the Daily App Show. I don’t have an iPhone (yet) so let me know how it works for you if any of you decide to get the application.

Working 40+ hours a work is very difficult but knowing that when I come home Himiwe and I have something very special to share really helps me to get through the day.

Whatever you choose to do with your baby to facilitate their learning, let it be out of LOVE!

May your life be full of light and smiles!