Sign of Love This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


   On November 8, 1994 my brother and I were given the newsthat we had a new baby sister. I thought little about it at first, except for therealization that there would be another girl in the house, and the selfishthought that all kids have when a baby is born: Mom and Dad are going to be withthe baby all the time and buy her all kinds of toys. The next day my dad told methat Mom and the baby had to stay in the hospital for a test to make sure theywere okay.

The test didn't turn out well, revealing that my sister had acleft pallet, which meant there was a small hole in the top of the mouth. She hadto receive a trachea to help her breathe. The cleft pallet was fixed and todaygives her no problem, but they also found that she had hearing loss.

Ididn't think much about communicating with my sister that first year because, ofcourse, she was a baby and babies don't do much talking. My family and I madeseveral trips to a hearing center in Denver, which was more qualified to treat mysister than our small hospital. They tested her hearing and found that she hadsevere hearing loss. She had hearing aids molded for her, which really didn'thelp that much because, being little, she had a hard time keeping them in. And,even with them, she could only hear extremely loud sounds. My family decided theywere more of a hindrance than a help, and to this day my sister doesn't wearhearing aids.

Finally the trips to Denver stopped. My family buckled downand began learning sign language. I should correct myself about "myfamily," because my brother and I didn't want to sit down every night andlearn sign after sign. We were selfish and did our own thing. My parents, though,spent hours with my sister teaching her and themselves with homemade flash-cards.My parents even played sign language games, but I guess my brother and I were toocool for them.

Years passed. The summer before ninth grade my parentswere working, so it was up to me and my brother to take care of our sister. Thismeant getting her to summer school in the morning, cooking for her, and keepingher busy. Well, one day my mother asked us to sign something, and we failedmiserably. My mom was almost in tears, she was so upset that we didn't careenough about our sister. This hit me deeply, knowing how selfish and stubborn Ihad been. It was important to communicate with her. From that time on, thingschanged.

Watching her over the summer, I realized I needed to talk to her.I couldn't even sign basic phrases like "Where are you going? What time willyou be home? What do you want to eat?" and other questions I wanted to askbut didn't know how. My brother and I were responsible for her, and baby-sittingan eight-year-old is hard even when you can communicate.

My family and Istarted attending sign language classes at my sister's school. We sat down as afamily and watched sign language movies, and I guess my brother and I got cooler,because we played sign language games that turned out to be a lot of fun. Today Ican communicate very well with my sister, but I am not nearly as good as I shouldbe. As she gets older, I will learn more signs and be able to talk in depth withher. It brings a smile to my face when my sister signs something to me about oneof my friends, and they can't understand. I was in their shoes once, though, andit was no fun not knowing what my family was saying.

So if you have afamily member with special needs, don't put him or her aside. This person shouldbe the first thing on your mind. With me, signing should have come before school,friends and sports, but I was too self-centered to realize what I was doing. Inow see sign language as essential and fun. Plus, it's easy to learn once you setyour mind to it, so if you ever want to try a new language, try signing!




This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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