Blind Parent, Sighted Child

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Editor's note: During the holiday season, we sometimes forget about the most important miracles of life, our relationships with those we love. In this poignant post, Maribel Steel brings this home to us. Later this week, Mary Hiland continues this theme with a post about enjoying time with your grandchildren.

Playing with My Son

maribel holding baby

My four year old son scrambles from one activity to the next at our local playground. He knows I can’t see him properly, my vision faded years before he was born but he still calls out, "Watch me, Mummy. I’m over here." I turn my head to face the direction of his chirpy voice. "There! Now, don’t move your head." he says, "You’re looking straight at me." I praise his climbing ability, listening intently while praying, "please don’t fall off." The hands on my braille watch tell me it is time to move on, and I am relieved from blind-patrol duty in the playground. My son skips beside me and we walk towards the Kindergarten. "Can we play I spy with my little eye?" He asks. I smile. I love his passion for play, and how he can ignore my vision-impairment. I wish I could. "Ok. You first," I say, hiding my feelings of visual inadequacy. "I spy with my little eye," he trills, "something that is…green."

boy sitting on slide

Arriving at Our Destination

After a few guesses, we arrive at our destination and he helps me locate the special handle to open the child-security gate. He bounces happily into the Kinder playground, but I feel anxious trying to follow his disappearing trail. I can’t distinguish my son from the other children running past me. Which child is mine? Was that his voice calling "Mum, come and push me on the swing." The other mothers know I am visually impaired from retinitis pigmentosa and kindly watch Michael on my behalf, keeping me informed with running commentary on his changing activities. I appreciate their thoughtfulness.

Locating My Child in a Busy Place

To compensate for this lack of sight on my part, I find other ways to locate my child in a busy place - by dressing my son in bright contrasting clothing. Today, I look out for him in his green and white striped t-shirt, dark navy shorts. Yesterday, it was a bright red top and light grey trousers. I can relax a little, as my eyes travel around the yard to spot his bobbing yellow cap or flashing white runners. These things I do see. At other times, Michael springs up from behind and touches my hand, "I’m going over there now. Ok?"

Trials and Tribulations of Folding Paper

On some days, we sit together on tiny wooden chairs, at the round table, following his teacher’s creative instructions. Today, she is showing the little people how to fold and bend paper to make a paper plane. Michael asks me for sighted guidance but I have no idea how to advise him. We persevere together, awkwardly turning the paper this way and that. "Now, just fold along this line, then turn the paper over this way and then…" the teacher holds up her paper plane. The children sound impressed. "Which way, Mummy?" Michael asks, "is this right?" I reply as if none of this is bothering me at all. "What do you think, darling? Does it look like your teacher’s plane?" He seems happy enough to persist with the folding of paper unaware of his mother’s upset, holding back tears of deep frustration. Finally, the teacher comes over to guide him through the process. She touches my shoulder, my heart trips with gratitude as she kindly tells Michael, "Clever boy. That’s nearly right."

Sharing a Tactile Communication

Back in the comfort of our home, and away from scrutinizing eyes, I feel I can help my son more effectively in his education. We collect birthday cards and cut out magazine pictures, chatting about the images, pasting them into our own large scrapbooks, remembering the scenes on each page. I sing silly songs and tell stories and make up rhymes to spark his imagination as he learns about the world around us. We share a tactile communication: through puzzle play, clay molding, Lego building, baking cookies. My son learns to bypass my lack of sight by tracing shapes onto my open palm, knowing that when he does this, mummy can "see" the object by drawing it. His little fingers tickle my palm and I hold back tears of love for his thoughtfulness.

michael playing with tactile shapes

Wise Words to Last a Lifetime

One night, as I struggle to read his bedtime book, I put down the magnifying glass and give a deep sigh and say, "Oh dear, this is very slow, isn’t it, darling?" My dear young son jumps up from under the blankets, flings his warm arms around my neck, and says words I will never forget, "That’s ok, Mummy. Don’t ever give up. You can tell me one of your stories instead."


Topics:
Personal Reflections
Holidays
There are currently 8 comments

Re: Blind Parent, Sighted Child



Maribel,

What an excellent post! I was getting teary eyed while reading it. Children can be amazing in their acceptance and understanding. They are honest but not judgmental. We can all learn a valubel lesson from your post.


Re: Blind Parent, Sighted Child



Ahh Maribel...such a sweet and touching post... you captured it well, the angst of a mother who going blind and the unconditional love of her child that seems not to notice his mum's limitations. Beautiful! I strongly suspect that this developed some very special qualities in Michael and that you were the type of mum who made up for things in merry, creative ways! I believe our children have experienced many "gains" from having visually impaired mothers-they did not miss out on any of the things that really matter in life!


Re: Blind Parent, Sighted Child



thanks Empish and Audrey, I used to feel so sad that I couldn't help Michael in visual ways but his ability to find alternative ways to doing the same tasks with me was and still is, a great gift we continue to share today...these days too, I have accepted my limitations and rise to meet them with a grateful heart. 'Don't ever give up' is our motto! Thanks for leaving your comments...blessings to all and your families for christmas...Maribel


Re: Blind Parent, Sighted Child



My eldest daughter was born while I was stationed in Western Samoa as a Peace Corps volunteer. She came in to the world about dawn on Good Friday and we flew back to our home from the hospital in Pagopago 80 miles away on the American Samoa side. I remember the sense of wonder and joy early Saturday morning and recognizing her voice as the nurse brought her from the nursery for a middle of the night feeding. Other women on the ward had to be shaken awake to nurse their babies, but I awoke and sat up with open arms at the sound of her soft little cries. Later, at a baby shower for us and an Australian woman who volunteered at my school, a friend teased me by switching my daughter for the other new baby. I knew instantly the baby wasn't Angelyn. He was a solid little passive baby while Angie was light and active. Angelyn seemed to figure out that I needed to touch things to see them before she was talking in whole sentences. She would point at things if she wanted her father to look at something but would take my hand and put my fingers on the pages of her books on the pictures. My daughters had different reactions to how the public responded to us. Angelyn stormed in to the house at about age four to declare that a neighbor child had said I was blind. Her voice was filled with outrage. I asked if she knew what blind meant. She said no! But she didn't like the way he said it. I explained about how my eyes didn't work and covered hers with my hand and how her daddy could look and see like she did but I had to hear or touch things to learn about them. Kassia on the other hand was less embarrassed and more protective. Angie hated it when people stared at us. Sia would glare back at them. Kassia was about four too when the topic came up. I was folding laundry in the bedroom when I heard a chair scrape across the kitchen floor. I heard the clink of the ceramic lid of the cookie jar. I called out to her to say that dinner was in half an hour I didn't want her eating cookies. She stomped through the house stopping in the doorway to declare, "T.J.'s mommy can't tell when he gets cookies when she isn't in the room! She didn't think that was fair that I could. Our children accept it as natural that mommies do things differently and don't give it much thought until they start out in to the larger world and begin making comparisons. Angelyn hated that we had to walk everywhere and Kassia liked to give me running commentaries on everything she saw. Our walks were enlivened by a constant stream of description. I think generally though that my daughters are more compassionate and don't tend to judge others by their differences but by their good qualities. Kassia still gets impatient about people underestimating my capability and her children are startled when their friends are surprised that I am doing the laundry or cooking for the family. Angelyn has gone in to social work in her career particularly in areas of women's rights and safety. I am proud of both and my son, adopted while I was in Samoa is a competent blind man who works hard and supports his family. The love we give as parents outweighs whether we can see. Perhaps our habbit of listening more than looking is an asset to parenting.


Re: Blind Parent, Sighted Child



Thank you Quietwater - you have truly given us some wonderful insights from your own experiences. My daughter hid under the table for ages being as still as a mouse while I went about doing kitchen things and after a long time, I decided to end her little spying game by announcing "Come out from under the table, I know you are there." Her voice squeaked with amazement..."How did you know it was me?" I just felt her presence in the room, easy!


Re: Blind Parent, Sighted Child



Thanks to Maribel and the other peer advisors for your touching stories. When my son was about 2, years old, we lived in an apartment complex with a shared back yard. He was allowed to wander around the area, playing on his little riding toys. About every 5 minutes or so, he’d call out, I’m over here Mommy.” Later, when he was in Little League baseball, after a couple of innings, I took his little sister, Kara, over to the playground next to the ball field. In just a few minutes, I heard him yell from the outfield, “Hey Mom, you’re supposed to be watching my game.” Even though he knew I couldn’t see him, he wanted me to be there. As I think back, it’s a wonder I was never hit in the head with a fowl ball. Kara learned very early how to be my guide when we went to craft fairs and shopping malls. When she was a young teenager, before she could drive, we would walk to a pizza shop on a Friday night while my son and husband went to high school football games. We shared a lot on those Friday night walks. Later, when she was a young adult, we went to the state fare together with my guide dog, Sherry. We stopped at a restroom to get a drink for Sherry. When Kara filled the bowl and held it for her, she noticed a woman rudely staring. Kara very cleverly made it known that she thought it was rude by looking up and waving at the woman. My daughter and son have learned to respect people with disabilitiesand to accept our differences. Recently, I’ve taken my granddaughters to a movie, and they’ve experienced descriptive video and have come to expect it on my behalf. Sure there are many times when not being able to see them or to make eye contact with them has been hard for me, but I think they all have become more mature, sensitive, and caring people as a result.



Re: Blind Parent, Sighted Child



greetings friends. I am very interested when I read the blog. specially to know that all these frustrations we face together as mums. I have a 2 year-old son, and he learns to always put my hand on objects he's trying to point at and more. I'm also glad to read on here a comment from someone who worked in my home country samoa from Quietwater. please if you are seeing this message please I really like it very much to get in touch with youbecause you live here and you also know that most of the services which exist for blind parents overseas are not available here. what can be your alternatives and suggestions.


Re: Blind Parent, Sighted Child



Talofastar, I am sorry it took me so long to see your message, I haven't checked back on this blog for awhile. If you use Facebook, you can find me there to converse off this blog page or reach me for further help. My legal name is DeAnna Noriega. Quietwater is a name I use for writing because it is English for the name my great grandmother gave me in the Ojibwa language she spoke. I haven't been back to Western Samoa since 1977. My children are all grown up and have families of their own. My Samoan grandson even has twin daughters. If you don't have facebook, let me know and I will try to figure out some other way we can exchange messages more easily.


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