Editor’s note: This post is part of the Blind Parenting series created to provide visually impaired parents and grandparents with first-hand accounts of how you can raise a child safely and independently. In today’s post, Mary Hiland shares the importance of teaching children how to interact with individuals who have low vision and how to build positive relationships.
A Grandma’s Thoughts
By Mary Hiland, grandmother of five beautiful girls
I began my career as “Grandma” in 1998, when my son’s first daughter was born. After a couple of months, they decided to go to a movie, and my daughter, her boyfriend, and I baby-sat. The new parents were nervous of course. We teased them about having three adults to take care of one little baby, but it was the first time they had left their little treasure. All through the evening, we took turns holding the baby, but when my son and his wife came home, the baby was asleep on my shoulder. Talk about a proud grandma moment.
My son’s family, which grew into two little girls, lived about ten minutes away, so once a week I would have my son and his family over for dinner. We called it Grandma Night. Mostly, I cooked for the adults, because the girls were very picky, opting for baked potatoes in the microwave, but my son helped put the meal on the table and always cleaned up. Even today, when I have them over, we have this routine. I do the cooking and get everything prepared, and then my son makes sure the meat is done or the rolls are browned and serves everyone.
Many times after dinner, especially when the kids were really little, I played “rock school” with them. It was a simple game I learned in kindergarten about a hundred years ago. The two little girls would sit on the bottom step, and I would hold out my fists to them, each in turn, hiding a small rock in one. If they tapped the fist holding the rock, they got to move up a step or one grade. Whoever got to the top step first got to be the teacher, and then I took my place on the bottom step with the loser. When it was their turn to hold out their fists to me, they learned to hold their fists in such a way that I could tell where they were. It might have been their first lesson in understanding blindness.
Easy Games with Braille
As they got a little older, we progressed to playing simple card games and other games I would pick up at garage sales. Buying toys at garage sales is a good idea because you never know if those expensive toys are going to please or not. Sidewalk chalk and play dough were popular, so we would sit down and make our own creations together. I would also invite them to help me prepare the dinner by stirring the cake batter and later reading me the directions.
Putting Forth a Little Extra Effort
I desperately wanted to be part of their lives, but I was rarely invited to join their family for school or sporting events. Instead, I invited them to go with me to things I enjoyed like The Nutcracker and The Lion King at the big theaters downtown. We also went to college productions, usually with my son dropping us off and picking us up afterward, so we would have some quality time together, and they learned how to walk with me as my sighted guide.
Teenagers Are Actually Easier
Now that both girls drive, I initiated a routine that I hope will bring us closer. Once a month, we go out for lunch on a Saturday. They come and pick me up, and I pay for lunch. I also include some kind of activity for us to do together. Last month, we went shopping for a baby doll for their two-year-old cousin. This month, we will make buckeyes after lunch, and they will get to take half of them home. Last month I felt like I had finally arrived at a solution for the distance I had been feeling between us. The younger granddaughter, who just got her license, picked me up in her car and all the way to the restaurant she chattered. It was the most words strung together that she has ever spoken to me. Maybe she just needed a little time with me alone.
Daughters Are Different from Sons
My daughter has been much more sensitive and diligent about nurturing a relationship between her daughters and me. All three of her girls greet me happily when I come in the door. Unlike my son who lives nearby, she lives in a different state. It takes two plane-rides to get there. She makes sure they each give me a hug, and then we settle down with a cup of tea and catch up with whatever is going on in our lives. The oldest daughter, who is now 15, usually makes the tea. We eat together as a family, and we often play games after dinner or on a Sunday afternoon. Sometimes we play Scrabble, and I also have Brailed Uno cards and other card games so I can participate fully. I bought a game that is totally tactile so I can play it with the younger ones. My daughter and I, along with her oldest girl, also enjoy taking walks. One time, the oldest girl and I walked on a snowy trail just the two of us. My daughter drove us there and picked us up at a designated time.
My daughter has taught them by example to tell me when they are leaving the room and when they have returned. They put things into my hands instead of holding them out to me—they have all done this since they were little kids. The littlest one learns from watching her older sisters, but her mom also coaches her. Our biggest problem with the two-year-old is keeping her from being too rambunxious with my dog guide. My dog likes children from a distance, probably because we don’t encounter them that much. My daughter’s children like me and respect me. It’s such a joy to be with them. I’ve been on a cruise with them and had a wonderful time, and this spring, we are planning a trip to Disney World in conjunction with a home-schooling convention. I’m sure that if I lived near them, I’d be included frequently in their family activities. For that reason, when the time comes for me to give up living independently, I’ll look into housing near where they live.
Because we as blind grandparents are not the norm, we can’t expect our grandchildren to do everything right when they are around us. They need to be taught to speak up, to include the grandparents in their activities, and not to be afraid of them because they are a little different. They need to be taught that their blind grandparents are still their grandparents first, and should be treated like any other grandparent with love and respect. I believe that the parents of our grandchildren are charged with teaching their children just as we taught them when they were young. We educate the public every day, so it stands to reason that we should not forget to educate our own families. As for my part in this interaction, I strive to be honest about my blindness and not let it get in the way of a happy relationship.