Blind Parent, Sighted Child

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.”