Editor’s Note: This post is part of the Blind Parenting series created to provide visually impaired parents with first-hand accounts of how you can raise a child safely and independently. Today’s post from Beckie Horter relates her experiences in taking her child on a field trip.
Being a Normal Mom
I wanted to be a normal mom, and of course, that proved to be a problem. If, by “normal,” I thought seeing 20/20 was the measure. Because I didn’t see 20/20, that is. I was legally blind but coping quite nicely…or so I told myself.
I had been parenting my son for over six years and felt comfortable in the routine. I felt proud of my management of this strong-willed child, like I had it all down. So I went ahead and signed up for a “normal” parenting activity: helping with the class field trip. My son was excited, and I was happy to give him this memory-making trip.
But here’s the thing, I forgot about my vision loss. You can become so used to it that you don’t remember that your vision is not “normal.” Imagine! Learning to accept something as devastating as vision loss. When you first experience vision loss, acceptance feels a million miles away. But over time, you adapt, and, after some years pass, you forget about how new situations challenge your vision. You were aware of it at first. But now you’ve become acclimated.
Thus, you step into situations feeling confident, because you have built a workable life around the disability. Then something trips you up, and you get a fresh reminder of why your life is structured the way it is.
I Don’t See Like Other People Do!
Because my vision loss is central due to Degenerative Myopia, I walk about and appear normal to the outside world. My peripheral (side) vision is good, so mobility is generally not a problem. Central vision is responsible for details and distance. Consequently, recognizing faces, reading small print, and seeing at any distance (even a slight one) poses problems. Driving is out of the question, but with a school bus trip, I felt I could manage. Especially because my smart little boy promised to help. Also, I had alerted the other parent-helpers, one who was a friend, and was assured they could step in if necessary.
Upon entering the school office, I was immediately hit with a sign-up sheet I could not read. My son told me what it said and where to sign. This was my first reminder.
Moving on to the classroom, I was handed a list of children in my group. Again, it had fine print I couldn’t read and no time to pull out my magnifier. My son read this to me as well.
How much reading will I have to do on this trip? I wondered.
Once my little group of five students gathered around, we made our way, “single file!” to the bus. We took off for the big city museum, a 40-minute drive.
Developing a System for Identifying Kids
While the kids commented on the different scenes we passed, I was mentally making identification notes on each one in my group. I noted their height, hair color, clothing, and voices in order to pick them out later in a crowd. For example, I identified Rachel by her long blonde ponytail, and Robert’s identifying marker was his yellow striped shirt. Not a perfect system, but it is usually effective.
I soon needed that information as we disembarked at the museum. We were immersed in a crowd of busy children who were tempted to break out of the pack to see something of interest. Whoa!
Organizing the Group
“Stay with me!” I cautioned. I also told them to come to me at various exhibits by showing them where I’d be standing. In other words, I shared the responsibility for getting us back together. And they did very well. Lots of verbal instruction helped ease the situation.
A few times I had to ask another adult if they saw one of the kids (there’s one in every group). The girl temporarily slipped out of my view because she wanted to talk with her friend who was in another class. We quickly tracked her down.
The Best Field Trip Ever
Lunchtime in the basement of the museum brought me face-to-face with my little charges. A happy time for all! I got to enjoy their personalities and enthusiasm over what they’d just seen. The Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood Exhibit seemed to be a favorite.
“This is the best field trip ever!” one boy in my group said.
My son enjoyed himself too. Once we got back on the bus, we did a head count for the entire class. When everyone was accounted for, I began to relax. My anxiety dissipated in the chatter of kids living in the moment. It turned out to be a memory-making trip after all.
Did I learn my lesson about remembering my visual limitations before diving into new situations? Yes, but it didn’t really stop me. I signed up for two more field trips during my son’s elementary school years; Each with their own challenges, each with their own rewards.
Through them, I learned to communicate clearly, to ask for help when needed, and to have a plan in place for unforeseen situations.
Best of all, I got to experience my son’s childhood to the best of my ability. He got to have his mom there. Everybody stayed safe. And, I got to share my success with you!