Editorial note: This post marks the initial post for our new Peer Perspectives on Vision Loss Blog.
In honor of Mother’s Day, Peer Advisor DeAnna Quietwater shares this tribute to her mother.
My mother was seventeen when I was born. I was the first of her five children. Six months after my birth, I was diagnosed as having congenital glaucoma. The prognosis was not good. My mother was told that I would probably be totally blind by age ten.
Back then, many of the surgical techniques which are used successfully today, did not exist. The primary treatment was a course of drugs administered in eye drops to control the pressure inside the eye. With each uncontrolled rise in pressure, irreversible damage was done. Unlike the adult onset of glaucoma the congenital form is painful.
Three operations to stabilize my condition were attempted between the ages of five and eight. The last of these left me without light perception, totally blind.
By then, I had two brothers who had normal vision, two and four years younger than me. My mother had no experience to guide her in rearing a child with a visual impairment. She had never known a person who was blind, nor were there any experts to turn to for advice. I was a lively child, curious about everything and independent in temperament. Mom decided that since she knew so little; the best plan was to stand back and let me discover what my limitations were.
Many years later, my mother admitted that there were times when she watched fearfully from the kitchen window as I ran full tilt in to a tree or backyard fence. She fought her natural impulse to rush out to the rescue unless I was hurt. She held her breath as I climbed trees, stood on the seat to pump my swing or played rough and tumble games with my younger brothers. Sometimes, she put aside housework to help me learn to roller skate or jump rope. Never did she impose her own fears for my safety on me. She always encouraged me to try new things, understanding that this was the only way I would learn to handle them. She didn’t want her fear transmitted to me, burdening me with another handicap to overcome in addition to blindness.
As I grew into a young girl, she taught me how to do housework, sew, and cook. This not only gave her an extra pair of hands around the house, but provided me a sense of competence and usefulness. I never realized that the reason she directed me through the steps of preparing a meal, from another room was because she found it difficult to watch me handling sharp knives or hot pans.
She worked to see that I didn’t develop “blindisms” [Editorial note— mannerisms such as repetitive movements of parts of the body such as eye rubbing, hand gestures, rocking, or swaying used to be called “blindisms”] which would single me out as different from my sighted peers. She gently admonished me to look in her direction when I spoke to her and to hold my head up high. She offered advice on which colors went together and looked best on me. She spent a lot of time shopping and sewing for me to make sure I dressed in the latest fashions. She taught me to feel confidence in my appearance and to take pride in good grooming.
She drove miles to take me to special camps and other activities with youngsters with visual impairments, so that I could practice such social skills as learning to dance. I could then take these skills and use them confidently back in my sighted community. Most of all, my Mother gave me the gift of freedom to try my wings. She held back from offering me comfort when I fell unless I was actually hurt, gave it freely when I needed it, and never intimated that she thought I might fall. My wonderful Mom understood that to truly love a child with a disability meant that she must suffer in silence through her own fears and doubts and let me go. She knew instinctively that if she tried to protect and shelter her little wounded chick; I might never reach my full potential.
I am now the mother of three grown children, grandmother of seven, married to a fine man and a woman with myriad activities in my community. I was the first in my family to obtain a college degree. I spent two and a half years serving in the Peace Corps and once climbed a ten thousand foot mountain. All of these accomplishments are mine because my mother was strong enough to let me run and play, to explore and to grow, just like her other four children without disabilities. She was always there to offer a hug or word of encouragement, but never there to teach me her fears. She was the wind beneath my wings.
Published in the Braille Forum, Volume xxxvi, May 1998, published by permission.