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Saturday, 9 March 2013

Confessions of a Blind Mother

Last week I did something I'd never dared do before. I took my children to London on my own. This might not seem like a big deal. Other mothers I know are always taking their kids out on days out, to parties, on shopping trips or to the swimming pool. But I have always found being alone with my children in public stressful and difficult. I do not have difficult children. Zac (age 6) is funny and affectionate. He likes to stay close in public and more often than not chooses to hold my hand. Raffy (age 8) is exuberant and full of energy. He is never still and always runs ahead, darting in and out of passers-by and jumping on and off walls. My problem is that I find it impossible to watch them both all the time. Raffy doesn't have to run very far before he is out of my sight and even Zac can vanish from view by taking a few steps backwards or to one side. They always look a little blurry and I can't distinguish them from other children of the same size and shape when they are more than a few metres from me.

As soon as they were old enough to walk I became terrified of losing them. Even the walk to school was frightening as they would run ahead and I'd worry that me not being able to see them meant that something dreadful had already happened to them.
Now that I have started thinking about my blindness in a more positive and proactive way, I have realised that I was approaching motherhood from a sighted perspective, obsessing about keeping my children in sight because that was what the sighted world expected parents to do. After the Madeleine McCann case, which happened when Raffy was 2, I became even more worried that something might happen to my children if I couldn't see them. (Of course I was also particularly interested in this case because Madeleine has coloboma like me.) I used to worry that I was a bad mother because I couldn't always see what my children were doing. But now I know that I am just a different kind of mother.

I have developed other ways of keeping track of them. When we are in crowded or dimly lit areas I get them to help me hold my cane and let them help me swipe it from side to side. We have even created a game where they have to try jumping over the end of the cane without touching it. This keeps them close whilst giving them some freedom. It also makes blindness fun. If I lose sight of Raffy I simply call his name. He has got used to answering and I use this sound either as reassurance or as a way of finding him again.  As he becomes more independent I let him go off on his own (within reason) as long as he tells me where he is going and knows where to find me again. We have both got very good at fixing meeting places and returning to them. This has helped us build a trusting relationship.  Zac has got used to describing things to me and sometimes plays at being my (talking) guide dog. He points out steps, kerbs and stray dustbins and he will always tell me where Raffy is when I ask him. Both boys are great at alerting me to approaching friends and acquaintances. My face blindness means I cannot even recognise good friends in unexpected contexts. But the boys can and they'll say, 'Look, Mum, here's Carolin' just as she stops to say hello.

I have always been open about my blindness with my children and this has helped me be more honest with myself. I wanted them to understand what I can and cannot see, why I do not drive and why it is important that they answer me when I call to them. But mostly I wanted to make sure that my blindness was not a taboo topic of conversation. They must not be ashamed of my blindness or think of it in a negative way. Sure, it is mildly annoying that sometimes we have to undertake laborious trips on public transport which would have been quick and easy in the car, but it is not a tragedy. I think I have done a pretty good job of convincing them that my blindness is not a bad thing. There is no denying that it makes me different from most mums, but it has also shown them that sight is not the only way of navigating the world.

(And as for our trip to London: we had a great time. No one ran off or got lost and we all loved the Churchill War Rooms. I especially liked the audio guide whilst the boys enjoyed the huge interactive displays.)

1 comment:

  1. I found this post fascinating. A perfect example of human adaptation and creativity. My son is an adult (21 years old) and your description of bringing your boys to London reminded me of taking my son into NYC. I am paralyzed and use a wheelchair. In the 1990s there were few parents that used a wheelchair. I got nervous when I went to NYC with my son but quickly learned how to keep my son close and safe. I found rooms in museums with only one entrance and exit. I found rooms with carpets and explained he could go anywhere where there was carpet. He would ride on m lap for blocks at a time. It took some effort and planning. Looking back my fondest memories of his childhood involved those trips to NYC we regularly took.

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