Editor’s Note: We welcome Courtney Tabor-Abbott as a new contributor to FamilyConnect. Courtney works for the Perkins School for the Blind, is a parent of two sighted children, and is willing to share her perspective and tricks of the trade as a mother who is blind.
I am a parent of two young children. James is 2 ½; Samuel is 7 months. Life with a toddler and an infant is crazy. My house can go from clean to total disarray in a matter of minutes. Between baby spit up and toddler potty training and infant diaper changes, there are more bodily fluids than any one human being should ever have to deal with. And frankly, the period from dinnertime to bedtime each night often feels more like a meltdown management system than a peaceful goodnight routine. Adding my vision impairment to the mix makes things even crazier sometimes. Spoon feeding an infant is tougher; cleaning up messes takes longer; and I’m beginning to spend a fair amount of time learning to detect lies from my 2-year-old who insists that his playroom is “all clean, Mama!” when really there are puzzle pieces all over the floor.
Being a blind mother is tough, frustrating, chaotic at times, just as it is for most parents. But being a blind mom is also pretty fantastic. Here are some of the things that make it special:
Lots of physical contact
Parents generally touch their kids a lot: to snuggle, to kiss a scraped knee, to wipe the spaghetti sauce out of their hair. For me, touching is my way of seeing. I touch my children all the time. When Sam is sitting and playing on the floor, I reach out and feel his little hands to see what he is holding. I rest my hand on the top of his head or the side of his face to learn where he has turned his attention to. When we’re eating dinner and I get the feeling that James might be doing something sneaky, I reach over and touch him to find him drinking out of his cup with a spoon or trying to get away with putting his feet on the table. Not gonna fly, kid.
I learn a bit about what my children look like by stroking their hair, tracing my fingertips down the bridges of their noses, resting my hand on their soft cheeks as I rock them before bed. When they laugh, I reach out and touch their cheeks to feel them smiling. Smile cheeks are the absolute best.
For me, blindness often means that things take me longer than they do for a sighted person. It took me a while to learn how to master a poopy diaper change, and it still takes me a bit longer than average to make sure everything gets thoroughly cleaned. Figuring out how to bathe a newborn who couldn’t support his own head took a while. Chopping up veggies to have with lunch takes a bit longer than it does for the sighted people I know. But the benefit to this is that my kids are patient. They have to wait sometimes and they are usually okay with that. We don’t live life in a rush, except maybe when I’m late for work and I’m trying to get my dawdling toddler out the door. We talk a lot about patience in our house, not because of my vision but because I think it is an important trait to have. The fringe benefit of having a vision impairment is that my children have learned about patience from day 1.
It Is Natural
Kids are accepting. They adjust quickly. And until they learn otherwise, the way Mommy or Daddy does things seems like the most natural thing in the world. James is an independent 2-year-old and has never really been a touchy-feely type, but he never protests when I touch his face or his hands. I’m sure this will have to stop eventually when he gets older, but right now it works for us. When I ask him to show me something, he is learning to bring it right to my hands to feel, rather than holding it up from across the room. He helps me too, without me asking for the help. When I’m cleaning up a spit up mess from his little brother, he’ll yell out, “More spit up on the floor Mama!” Now that he knows his colors, I have him help me pick out outfits for Sam to wear. When he rubs his fingers over the Braille in a book we’re reading, or begins swinging my cane back and forth along the ground shouting with delight, “Me walk like Mama!” it makes my heart catch in my throat a bit. This is the life they know, the life they will know for a long time. It will be different from the rest. It will be strange sometimes, annoying and frustrating perhaps as they grow. But it will be natural. I don’t expect my children to always like me, or to always want to be around me, or to always be okay with having a mom who is blind. They will deal with that as they go through the phases of their own lives. But for now, knowing that my vision impairment is as natural to my boys as loving them is natural to me is a really, really special gift.