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When Messy is Enough: Seeing Beyond Inspiration

A mother who is blind shares some of the joys and frustrations of raising her young child.

I have not written a blog post in a very long time, almost a year, in fact.  My husband has asked me over and over again, “When are you going to write in your blog?”  “Will you please blog again?”  “Why haven’t you written in your blog?”  And I’ve had no good answer.

But I’ve been thinking about it.  There are answers; it just turns out they’re answers I don’t really know what to do with.  The first is that I seem to be suffering from a perpetual writer’s block.  My laptop is full of potential blog posts, drafts of anywhere from a paragraph to a few pages in length, all unfinished.  I took a break from them, lost that strand of inspiration, never returned.  They were all good ideas, good stories, and then I let go of them because I couldn’t remember what made me think they were worth it.

But the root of the issue, I believe, is that blindness, and parenting with blindness, does not always make me feel inspired enough to write.  During the early months of my son’s life, I wanted to be perfect.  Being a mother meant everything to me; being a mother who is blind was a source of pride.  It was scary and hard and sometimes heartbreaking, but the truth of the matter was, it was also a new and challenging and delightful adventure.  I wrote about that adventure because it brought me such joy, joy both in going the journey but also in sharing it with others.  The doubtful remarks from strangers and acquaintances about my motherhood only made me want to push on harder, more exuberantly.

“You have a baby?  That’s amazing!!”  “Thanks, but it’s not amazing; it’s just my life and I really love it.”

“How on earth are you going to do it?” “Well, it’s a lot like how anyone else would do it, and the rest I figure out along the way.”

“I hope you have a really great husband who can take care of the baby for you.”  Ugh; that one kind of made me want to throw up.  “I do have a great husband, but he works insane hours and I do a good amount of it myself.”

So … BOOYA!!

The author with her infant son
The author with her infant son

What’s It Like To Be A Mother Who Is Blind?

I still feel this way in many respects, but over time, the feelings have muted.  The joy in parenting has not.  When I walk into my son’s bedroom every morning and hear him say “Mama?” in his curious little voice, I can think of no sound in the world that is more precious.  When I watch him do a puzzle or shriek joyfully as he points out the letter B, I fill with pride for him and for what we have worked so hard to help him learn. When my fingers linger in his soft curls as we snuggle before bedtime, my heart sings of utter contentment and peace.  Being a mother is—most of the time—amazing.

But being a mother who is blind is not always amazing.  For a long time, this has been something I haven’t wanted to admit, something I haven’t wanted anyone to know about.  It’s a little secret I’ve held onto tightly because if I let that secret out, well, then I am just different.  I don’t want to prove those doubters right, don’t want to give them even a tiny sense that they might be right.  And for the rest of those who read what I write, I feel like not sharing something good or positive or inspiring is a letdown for them.  If the thoughts aren’t beautiful enough for others to love, then those thoughts should probably just stay inside for a bit.

Well, I’m trying to remember that this idea is a big load of garbage.  I’m trying to remind myself that my responsibility as a writer is not to show only the best parts of my complicated self. My responsibility is to be raw and whole, even if raw and whole sometimes looks boring or ugly or uninspiring, even if it maybe gives those people who doubt me a tiny sense that they might be right.  It is not that I have been untruthful; it is merely that when the truth seems ugly or dull, I have put it to bed in hopes that in the morning, it would have grown some prettier feathers.  Maybe gray feathers are pretty, too.

The truth is that being a mother who is blind is sometimes an incredible blessing.  Sometimes, it just plain stinks.  Sometimes, it just is.  Over this past year, my journey in parenting with blindness seems to be made up of little moments, all bringing different little pieces of truth:

Little Moments of Embarrassment and Laughter…

On more than several occasions this summer, I sent my son to daycare in a pair of simple khaki shorts.  I like jean and khaki-colored bottoms because they are easy to match with.  .  Then one day, my mother-in-law came to visit and saw my son in his khaki shorts.  “Those don’t match very well,” she said.  Huh?  It turns out that the khaki shorts weren’t khaki at all.  They were red, white, and blue checkered.  I had completely forgotten he even owned shorts of that pattern.  This made for a lot of mismatched outfits this summer, I suppose!  My dear husband apparently never thought it was important to tell me any of this along the way. … Little moments of embarrassment and especially of laughter.

Little Moments of Pride…

When my son was younger, I would spend every day during his nap or after his bedtime crawling around on all fours, picking up his toys.  Despite the methodical search pattern I developed over time, my hands would inevitably miss a toy or two along the way. This led to a lot of toe stubbing and a learned pattern of shuffling rather than walking through the playroom war zone to avoid tripping on scattered plastic farm animals. So as soon as he was able, I taught him to clean up his toys (good behavior plus damage control).  Now, with only a bit of verbal prompting, he puts his books on his bookshelf, his toys in the toy box, his puzzles in the bags we store them in.  My 22-month-old is a tidying master.  My hands, knees, and little toes are grateful for it, but so is my happy mama heart as I watch him.  Almost-two-year-olds aren’t typically this interested in cleaning up their toys. … Little moments of pride.

Little Moments of Frustration…

Transportation with a toddler is hard.  When you’re blind and can’t drive yourself places, it means switching a car seat from vehicle to vehicle depending on who is giving you a ride.  And if that ride is a taxi, it means lugging the 25-pound car seat on your back everywhere you go, while also holding a cane and a toddler’s hand and a diaper bag.  Luckily for me, I’ve avoided taxis thus far when traveling with my kid for this very reason.  But it takes a lot of really annoying coordination, a lot of asking for help when I’d rather not have to. … Little moments of frustration.

Little Moments of Awe…

Like most toddlers, my son loves to imitate others’ behaviors.  Sometimes, he likes to imitate mine, and often there are things I didn’t even realize he noticed.  He sometimes takes books off his bookshelves and runs his hands along the pages as if he is reading Braille, like his mama. When we returned from a walk one morning, he took my cane from my hand and began walking up and down our driveway, swinging the cane back and forth along the ground just as I do each day. … Little moments of awe.

Little Moments of Heartbreak…

When James and I read books together, he points to pictures and asks me what they are.  When he puts together a new puzzle, he tries to learn the picture on each piece.  When he colors, he wants to know the hue of each crayon.  When we go for walks, he points to things in the distance and asks, “What’s that?”  Unless I’ve had the time to learn or label all of these things beforehand, I have to tell him, “I don’t know, baby.  I’m sorry.” … Little moments of heartbreak.

A toddler on the floor with picture books
James looks at picture books on the floor.

Little Moments of Hurt…

My little boy has some speech delays and receives some early intervention services.  One morning, I spoke with the developmental specialist to discuss my concerns about his speech progress.  She mentioned to me that children often gain speech skills through direct eye contact with others modeling the speech sound formations.  Since I am his primary caregiver and am not able to provide this eye contact, she wondered if this could be part of the reason for his struggles.  I can assure you that this suggestion was not meant unkindly, and admit that I’d considered this idea on my own in the past.  Still, when someone else said it out loud, it wrestled up my deep-seated fear that my son’s struggle could be all the result of the one thing I can never give to him.  All the compensating, all the hard work to make up for what I lack, still might just not be quite good enough. … Little moments of hurt, and inner tears I’ve never shared with a soul.

Little Moments of Struggle and Victory…

For months and months, I struggled to figure out how to take James for a walk.  When he was little, I put him in a carrier, but he quickly outgrew it.  Pushing a stroller in front of me while also swinging a white cane is both unsafe and nearly impossible. All the research I did suggested that most people who are blind pull the stroller along behind them.  Well, it may have worked for “most,” but it didn’t work for me.  I fumbled along like an idiot and the stroller lost balance every time I turned a corner.  It was a mess.  I tried every stroller I could get my hands on, tried different techniques, all to no avail.  I got frustrated.  But it was summertime in New England and too freaking gorgeous outside not to solve this problem.  Then we bought a wagon.  It was the best purchase in the world, at least that’s how it felt this summer.  I can pull my son with efficiency and ease, and he and I are both happy as clams.  So happy, in fact, that after that first walk with the wagon, I nearly cried with relief and joy. … Little moments of struggle and of victory.

And this is what it all seems to be about.  Little struggles, little victories, big doubts and big smiles.  It’s finding ways to make things work, rejoicing at the beautiful parts, sometimes being caught in sadness or fear, and just living through it all because that’s what you have to do.  Being a blind mother has forced me to confront the things I really hate about myself; the things that hold me back as a person also hold me back as a parent.  It has allowed me to see some beautiful parts of myself, too.  I see what I can do with the bits of creativity and determination inside myself when coupled with a love for my son that is  more immense than anything I’ve ever known.  My blindness doesn’t make me inspirational, no matter how many people say it does and no matter how much pressure I feel to live up to that.  It shouldn’t.  It doesn’t have to.  My blindness makes me human.  Humans are lovely and ugly and defective and full of messy complexity.  And for today, messy complexity is enough.

collage of mother who is blind reading book with sighted child

You can read more from Courtney on her blog Through the Eyes of a Mom.

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