It took my daughter Serena a long time to decide just what she wanted to be when she grew up. Whereas my son was only four when he decided that he would be a dinosaur scientist, it wasn't until she was seven that Serena realized that her destiny in life was to be a folksinger. Happily she played the chords to her favorite song, "Michael Row the Boat Ashore," on my guitar.
Then came the Presidential campaign of 1992. Serena was eight. She sat rapt before the television listening intently to the speeches of both parties. After the summer's two political conventions, she realized that it wasn't a folksinger that she wanted to be after all...it was a folksinging Senator. By late fall, having heard all three Presidential debates, Serena was going to be President.
Her barrage of questions about how she could learn to be President and conversation about what politicians do kept up for a long time. My husband and I were convinced that our daughter might go into politics when she was older.
In the late spring of that year, Serena went out with her father to pick early snow peas from the garden. Coming inside with her basket of peas, she told me she was very interested in gardening. "That's wonderful," I replied. "You'll be a big help to Daddy."
Overnight Serena's interest must really have taken root, because the next day she asked me if I thought the gardens at the White House were too big for the President to tend, since the President is such a busy person. "Yes," I replied. "I'm sure there's a staff of people who take care of the White House gardens." "Well then, I won't be a gardening President," she told me. "I'll just be a gardener."
The desire to be a gardener was still but a tender shoot when Serena took a piano lessonjust a few weeks after picking those peasand realized it was a pianist she wanted to be! After that, a great enthusiasm for sports convinced her that radio sports announcing was the career for her. Then, at twelve, with a maturing understanding of people and events, Serena wanted to become a counselor for children with difficulties.
For Serena, childhood is a wonderful stage of life! Interested in everything, trying everything out, she sees the world as her plum, ripe for the picking. She believes in herself, as we believe in her. And since what people believe largely determines what they do, it is critically important that parents of blind childrenand other adults in the child's lifehave positive beliefs about blindness and what blind people can do.
If we are told (in a journal article or by a teacher of the blind, say) that blind children usually do not or cannot learn how to do a certain task, and if we come to believe that, chances are we will not give our child the experience or opportunity anyone would need in order to do that task. And chances are the child won't learn to do it. Imagine, though, if weand our blind childrenwere never told that they couldn't accomplish a certain thing. Imagine what the results might be if everyone believed that blind people could do anything they wanted to!
Well, I believe that and I think I have good reason for it. Each year my husband and I attend the National Convention of the National Federation of the Blind. There we have met or have heard speak, a blind high school teacher, college professor, mathematician, NASA scientist, chemist, car body mechanic, industrial arts teacher, transmission mechanic, Foreign Service officer, engineer, high-performance engine builder, and a man who sailed solo in races from San Francisco to Hawaii. Twice. And came in third.
These blind men and women approach life's challenges with a sense of excitement and creativity, asking not whether they can accomplish the task but how they will do it. Attendance at National Conventions and meeting blind people from so many walks of life have enabled us to see firsthand that blindness does not have to stop people from achieving what they want to achieve and that belief guides the way we bring up our daughter.
Sometimes in the professional literature I read the phrase "accepting the child's blindness." That word "acceptance" always causes me some concern; different people can mean entirely opposite things by the word "acceptance." To some, "accepting the child's blindness" means acceptingor coming to believethat because the child is blind, there will be limits to what the child can do, limits to what he or she can understand, limits to what he or she can learn. (They often refer to these beliefs as "being realistic.") It is easy to see what the effects of that kind of thinking will be.
When I consider the term "accepting the child's blindness," I think about accepting that the child is blind, learning and coming to believe that blindness need not stop the child from achieving what he or she wishes, and allowing, indeed insisting that the child learn the alternative techniques of blindness that will enable him or her to achieve the desired results!
Find a way, parents and teachers. Keep all the doors open. Glory in the exhilarating feeling of watching a child look toward the future and see only possibilities.
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