Sighted Student and Blind Parent-Both Get Educated

How do blind parents educate their sighted children in the student life, and what do they learn from the children?

Like all parents I was elated when I held my bundle of joy for the first time and like every other parent, I learned that parenting did not come with an instruction book. As the years have passed, I have learned far more from my children than they have learned from me.

Before School

When my son was very young, I loved reading to him and I read to him voraciously because I knew that someday I would not be able to. That time came when he was about three and a half years old. Of course, I knew every story by heart and he did too! I remember opening one of his favorite books and as I was stumbling along reading from memory. He said "Mom, you skipped some words". For a moment, my heart sank but then I asked him to tell me what I missed.

Story time changed after that for both of us. I began writing the stories that I read to him and encouraged him to help me make up the characters. That was the beginning of some of the changes that were headed our way.

I decided I would be proactive as a parent and teach him to read before he started school. As time passed he started reading to me when it came time for bedtime stories.

Primary School

When it was time for him to go to school, I faced every fear and joy that most parents do. The worst was that dreaded homework. What if I could not read well-enough to help him? I was reliant on him to tell me what he was supposed to do. Occasionally he skipped some of the directions but all in all it worked out fine.

I attended school conferences diligently and kept the communication open between the teachers and myself. They did not know that I was visually impaired until I had to fill out papers or sign documents. I remember my son piping up and saying, "Mrs. Wynn, just put your finger where you want her to sign." The look on her face was incredulous. She said, "Mrs. Wilcox you can't read?" I told her I could read just fine, I could not see. Something changed for me in that moment and the true education was about to begin. I noticed that she began talking to me in a slower, more enunciated manner possibly a decibel or two louder. I gently reminded her that I was blind not deaf.

Middle School

Middle school rolled around and the homework became harder. I felt like the student and in many ways, I was. It was hard to read the math problems and even harder to read the textbooks. One of the things that made it easier was that by this point homework assignments were posted online on the school's website and there was a homework hotline. If he tried to skip a subject he couldn't because the hotline told me about all of his assignments and when they were due, allowing me to plan ahead. I would get his homework assignments, print them off and enlarge them on a copier so that I could help him when necessary.

Most schools have a mentoring program or tutoring program that offers your child assistance with homework problems or areas they are struggling in. I was lucky, my son was a great student and excelled but when it came to areas he struggled in I was never afraid to call in the troops. My friends were great for helping me with things I could not read. Over time it became easier because there were more software programs available and visual aids.

Education in Everyday Life

The academics became the easy part. The real problems came socially. My son's life was affected because I could not drive, shuffle him around to sporting events and social activities. My friends and family helped but I know his life could have been more fulfilling in that area. There were events he missed. His father helped out as much as he could with transportation and homework but I know that my son felt isolated at times. This was also the time I began mobility training. I am sure he felt some peer pressure because his mother had begun to use a white cane. I know there were friends at school that asked him questions and said some things that upset him. I reminded him that life's education did not happen just in the classroom. I hated the pressure it put on him and spent lots of hours thinking about all of the things he missed out on because of me. So many times I felt like I was holding him back.

When he was younger he asked me a thousand times why I did not drive. I reminded him that I did not see well enough to drive. I stopped driving when he was four years old. What I did not tell him was that on my last couple of trips out I scared myself because I could no longer see separate lanes. I had traveled the same routes for so long the car seemed to drive itself but I knew when it was time to stop. I had been a fly by the seat of your pants girl when I was younger but could not risk the lives of others. I know he had a hard time understanding that. I know there were many times he wanted to go somewhere or do something but did not ask because he knew I would have to make special arrangements.

We did have some great times walking places together. There is a special bonding that takes place in those daily moments we all take for granted. We walked and talked many miles through all kinds of weather both literally and figuratively.

Shortly before his 16th birthday I asked my brother to teach him to drive. They no longer offered driver's education in the public schools and the waiting list for driving classes was a long one. He was not as excited as I thought he would be and for a long time I never understood why. I think somewhere in the back of his mind he thought he was leaving me behind. He did not understand that all parents want their children to soar.

Before Leaving for College

My son graduated valedictorian of his class when he was 16 years old. I could not have been more proud of him but for some reason I was far more excited than he was. He had been applying at several different colleges in the prior year. I asked him where he thought he would go. He had been looking at a few colleges and universities in Florida because he wanted to pursuit an education in Marine Biology. I never let it show, but I was apprehensive about sending my sixteen-year-old son a thousand miles from home. I would miss him but my greatest wish was that he pursuit and fulfill his dreams. He said he thought he would go to Ohio State University. I knew it was because he worried about me and wanted to stay close to home. We had a few words about this. I reminded him that I would be fine. He said, "but Mom, what if you need help with something?" I told him that I had it covered. He knew I would say that. He smiled and said, life's education comes from more than the classroom.

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