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Parenting while blind

When you can’t see your sighted toddler, parenting is a series of unforgettable moments of pride, frustration, heartbreak and awe.

Courtney and her two children

Courtney Tabor-Abbott, who is blind, is the mother of James, a sighted toddler. This is an edited version of an essay she wrote last year about her experiences as a parent when her son was 22 months old.

What’s it like to be a mother who is blind? The truth is that being a mother who is blind is sometimes an incredible blessing. 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 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 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 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 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. Now, with only a bit of verbal prompting, he puts his books on his bookshelf, his toys in the toy box and 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.

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 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 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.

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.

Read an expanded version of this essay on the Paths to Literacy website.

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