‘everything is funny, as long as it’s happening to somebody else’
I am remembering how, nearly thirty years ago, my sighted daughter gave me a new outlook on motherhood by helping me to see through her curious eyes. From the moment she could string coherent words together, Claire was able to bring obscure objects to life in my mind’s eye by describing them in child-like detail. She learned that if she placed something in my hand, or drew a particular shape into my open palm, it meant mummy could ‘see’ the thing she was describing or playing with. Mother and daughter kept in constant communication through touch, smell, sound and with the bantar of inventive descriptions. Little Claire was only too pleased to have constant interaction with her mother, and I had a child helping me with sighted tasks, making life easier, most of the time!
I was forever asking her to describe objects or find items in the house as my eager assistant. She ran up and down the corridor with galloping footsteps on countless missions retrieving the object I had requested from another room. We sifted through cupboards to find matching pairs of socks, pillow cases, earings or parts to favourite puzzles, turning everything into a game of hide and seek. Claire enjoyed these random challenges, it didn’t matter to my child that her mother couldn’t see properly and sometimes this was an added bonus for her: sticky hand prints on walls, crayons on clothing, cereal under her chair, were scenes brought to my attention only by family or friends. I felt a little embarrassed to have a messy house but at least I had an excuse and could conveniently ‘turn a blind eye’ to it, as my daughter did.
When her younger brother was born, Claire dutifully kept a close eye on his every move. Russell could not get away with anything, Warden-Claire was always on his case.
‘Not to touch Sussell, not to TOUCH! Mummy, Sussell’s being nordy.’
On peaceful afternoons, the three of us sat on the carpeted floor and looked at large tactile books or worked together fitting wooden pieces into puzzles. If I couldn’t see the images on pages in ordinary children’s books, I asked chatty-Claire to spell out words or tell us the shapes, colours or pictures being flashed past my face. My children loved being ‘mummy’s eyes’ but there were times when I needed a quick answer to finish a particular task and my daughter would go into a silly mood - rolling around on the floor, pretending not to hear my request. At these frustrating moments, I felt held to ransom by having to rely on the sight of one so young. The only thing that worked at these times, was to coax her with a bribe. On hearing the new game we were playing, her competitive brother pipes up, ‘I’ll help Mummy.’ And then I had both children scrambling and argueing to claim the promised reward.
One day while walking to the local shopping centre, Russell snug in the stroller and his four-year-old sister on duty by my side, I ask my observant daughter to look out for the street sign that begins with the letter ‘B’. I am confident that we are on the right track but am surprised when Claire suddenly pulls the stroller to a complete halt.
‘No Mummy, this street doesn’t start with the letter B,’ she states anxiously.
‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes, it begins with the letter S.’ Claire is adamant. She knows her alphabet. I know the points of the compass. I ask her to sound out the letters on the sign.
‘Ss. Tuh. O. Puh.’
I laugh, then explain the mystery for her. ‘Oh sweetie, that’s a stop sign for the traffic.’ She looks confused, and refuses to believe me. We search for the actual street sign and compare the two metal boards with their different shape, colour and letters so she knows for next time.
With her puzzled mind now clarified, we walk on to the large department store. My children suddenly scamper off with typical excitement, as if this expansive space is a glorified indoor playground. I search in vain to find them. Heads turn and sigh at me as I try to locate them, needing my children’s visual help to read price tags and clothing sizes. I can hear them, but where are they? I grab Claire by her cardigan sleeve as she sprints past, recognising her giggle and growl at her,
‘Claire, stop running around. Tell me quietly, what does this price tag say?’ Hoping for a discreet reply, I cringe as she yells,
‘DOLLAR SIGN. ONE. THREE. FULL STOP. NINE-FIVE,’ and wriggles free from my grip to hide once more with her partner in crime under another rack of clothing somewhere. I call for them both to come back, pushing an empty stroller and spend most of my shopping time as a super-sleuth, tracking their naughty giggles coming from under racks of ladies lingerie, then over to mens winter shirts. It is a hide and seek paradise for my children with a blind mother doing the impossible seeking. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry … little devils, just wait till I get hold of them again. Wondering how to go about this sighted task, I start to circle the isles, narrowing down the spot where I hear contriving whispers.
‘If you come out now, I’ll buy you both a lolly?’
Russell is first to come out from his hiding place and darts back into the waiting stroller like a joey scrambling into an empty pouch. Claire crawls out from underneath a dressing gown rack and resumes her angelic chaperone position with a sweet expression as if to show she had never left my side.
‘What well behaved children?’ says the lady at the front door.
My little cherubs grin from behind sticky lollipops and we glide past, a serene picture of happiness - with my empty shopping basket dangling on the handles of the blue and white-striped stroller.
‘Never judge another person until you have walked a mile in their shoes
– that way, when you do, you will be a mile away AND have their shoes…’