Friday, April 29, 2016

I Laugh Because...

On a listserve I'm a part of, another adoptive mama asked a very thought-provoking question about one of the most difficult aspects of blindness. I've removed any identifying information for her privacy, but I wanted to post the exchange here in my ongoing pursuit of education and advocacy. 

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Initial question:

Hi, I am in *** right now adopting a **-year-old girl... Her [obviously blind] eyes are drawing rude stares--gawking, really--and comments everywhere we go.

And what can I do about the endless gawking? I assume I cannot stop it, but how have you let it stop bothering you, when the very premise of the staring is that there is something so odd or unacceptable that all social niceties can just be cast aside?

I feel awful for her, and I feel awful for me. I don't know if the right thing to do is to accept this for what it is, and decide that if others don't like it, it's tough; or, to make her appearance more cosmetic and socially acceptable, at the expense of making her question herself.

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My response:

Hi *****,

When we brought our daughter home, her eyes were really damaged and she also carried her cane, so we got the stares. One little kid stared so hard he walked into my son, then got so embarrassed he ran into a girl's accessory shop to hide. We had to laugh!

Now I have learned to simply ignore the staring. People are just curious. If I happen to catch someone's eye, I'll smile at them or even say hello. I think my choice not to be bothered by it is what determines whether my daughter is bothered by it. If there is a particularly obtrusive person or if someone makes ignorant comments, we laugh about it later. 

As far as trying to cosmetically improve it, there are prosthetic shells that let in light. So that might be an option. And sunglasses, as others have suggested. But in all honesty, trying to fix it would be for your comfort, not for hers. I would wait until you can ask her what she would prefer to do with her appearance and then do that. If she is not bothered by stares, then maybe it's nothing to worry about. 

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Her direct reply to me (other people also responded but in the interest of brevity, I'm only reposting my direct conversation).

Hi Erin,

This is not a rhetorical question; I truly wonder how this is possible.

How do you laugh about ignorant comments or obtrusiveness? 

What seems most difficult about blindness to me--admittedly as someone with only [a short time] of experience parenting [a] blind child...--is how other people view them. At home with my... daughter, I see her as entirely normal, and her blindness impacts almost nothing I do, with the exception of my mentioning to her if the refrigerator or dishwasher doors are open. But as soon as we go out in public, much of what happens there serves to remind us that she is "different," and of course, this "difference" is never good. She almost never seems blind to me until other people treat her that way.

How could I laugh about something that feels far more like the problem than the blindness itself could ever be? Could you give me a few examples of what you do?

What I would really like to do is to protect *** from knowing that there are people out there who would make them disabled in a way that blindness itself does not. Perhaps this is impossible.

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Hi ****,

As a person with low vision myself, I've spent plenty of time being angry, frustrated, hurt, furious, sad, whatever about how other people treat us blind people. I've had people call me stupid, aloof, clumsy, faking, attention-seeking, and whatever else. I've had potential employers tell me there is no way I could do the job I was applying for, even though I'd successfully done it before. 

Do I like being treated like that? Of course not! Do I find it humorous? Of course not!

Then why do I laugh? Have you ever had life go so sideways that it goes into the realm of ridiculous? Have you ever had someone be so mean that you simply stop caring? 

Sometimes it still bothers me, but do you know what I've learned? It's their problem, not mine. They are the ignorant, small-minded people and I'd far rather be blind than that. 

So when the lady on the bus asks me if someone will die and donate their eyes to my daughter, I get home and just laugh. A laugh as in really?? Someone actually said that??

Or when the 58th person gushes and said she is so amazing and gets along so well and I'd never expect her to do so well, my daughter and I get home and we add it to our tally and we laugh. As in, can you believe so many people say such silly things?

Life is too short to let all of those things ruin my day. Yes, we advocate all the time to teach people a better way. Blind people are constantly educating others whether we want to or not. But it's going to take time for people to learn that ignorant comments, even well-intentioned ones are hurtful. And until that happens, do I want myself and my daughter to be miserable every time we go out in public? Or are those comments really just small annoyances, like a mosquito, that you can mostly ignore and laugh them off? I'd say that. Sure, I'd like to live in a world where no one judged me as incompetent based on my level of vision, but you know what? It doesn't matter, because I know I am smart, capable, confident, gracious and able to do anything I want, and so is my daughter. So their comments can't do anything to change that. That's why I laugh. I laugh because I'm stronger than their ignorance. 

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