Braille Monitor June 2008
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by Eileen Rivera Ley
From the Editor: This tribute to Edwin and Magdalena Rivera was written by their oldest daughter, longtime NFB leader Eileen Rivera Ley. It is a moving salute to parents who got it right. We publish this brief essay at the time of year when we honor mothers and fathers, as a tribute to all parents who have raised disabled children with respect and high expectations. Here it is:
Days after Mother’s Day, 1967, my parents, Edwin and Magdalena Rivera, lovingly corralled us into our humble living room at 26 Siebert Place in Rochester, New York, for our first-ever family meeting. There were five of us children then. Edwin was almost six years old. I was four, Sandra three, Mildred two, and curly-topped Caroline was only sixteen months old.
“We have something very important to tell you all,” I remember them saying. “God loves our family very much. We are so very special to Him.” Mom continued, “That is why, out of all the families in the whole wide world, He chose ours for this most special blessing. He has sent us a very special present--a little angel of our very own. Her name is Suzanne.”
The Rivera children sat in awe at this incredible decree. Never did we sense the enormity of the responsibility at hand. Nor did we sense the tremendous worry our parents most certainly carried in their hearts.
They were going against all medical advice, bringing Suzanne home instead of institutionalizing her. After- all, this medically fragile child was expected to live only a few months.
We children on the other hand felt as if we had just won a million dollars. God had chosen us. He chose us for this incredibly important job of caring for this very special sister! We reverently gathered around as our mom placed this delicate and fragile five- pound bundle into our well-worn, seemingly gigantic baby crib.
In the following days and years we welcomed baby Susie into our home and hearts. We cooed to her, sang to her, did everything we could to make her giggle.
The fact that Suzanne was born into a family that already had two other blind sisters, Mildred and me, was never lamented. According to our parents, it was really no big deal. Blindness was our only struggle, and what was blindness compared to the serious disabling conditions Suzie faced?
As they taught us to cherish Suzanne, our wise parents held Mildred and me to the same standards as our sighted siblings. We had to do well at school, even though we could not see our books or read the board. They insisted we try rollerskating, sledding, and bike riding. (I never did get the bike riding, but Mildred did.
We were assigned our fair share of chores as well, just like every other Puerto Rican child was expected to do back then. Visitors to the Rivera home were sure to find us cleaning the kitchen, raking leaves, babysitting, baking cookies, delivering newspapers, vacuuming stairs, or doing laundry. There was no time for pity or petty excuses in this happy, hectic home.
Best of all, our parents encouraged us to share in caring for our special little Suzie, who by age ten weighed only eighteen pounds. We lovingly rocked her, bottle-fed her, bathed her, and changed her tiny diapers. We dressed her in most darling, doll-sized clothes. She never learned to talk or walk. Never once were words like “profoundly mentally retarded,” “severely deformed,” and “blind,” ever uttered in our home. To us, she was simply the most adorable, and angelic gift Mom, Pop, and God intended her to be.
In welcoming our dainty little sister into our lives, our wise parents taught us determination, teamwork, gentleness, resourcefulness, personal sacrifice, and unconditional love. They taught Mildred and me to keep our blindness in perspective. To Suzanne, (who incidentally celebrates her forty-firsst birthday this spring), but even more to our incredibly brave, wise, and faith-filled parents, we are forever grateful.