Future Reflections         Convention Report 2008

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Twenty-Five Years of Parent Initiatives

by Jim Beyer

Jim BeyerBarbara Cheadle: Thank you, Laura. We are coming now to our final panelists. President of the POBC chapter of the Montana affiliate of the NFB and a member of the national NOPBC board, here is Jim Beyer, who will speak and then introduce his daughter, Lauren.

Fourteen years ago my wife Gwen and I noticed something peculiar about our four-month-old daughter Lauren. We took her to the local doctor, who referred us to the big clinic in Portland, Oregon. The doctors there told us that she was severely blind and that there was no fix. They assured us that she would be able to live a normal life and not to worry. We got in our car and drove that long, lonely road together, back to our home state, a state in which we had never before dwelt, the State of Denial.

After a while we stirred from our stupor and began to grab every resource we could find. We were grabbers and joiners. We joined every blindness group that we could. Wouldn’t you? They all seemed like they wanted to help us and to help Lauren.

We joined the NFB and received the Braille Monitor and read some great, helpful articles in Future Reflections. We signed up with AFB and received their periodicals. We signed up with the Foundation Fighting Blindness and mailed donations. We signed up with the Foundation for Retinal Research and had Lauren’s blood drawn for genetic testing. We signed up with the Hadley School so that we could learn Braille. I took their correspondence course “Just Enough to Know Better.” I thought I was doing great and that Braille was easy and fun but I kept getting my tests back with big red Cs on them. I thought I should have at least gotten an A for effort; so I am now a recovering Hadley School dropout.

We joined the professional group, AER, went to a conference and got a discount on our car insurance. We were loving parents desperate to do the right thing for our child, but without our knowledge we were instead slowly, yet inexorably, becoming experts in a field not of our own choosing.

Of all the groups we joined, we became personally involved with people from two of them. We attended a few conferences focused on medical advances in sight restoration and met some good people there, some of whom are in this very room. It seemed to us that many of the parents there were looking to the future for hope, not to the present, and to a certain extent so were we. We also attended the local chapter meetings of the NFB in our town in Montana. We were the only members under the age of, like ninety-eight (just kidding, Lois!).

We then moved to a larger town, and things changed. In Missoula we met some great guys: Dan Burke and Jim Marks, blind NFB leaders. They were very helpful in coaching us, not judging us. They didn’t criticize us for being involved in all the wrong groups; they were gentle with us when we made incorrect statements about blindness. They came to our IEP meetings and wrote Lauren’s technical evaluations. They were patient and kind. They were good people and good friends.

Through our relationship with Dan and Jim we were sold on the NFB. Through the people, the practices, and the policies of the NFB, Lauren is succeeding, and Gwen and I are getting close. But we did not get to this place all at once; it was a long process for us.

So be patient with new parents. They want to do the right thing for their child, the child whom they love, the child with whom they would gladly exchange lives. Be willing to come alongside these new parents, to encourage them, and to support them; but be respectful. Be careful not to judge them or correct them harshly if they express ideas at odds with NFB viewpoints. Allow them to make mistakes, but be there to keep them moving, gently, slowly, inexorably in the right direction.

And finally, if your own parents were a disappointment to you, if your own parents spent too much of their energy hoping for a cure and not enough energy encouraging you to enjoy the life that God gave you, there’s only one remedy: you must forgive them. Life is too short, people are too important, and family is too valuable. Let them know that you love them because one thing is sure, warts and all, we love you.

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