Future Reflections         Special Issue: The Teen Years

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Rated PG: Parental Guidance

by Rosina Foster

Roman on horseback.From the Editor: Rosina Foster lives on forty acres in south central Missouri with her husband, three children, three horses, ten chickens, eight guinea fowl, a dog, and, soon, two mama goats. In February of this year she attended NFB's Washington Seminar as part of the Parent Leadership Program.

We often hear the phrase fitting in.  Sometimes I ask myself what that phrase really means. I think I know what it means to me, but to my teenage son, my opinion about fitting in doesn't mean much. In his life I have been relegated to PG--just parental guidance. You might think that is a sad situation, but it doesn't seem that way to me. I'm sure that the parents of most teens have acquired PG status, so I figure I'm just fitting in with my parent crowd.

For most teens, fitting in isn't easy; I remember that from my own experience growing up. It can be especially hard for our blind and visually impaired kids. They have an obvious difference that other kids notice right away. I am a firm believer that our expectations as parents should be the same for all our children, whether they are blind or sighted. Granted, it is easier to say that than to live by it. When we learn that our beautiful child is blind or visually impaired, it can be extremely difficult to resist giving him or her special treatment. When we feel pain over what our children seem to be missing, or when we worry that a challenge will be too hard for them, we may be tempted to rush in and take charge. Unfortunately, when we try to protect our kids we may only make more problems for them in the long run.

A Range of Choices

My son Roman is in seventh grade and has just started running track. He ran cross-country last fall. He is in band, and he takes piano lessons. He routinely goes to school dances and ice cream socials, and he has sleepovers and other social events. He even (gasp!) has a girlfriend!

Certainly Roman doesn't take part in every activity that is available. I didn't, and I'm sure that not many kids do. However, he gets out there and participates in as many activities as he wants. He tried gymnastics for several years before he decided to quit. I made him join the swim team one year and he decided not to join again. His fourth-grade brother has been on the swim team for three years now and loves it. Each of our kids is finding what works best for him.

Like Everyone Else

Ethan with a cane in one hand, and one arm around his goat.How did we get to this point? We really can't take much of the credit, as Roman is naturally a very confident, independent boy. However, I think that our efforts to make sure he was treated like everyone else have made a real difference. It is not always easy. I found that I had to start with myself and start early. I realized that Roman and Ethan might have to learn different ways of doing things, but in the end they are just children, and they need to be treated like children.

I distinctly remember an incident that occurred when Roman was four years old. He was attending a Halloween party with a piñata. When it was his turn to swing the stick, he refused to wear the blindfold. He insisted, "I don't have to wear it 'cause I can't see anyway!" I told him that everyone had to wear the blindfold. If he didn't wear it, he couldn't play. He was stubborn and refused to put the blindfold on, so I wouldn't let him play the game. Lots of people thought that I should have let him play, poor kid, but I stood my ground.

Roman was mad at me the whole day, but he got over it and can't even remember the incident today. When I bring it up, he laughs and thinks it was silly. After all, if he couldn't see why should he care if he wore a blindfold or not? For me, though, this incident is important. Even at that early age I didn't want Roman to think he could get away with things because of his blindness. I wanted him to learn that he had to play fair and do whatever was required of the other kids. I knew he would be showered from all sides with chances to slide by, to do less than others were expected to do. I didn't want him to get those ideas from me.

Do I ever force my kids to do things that they don't like? Certainly! That's what parents do. I was made to do chores, practice an instrument, play sports, clean my room, and help around the house--all things that I didn't always want to do. I expect the same things from my children that my parents expected from me. After all, I turned out okay in spite of it.

One thing that I believe has helped Roman and Ethan fit in with their peers is the fact that all their lives they have been in the same school. They have changed buildings occasionally, but they've always been in the same town and with the same group of kids. These kids have known my boys since the beginning. We have had more problems with teachers' expectations than we've ever had with peers. Of course kids make comments and ask questions, and occasionally someone says something that hurts. Once Ethan was asked, "Is it fun being blind?" Another time a classmate told Roman, "You must be stupid if you are blind!" I tell my kids to get used to these questions, as they will hear them all their lives. My advice is to answer them the best they can and move on.

Quality of Life

Two years ago Roman moved into fifth grade, entering middle school with a new set of PE teachers. The teachers didn't want to let him play dodge ball. They were afraid that he was going to get hit with a ball and get hurt. Roman told me that of course he was going to get hit--the game was dodge ball! I was concerned as well, since Roman has had many, many surgeries and I didn't want him to have another detached retina. But I remembered something a doctor once told me about quality of life, so I knew we had to find a solution. Roman desperately wanted to play, and the teachers and I wanted to keep him safe.

We ended up doing several things. First we found a pair of sport safety glasses for Roman to wear. Then I wrote a letter to the school, stating that Roman had my permission to play dodge ball if he wore his safety glasses throughout the game. If he wouldn't wear them, he couldn't play.

The PE instructor was still nervous, and he gave me a call. He was afraid Roman would get hit in the face. I asked him if the students were allowed to aim for the face. He said of course not. They were all told never to aim purposely for the face of any student, but accidents still happened. I stated that I could understand accidents; that was why Roman was wearing the safety glasses. Roman was allowed to play, and I have never heard any more about it.

Accidents Do Happen

Accidents do happen, I was reminded recently. Roman decided to run cross-country, and at the end of the season the coach gave out silly awards to all of the team members. Roman got one called the No Parking Sign Award. The coach explained that he and Roman were running one day and he wasn't paying attention very well. He told Roman to turn up ahead. A moment later he heard a loud bang and a holler. He looked and saw that Roman had run smack into a No Parking sign.

At first when I heard the story I was upset. Not only had Roman gotten hurt, but he hadn't told me about it. When I questioned him, he said, "Gosh, Mom. I didn't think it was that big of a deal. Didn't you ever get hurt as a kid?" And I remembered that I had. I guess if it wasn't important to him, I shouldn't make so much of it.

I strongly believe that getting your kids out there and involved in everything you can is the best way to make sure that other kids see that they are really not so different. If your kids don't like one activity, try something else. We live in a very rural area, so we have few extracurricular activities available besides sports. But in most places parents can find a variety of activities for kids to try--chess, band, swimming, reading clubs, climbing gyms, Scouts, 4-H. We are getting goats this year, and I hope to get Ethan interested in showing them. Showing animals at fairs is a good confidence-builder for kids. It gets them out there and gives people the chance to see them being just like everyone else. The more they do the same activities that their peers are doing, the more they are accepted.

Get Connected!

As the parent of a blind child, get yourself connected with others in your situation. Even better, get connected with people who were in your situation and have moved on. Contact the NFB. I have only known the NFB for two-and-a-half years. They have been the best two-and-a-half years we have had. My boys have also chosen to get involved. We are no longer alone. If we stumble, we have help. We have help if we need to learn how to do something. The NFB has become the most important family we have. When my sons have long outgrown their need for my parental guidance, the NFB will still be there for them. People in the Federation will be parents, siblings, teachers, confidants, mentors, best friends, and more.

Sometimes Roman tells me, "Do something different or weird. It gets you noticed." And believe me, Roman loves to get noticed!

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