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Out of Sight

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: Lisa McGauley lives in White Rock, British Columbia, and is a clinical social worker in psychiatry.

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success Achieved.

--Helen Adams Keller

Don't let your kids out of your sight.Is this not the decree of most parenting magazines? But what happens when the parent is out of sight, blind or vision-impaired?

Snugglies keep newborns close. Playpens keep your child in one location. Highchairs provide constant confinement. Backpacks work to keep growing infants near. Harnesses and wrist attachments work to keep toddlers close. But what happens when the terrible two's hit? The first independent game of chase outside the familiarity of home? The first time the shoes with the carefully laced bells are kicked off? When a child chooses not to answer? What is a blind parent to do? Panic!

But after that, some clear decisions about what places are secure must be made. This can be done through trial and error. Sighted friends and family can help scope out the neighbourhood before you venture out. With my son, he was so active and busy that I arranged to meet parents with similar aged kids in the park after trying to gut it out myself. Trailing around brightly coloured gym equipment, across suspension bridges and under climbing apparatus only to find he had gone elsewhere.Over here mommy.The hours were exhausting. He was constantly out of sight. I felt more like a nap after a short outing to the park than he did. Sighted parents know what this feels like momentarily. Blind parents know what this feels like every time we let go of our Child's hand. My daughter stayed closer. I also knew the places to take her. But I was a rookie parent with my son. A rookie blind parent.

As our children grow and explore their world, the challenge increases. Is parenting different as a blind person? The logistics are, but the lessons and love are the same.

My children are now 9 and 14. Their friends know to describe their new haircuts or take my hand and say, Check out my new hair.My children and their friends are comfortable with me walking into the room and asking, Is anyone in here?I can't see well enough to distinguish children apart. I can tell if one is very tall or very small, but no details of eyes, facial expressions or dress. So when I lose track, I have to say, Sweetheart, remind me of who you are.Leaving the house, furthermore, can be a challenge to make sure I kiss the right children good-bye. They laugh and I end up joking with them, but I do find out the lay of the land.

The caller ID talks, as do the clocks, watches and thermometers. The movie videos are described, the washer and dryer are braille labelled, taped books are a common sight as am I, hunkered over my talking computer. We have print/braille cards and Scrabble board.

I ask the kids to check my make-up before I leave for work. NO matter how careful I am, too often mascara smudges or I have got the wrong colour lipstick.

My kids read labels in the grocery store, on cans in the pantry, on medicine bottles and on the mail. They read the recipes, and I do the cooking. I make the lunches and sign the field trip permission slips. The kids read the notices, and I write the checks. It is a balance. They are used to me feeling around for things and tripping over my guide dog, and I am used to them leaving landmines of shoes and back packs to trip over.

They pick out the socks, clothes and ski gloves etc., but I have the final word and, of course, the parental responsibility of paying for them.

I do the laundry, but they spot their own clothes. I iron and put clothes away. I make beds and pick up the floor. Not vision-related, but mom-related.

I enjoy spoiling them. My nine-year-old asks for a snack from the couch in the family room. I go into the kitchen and return to the couch only to realize

I am in full conversation with black leather. She giggles from across the room,Mommy,over here.

I cheer wildly at sports events much to the kid's dismay. I love to be in the middle of the excitement. I do rely on other parent's descriptions but never miss an excited of my own child's voice.

We ski as a family, and both my husband and my son can voice guide me. What a gift to be active with my kids! We sea kayak together, hit the gym, run and hang out on long summer days at the beach. I like to listen to them play beach volleyball as the sun heats my body. Their laughter fills the air, and I can see them as clearly in my mind as a set of sighted eyes can see them on the sandy court.

My six foot one son still holds my hand as we walk up the street. My 9-year-old still falls asleep in my arms each night. They draw images on my hand of what they see. I tell them what I smell, hear and feel. The images are rich.

The logistics of parenting as a blind person are significant. They can be daunting. Being organized is a key. Being well rested is essential. Being calm and centered in myself is a prerequisite to a successful outing. Both my kids are great walkers. We are used to taking the Handy Dart or cabs to appointments when their dad is not in town with the car.

I know their smell and taste the salt in their tears. I feel them tremble when they are afraid, and hear the pride in their voice with confidence. I know their muscles and feel the pain as the tension melts beneath my hands. I rub in liniment cream, braid waist-length golden hair and never take for granted the privilege of parenting.

We share a vision, a closeness I would have a hard time trading--even for sight.

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