Thursday, April 1, 2010

But Now I See

As usual, the aide on the school bus scooped up a sleeping Emerson and sent him staggering out the door into my arms. He said a muffled goodbye as she handed me his backpack...and his white cane.

He started taking cane lessons with his vision teacher a few months ago, but this was the first time I had ever seen it and the first time we would do a lesson at home.

It's hard to explain how something can be so adorable and heart-breaking at the same time. Here was this instantly recognizable symbol of blindness and yet it was so tiny. It was my son's cane.

When we got inside and he realized "Mr. Cane" (as his teacher calls it) had come home with him, a huge smile spread across his face.

"Oh HI cane!" he chirped.

He pushed it across the house for a few minutes like an old pro and then Fionn tried to sneak a turn. Emerson screamed in protest, a tug of war as usual again.

After lunch, we went outside with it so that our Vision Teacher could start the lesson the moment she arrived. (And so that she wouldn't need to see the inside of my disastrous house.) She ended up being delayed by another student, so I let the boys wander around the yard for a while.

I instantly noticed that Emerson was much more adventurous than usual - even the times when he wasn't using his cane to explore. He was in and out of the bushes, tapping at the cracks in the neighbor's driveway, and generally pushing the limits of where he was supposed to go. He'd walk up to the imaginary line in the sidewalk that he knows he's not supposed to cross, and instead of obediently turning around, he'd pause like a swimmer about to dive into a pool, look back at me...and then take another step.

I was thrilled to see him exploring and being brave, so it was hard to be too upset about this developing defiance. Still, safety is safety, so it wasn't long before my nagging voice forced him to turn around.

When the teacher finally arrived, we walked around a part of the neighborhood he isn't used to so he could really test his skills. He was great with what they call the "diagonal" method, which is basically pushing it in front. She explained that as he gets older, she'll introduce the tapping technique from side to side, which will make it even safer.

Lately he doesn't like to get out of the stroller and walk (at least not until we reach our destination), so it was a nice change to see him running and exploring everything again. There were times when the cane would just become something that tripped him up or dragged behind because he wasn't actively using it, and a little doubting voice would creep up. "Does he really need this?" "He manages fine, won't this make him dependent again?"

Then he'd take off running, not notice the curb in front of him, and go crashing onto his hands and knees.

Oh. yeah.

We'd dust him off, remind him to keep Mr. Cane in front so it can "see" things first, and he'd be off again using the cane properly. It was fun to see him picking up the technique so fast and his teacher was thrilled with his progress. But trying to teach him how to recognize the difference between a street and sidewalk and how to both "look and listen" for cars was a sobering reminder of all the important lessons still ahead. Thank god for vision and mobility teachers!

Using the technique to explore stairs. Luckily no one was home.

Using the cane out in public was also an interesting social experiment. We brought it to the playground with us and I noticed a lot of furtive glances from the other parents. When Emerson jumped off the swing and headed toward the climbing structure, another mother was watching and instantly started yelling at her running sons to "Be more careful!!"

I'm sure it was confusing to see a little boy with a white cane running up and down the climbing structure without pause. I've heard from people with albinism that having bad vision - but still having vision - is sometimes the hardest part since people don't know how to treat them or think the cane is a ruse. I'm not sure how to address that at this point, but I'm sure life will give me a crash course soon enough.

Meanwhile, we are all learning a new way of navigating - literally and figuratively. We're trying to see things from a new perspective and then turn around and teach it to the boys. Maybe that's why I've developed this sudden love affair with the spring season the past few years. Fall is still my favorite time of year, but lately spring and the Spring Festivals seem to have more significance. The more I learn about religion and symbolism, the more I realize that all these eggs and bunnies and chicks have a special import for me. It's not a Hallmark holiday or a random collection of folklore - it's about femininity and fertility and new possibilities.

Our first spring blooms

Most of us know the Christian story of resurrection, but many religions, including pre-Christian religions, have spring festivals that celebrate the death and resurrection of their deity (or one of their deities). Maybe I'm just more sentimental about spring and Easter now that I live in a state where the winters viciously beat all life and light out of the world for months on end, but I think it's also because my journey through parenthood has forced me to go through a similar cycle. Over and over again, the image of the parent I thought I'd be and the kind of life I thought I'd have dies...and I mourn the passing. But something different and better always triumphs.

And we start again.


  1. Love the new blog title! Very cute. And I'm glad to get an update on how things are going for all of you.

  2. Great post! Thanks for writing.

  3. I hope you don't publicly post what is about to be a horribly sappy comment, but I'll leave it to your editorial discretion. I just had to say that this post was absolutely beautiful and made my eyes sting with tears more than once. The image of Emerson with his cane is so powerful and full of emotion for me as your friend and as one of Emerson's Ann Arbor stand-in parents. I can't wait to watch him explore the world in the way you describe; what a gift! Thank you for being so open about all of your emotions about this. It is inspiring and refreshing.

    And I love the new name. I think Thore was "anonymous", but he couldn't fool me... :)

  4. What a lovely ending to the day! I am sitting here exhausted, after finally finishing the living room re-model. I decided to click on the blog to see what the Michiganders were up to. What a treat to see my adorable Emerson learning and exploring new things (with that baby doll Fionn hot on his heels). Your picturesque descriptions of spring really touched my heart. You, Robbie and those boys always give me a renewed sense of hope and excitment for the future.