Our Son Helped Correct My Values
The day our first child was born was a very happy one. My husband’s joy and the doctor’s pronouncement that the baby was a normal, healthy boy meant so much at the time. But that happiness didn’t last long. Soon our friends were trying to convince me that Craig was having difficulty with his eye control. After a checkup, a doctor assured us that nothing major was wrong. But one week after the doctor’s visit, Craig developed a dense cataract in one eye. Our three-month-old son was half blind!
An eye specialist informed us that unfortunately we had picked the wrong individuals to marry, since our son’s defect was hereditary. The thought of a half-blind son was painful enough, let alone being told that I had married the wrong person. Then the following week Craig’s other lens was completely closed by another cataract. Within four months of his birth, he was totally blind!
After many tears and serious discussions with my husband, we consulted an expert on nutrition. His opinion was that a drug I had been advised to take for about three months during pregnancy had caused the problem. His verdict was that if Craig did not respond to treatment in three months, little could be done for him. How my heart ached for our little son, and what a dreadful future I envisioned as a mother!
The shock also caused me to start questioning God’s justice. If God let him lose one of his eyes, I felt that I could adjust to that. But two eyes seemed an inhuman blow. Why should a helpless little child suffer? I looked after myself healthwise, before and after pregnancy. I knew of other mothers who abused themselves—even trying to cause abortions—and yet their children were born sound. Why did this happen to me when I wanted to love and cherish a child so much?
Learning New Values
It was not long, however, before I began to realize that my son was becoming a blessing to me in many ways. His health deteriorated to the point that my main concern was for his life, not whether he could see. I began to appreciate that there are other precious gifts, the greatest being life itself. It was so good to have him alive!
My husband would remind me that the imperfection of our bodies, the unforeseen side effects of the drug and the deteriorated conditions under which we live were factors to keep considering. Friends pointed to many examples of other children as badly off and who learned to cope with serious problems.
Also, as the years passed by, my husband and friends constantly reminded me of how God purposes to remove all handicaps for those who will live on this earth in His righteous new system of things. (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:3, 4) They pointed out many of Craig’s positive qualities that were developing—his happy disposition, the love for Jehovah that was obviously in his little heart. These were real blessings. I also meditated often on the issue that Satan raised with God over Job: Would we serve Jehovah only when we had everything we wanted?—Job chaps. 1 and 2.
My response was to spend more time talking with my neighbors about these things in the Bible. This helped to keep my own mind occupied with the more positive, upbuilding promises of God’s Word. It took effort on my part, but my relationship with God improved.
To this point our son has remained a delicate and sensitive child. He is unable to walk unaided yet, though he is over five years of age. Since sight plays a vital role in establishing a sense of balance, he is at a disadvantage. Though he has the physical strength to walk, he prefers to pull himself around in a sitting position. This makes him feel secure.
We have spent hours coaxing Craig to walk a few steps, assuring him that our outstretched arms will be there to catch him. He is warmly commended when he tries, but he usually reverts to the sitting position and to the use of furniture as an aid to getting about. We cannot chastise him or hurry him; otherwise, he quickly regresses. His slow response has taught us patience.
Another difficult area is speech comprehension. At first Craig appeared particularly bright. He found it easy to repeat words and answers in parrotlike manner. But as time went by we noticed an inability to put together meaningful sentences. The possibility of also having a mentally retarded child next loomed before us.
Correspondence with a government-sponsored school for the blind helped us to understand the situation. A person with sight may think he understands the situation of a blind person by simply closing his eyes. But he still has his past visual memory on which to draw. It is impossible for a person with sight simply to close his eyes and understand what it is like to be blind from birth. From this we realized that there was no lack on Craig’s part, but, rather, on ours, in not constantly giving verbal descriptions of things he would normally learn from visual observation.
Sighted children are great imitators. But how can a sightless child imitate picking up a spoon at mealtimes, for example, or closing a door or turning a page in a book? He cannot see the object or the movement. How do you explain what it is like to see a bird flying or a horse galloping?
The issue now became clear. I would have to speak with Craig far more frequently and tell him what I was doing as I moved about the house and worked. Where possible, I allow him to feel the object I am handling, taste or smell it and then feel the movement.
If I am closing a door, I explain what I am doing. Then he is encouraged to feel the door, listen to the slight sound as it moves through the air and finally the click as it closes. As I repeat the movement, without his feeling the door he is asked to tell me what I am doing. This procedure has to be followed to aid him to comprehend movement in relation to objects and people. As a result, both his comprehension and his speech have greatly improved. Patience and perseverance are bringing us many rewards.
Craig’s sensitivity has made us conscious of kindness and empathy in training. He is amazingly sensitive to the atmosphere in a home. Even as a baby he could sense whether a family was kind and relaxed or not. If the atmosphere was not peaceful and calm, we could not leave him with the people, even though they were our friends. On the other hand, we have noticed that Craig feels right at home with people who have an air of quiet tranquillity. My husband and I have naturally had to be more conscious of our own relationship. Heated words between us unsettle Craig. Conversely, he thrives when we are relaxed and at peace.
Since eyesight relates to our taste buds, Craig has very conservative tastes. At one time he disliked all vegetables. Perseverance and ingenuity have been required to introduce him to new foods.
Smell is another area that is particularly sensitive. Craig has no trouble detecting foods that seem fairly odorless to us. We encourage this sense of smell. One light touch with his fingertips to any food and then to his nose tells him what it is.
Like many sightless children, Craig is also sensitive to music. This medium soothes him when he is tired and edgy. Too much music, however, encourages passivity, much like prolonged television viewing does in the case of sighted children.
We do not want a spoiled child, even if he is handicapped. So when Craig cries in a tantrum, we let him know by our tone of voice that we are displeased. Because he cannot see the expressions on our faces, modulation of voice is a must.
In respect to training, up till now a point has been made of only associating with God the things Craig likes. He now likes grapes. So we will say: “Do you know who made the grapes? Jehovah did.” This method is used with anything that our son is fond of. If we are with our friends enjoying a barbecue and he is relishing a chop or sausage, we explain who made these good things possible.
Craig sometimes lies on the ground and giggles at the sound of birds, especially our Australian cockatoo or kookaburra. Turkeys capture his attention too. When we notice his enjoyment, we explain that Jehovah made them, and also have him repeat this. As far as our son is concerned, Jehovah makes everything that is good. We encourage him to feel the grass, the cat, the dog, our goat and the roses in the garden, and then we ask him to tell us who made them. His little wry smile indicates that he has enjoyed a new dimension in learning. In this manner, we hope that he will associate, in his own little way, pleasurable things with the Creator.
Keeping Craig occupied was at first a challenge. Though we never give it much thought, watching people move is a stimulus to the mind. He does not have that stimulus; so he can easily withdraw into himself. Toys help to prevent this.
Helping Craig to perceive the size and shape of things has also been trying. How can you get a blind child to comprehend what a big building, a tall tree or a long train looks like? Varying the size and shape of his toys can be a pleasurable way to learn much of this. The best toys are objects common to living, things such as spoons, saucepans, cardboard boxes, rubber balls, shoes, handbags, rope, water in a bucket and things to push, to name a few.
My Appreciation Enhanced
Craig has taught me to appreciate many things that are taken for granted. I thought that I appreciated my sight. Now I’m not so sure that I did. A bird in flight, a golden sunset, the smile on a happy face, the printed words of a good book, the color of flowers, a pretty dress, countless everyday things—they all mean so much more to me now.
Coming to appreciate how strongly Craig relies on the gift of hearing has caused sounds to mean much more to me now. There is so much that is taken for granted, such as the click of a door or a light switch, the footsteps of people, the tones of voices, the ticking of a clock, the rustle of turned pages, the gurgle of water in a tumbler or the patter of raindrops. Sounds we sometimes feel are unnecessary or annoying, mean life, security and pleasure to Craig, adding color to his world.
The same can be said about the many pleasant aromas, the endless variation in tastes, the array of fascinating things we touch each day. I have come to appreciate deeply the qualities of beauty not seen, heard, felt or tasted, but, nevertheless, warmly savored by us all, especially the blind. These are things like kindness and patience; a secure, calm environment; love, trust and genuine unselfish empathy. Craig has been instrumental in enriching our lives in all the ways mentioned and, above all, in just having this very loving little fellow with us each day.
From the time Craig was about nine months old, he began to hum tunes to the right beat. His repertoire includes many songs, especially those heard at Christian meetings. Whether we are at home, shopping, driving in the car or visiting neighbors, this happy little fellow will often be singing. It is surprising how refreshing and encouraging this can be even to a stranger whom we pass while shopping at a market.
Craig’s attentiveness makes him more receptive to teaching, even though, as mentioned earlier, his comprehension of movement in relation to people and objects is slower. By two and a half years of age he could recite the first 13 books of the Bible in proper sequence. He was able to answer many questions relative to Bible characters. His attentiveness to prayer is such that he is well known at Christian meetings for saying “Amen!” in a loud voice before anyone else. He still does the same at mealtime after our prayer of thanksgiving. His disposition and love of God at this tender age have been a real encouragement.
When I wanted to stay home from our Christian meeting once, feeling a bit low, Craig went around the house all afternoon saying, “Let’s go to the Kingdom Hall to meet the brothers and sing songs to Jehovah.”
At other times he has encouraged us when we have been tired by telling us to “Sing!” “Let’s sing a song to Jehovah,” he says. Or, he asks: “Who made the orange? Who made the sun?” He quickly gets results.
At first I viewed our son’s handicap only as a tragedy. Yet it is far from being unbearable. Instead of mourning over the loss of one gift, that of sight, other gifts have taken on much greater value to me. Now that Craig is five years of age and more robust, we have taken further steps with an ophthalmic surgeon. Partial sight has been restored to one eye with the use of highly magnified glasses.
We, like Craig, look forward to the day that he will be able to see us clearly. And so does his baby brother who has regular sight and who is already ‘straining at the bit’ to play with him.—Contributed.