When I was nine years old, something life-changing happened to me. I met a blind adult for the first time. I wish I could say that it was a significant positive experience. For a young blind child, a meeting like this could have done a lot of good. Unfortunately, the meeting was not a happy one for me or for my parents.
The young man had recently begun attending our church. My parents had received only educational support in raising me; and my mother thought it would be wonderful to meet a blind adult and ask questions. She also thought it would help me to cheer up as I tackled learning some new skills that were emotionally difficult: things like tying my shoes and holding my eating utensils correctly.
The man refused my mother's invite to lunch, saying that I would never learn to live in the sighted world if I only knew blind people. He did not even turn to shake my hand.
I was devastated and felt rejected on the deepest level imaginable. I asked my mother why he said this. She explained that he must have attended the school for the blind and probably didn't understand that I attended public school and that all I knew were sighted people. She encouraged me to forgive him, and I tried hard. But out of my hurt, something burned inside me. I would never, ever treat a child that way when I was grown up. My teachers kept telling me that I was going to go to college and have my own apartment and be a mother. Since I couldn't meet someone who had done it, I would have to trust them. And when I did it, I would make sure that little girls got to meet me.
This feisty streak never went away. By the time I did meet blind adults several years later, I had become emotionally timid around most adults; but around children I lit up. During my last two years of high school, I had opportunities to participate in programs for parents of young blind children and found myself energized.
Much later, as I began to learn that other children suffered impacts from premature birth that were not always related to their eyes, I began conversing with many families of premature children. That is how I met Stacy.
Stacy's daughter, Paige, was three years old when Stacy introduced herself on the Preemie-child email list. Paige did not have blindness as a complication of her premature birth; but she did face other issues, some of which would not become known until later. I came to know Stacy through list discussions as well as private correspondence over the years that followed; and we often said that we should find a way to meet since we lived less than half a day's drive from each other.
My chance to meet Stacy and Paige finally came when I attended the American Council of the Blind convention in Louisville, KY. I stayed at the Galt House for eight days; and Stacy and Paige came out twice, once accompanied by Stacy's husband Jason.
Stacy and Paige will tell their own parts of the story since we've decided to do a joint post. On Friday, we went over to a deli in the hotel to have coffee and hot chocolate. I asked Paige how it felt to be around so many blind people, knowing that she had never been around a blind person before.
She plunked herself in my lap, reminding me of the little girl who stayed with me during 2005 and 2006, and said, "These have been the best two days of my life!" Holding her, I thought back to that morning at church; and the old memory of being rejected didn't matter anymore. Somebody else's nine-year-old had the two best days of her life, and I got to give it to her. What a deal!
I can't really call this something good about the ACB convention. It was an add-on. But I wouldn't have been in Louisville if it hadn't been for the ACB convention. I'm glad I was there.
Stacy's blog is called The Preemie Experiment.