Madeline had her second "official" session of Orientation & Mobility this week. As hands-on and involved as I am as a parent, I still sometimes feel like I'm just a fly on the wall - watching this little thing grow up. Some days more than others I'm aware that she's not a baby anymore, and she's no mini-me either; she's 100% her own person finding her way in the world.
It's magical to watch any/every child grow into their bodies and brains, like watching baby horses try to stand up for the first time, baby giraffes try to run, baby birds try to fly.
But watching Madeline learn all of these non-visual skills is so wildly different; it adds to the fly-on-the-wall feeling. I think that's partly why I find Braille and O&M so fascinating. It is a constant reminder that she is growing into her own person - and that person is SO DIFFERENT from me. When I ask her what she did at school and she says, "I tracked Braille and used the CCTV," like it's as routine as brushing her teeth, I'm reminded that for her, it is. When I watch her gingerly pick up her cane and start marching down the hallway to class, swinging it back and forth I just shrug my shoulders and think, "Welp, there she goes."
I'm reminded that she lives with me, she's my baby, I have an otherworldy, consuming love for her - but she's not really mine. Sure, she was given to me, but I'm just her earthly charge. She was God's idea, God's design, and (for now) she belongs with me, but she doesn't belong to me at all.
All that to say, I love O&M. It's like discovering another world - another way of being. All the tidbits I hear from Madeline's instructor feel like happy secrets.
Here are the highlights:
-When the cane is the right size, it should come to your armpit. The cane sweeps back and forth as you travel - it is important for Madeline to learn exactly how wide her arc should be: wide enough that the cane sweeps over her entire path, but not so wide that it takes out every ankle within a three-foot-radius. This is as difficult to teach as it sounds.
-The trick is to stand in front of Madeline with my feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart and let Madeline swing her cane back and forth between them. Bumping one foot, then the other, until that distance becomes familiar. My ankles have been black and blue for weeks.
-Another difficult thing to teach Madeline is not to run with the cane. Have you ever tried telling a 3-year-old not to run? There is some biochemical THING that happens in toddlers (I also reference it here)- God flips some cosmic switch and they enter a phase where running is the only option. Walk? There is no walk; there is only run. It's mostly adorable to watch and you find yourself pining away for the carefree days of toddlerhood - until you put a 3 foot cane in the child's hand. Then it quickly deteriorates into a hazardous situation. Especially if the child hasn't mastered the "not swinging so wide as to trip everyone within a 3-foot-radius" thing.
For example, we walked into church on Sunday morning and Madeline was in one of those adorable, hilarious, perky, pesky, friendly moods that make 3-year-olds so charming. The cute mood that makes me forgive her for not sleeping through the night until she was nearly 2. As soon as I opened the door, she bolted. She increased her cane-swinging speed to match her own velocity, and it was like I'd released the tazmanian devil into the church lobby. From the back door blazed a whirlwind of blonde curls, giggles, and violently-swinging long cane. Nobody knew what to do! Any other child would have been caught and stopped by all the old church ladies, but no one wants to be the person to discourage the blind child from using her cane.
I dropped my purse and my cup of juice by the door and took off after her. "Everybody watch your ankles!"
All eyes were on Madeline - some watched in admiration, some in astonishment, most in fear, as they hopped up and down over the whirlwind of cane. It looked like the whole room was playing double dutch.
I finally caught her, snatched her up and shouted, "Sorry!" over my shoulder as I carted her to class. Dan just told everyone that we were working on her street hockey skills. I think she's a natural.
After that incident, Madeline's instructor went and bought her a special mask to wear while she practices with the cane - to slow her down.
-"Chin Up!" I've been telling Madeline "chin up" her entire life. Sighted children naturally look towards sounds - if they hear a door open, they look over to see who's entered. If they hear someone speaking, they look to see who it is - blind children don't. As babies, they have no incentive to lift their heavy little heads on their wobbly little necks, so they don't. You have to teach a blind child not to literally rest their chin on their chest all the time, as if they were trying to peer down their own shirts at their belly buttons. I tell Madeline every day, "Chin up! You look at someone when they're talking to you." "Chin up! You look at Mommy when you ask me a question." "Chin up! So we can see your pretty face."
The "chin up's" have increased in frequency since we started using the cane. Madeline is used to looking down when she travels, especially outdoors, trying to see any changes in terrain. Now she's doubly interested in looking down because 1. It's habit and 2. She wants to watch the cane.
So this is what we sound like as we're walking through the parking lot into Wal-Mart.
"Back and forth, back and forth, swing your cane. (That part is a little song.) Don't push, just sweep. Chin up! So you can see people coming towards you. Not too wide, you're tripping Mommy. Back and forth, back and forth, swing your cane. Swing it wider; you're going to trip on something if you don't keep swinging. Chin up! So everyone can see your pretty face."
If you hear this little dialogue coming up behind you, run for the hills, your ankles are about to be whacked.
Oh, and I've also had to tell Madeline, "YOU DO NOT HIT THE CAT WITH YOUR CANE!!" Add it to the pages-long list of things I never thought I'd say.