From the Editor: Annual conventions of the National Federation of the Blind bring with them all kinds of magic. Here is one that will resonate with many. The article first appeared in Volume 20, number 1, Convention Report 2000, 2001, of Future Reflections, the quarterly magazine of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. It begins with the editor's note:
Do you remember your first adolescent love? Do you remember the breathless, giddy joy; the stomach-clenching angst; and the terror that your parents would make a big deal about it, or even tell other people that you had a boy/girl-friend? If you do, then I don't have to explain why the author of this article asked to remain anonymous or why she asked that the names be changed to protect the guilty--oops,--innocent parties! But before I give too much away, here is "Anonymous" to tell us her story about "Convention Magic":
I remember the first time I witnessed Convention Magic. It was at National Convention. The day's sessions were over. Several parents from my state were relaxing in a restaurant in the Dallas Airport Hyatt. The son of one of the parents came breezing up to our table, brand new NFB long white cane in hand.
"Mom, I'm going to go have dinner with Al. I'll be back in about two hours."
"But, Winston, I don't know where I'll be in two hours. And where will you be? Where would we meet?"
"Don't worry about it, Mom. I've got a key. I'll see you back in the room later."
Now this exchange would not have been out of the ordinary in any way, except that before this day Winston had never ventured off anywhere on his own. In fact, though he was totally blind, he had hardly even used a cane before. Now he'd already been gone half the day, and suddenly he was on his way out to dinner with a new-found friend.
"See ya' later, Mom." Convention Magic.
The heady feeling of independence that Winston's mom was experiencing--"Wow, I'm free! I don't have to take care of my kid!"--was palpable. My daughter was several years younger than Winston. Would there ever come a day when I would be able to sit casually in a restaurant while my child just went out?
As the years--and the conventions--went on, I saw Convention Magic manifest itself many times. In the relatively small and safe environment of our NFB State Convention hotels, I watched kids who had simply never gone anywhere on their own get the urge to go and explore. Elevators, escalators, soda and ice machines--all were great motivators. I watched as one boy decided to go up to his room on his own. He made it. A girl located a friend at the foot of the escalator. The whole gang of our almost-teen-agers found their way to somebody's room for snacks, a movie, and a pillow fight.
But this past year, at NFB National Convention, Convention Magic cast its gentle spell over my kid. We hadn't seen her since lunchtime. She was hanging out in the Teen Room while my husband John and I attended the Resolutions Committee meeting. John started toward the back of the room for a drink of water but quickly came racing back.
"Donna, you've got to come back here quick. You won't believe this!"
"What is it?" I asked as we hurried toward the back of the room. Then I saw it. Framed in the doorway of the ballroom was our daughter standing head to head with a young man about her age--sixteen. They seemed engrossed in conversation, and every so often the boy moved his arm up to Belinda's shoulder and rested it there a moment.
I was shocked. Belinda had never even flirted with a boy before, never mind let one touch her! Fighting back the wild urge to tell him to keep his no-good, dirty hands off my daughter, I walked over and casually said, "Hi, Belinda. What's up?"
"Oh, hi Mom. We came in here to see if we could find you and Dad. We're going over to the Mock Trial, and I wanted to let you guys know where I'd be."
"Ah. And who's your friend?"
"Mom, this is Michael." Dad said hello, too.
"So, where's the Mock Trial being held?" I asked. "You guys know where you're going?"
"Yeah, we know the room."
"Okay," we agreed hesitantly. "We'll come and find you in the Mock Trial room when it's over."
"Okay, see ya."
And with that, my daughter was off. My daughter and a boy. Whew.
I have to admit my husband and I couldn't resist following the pair, first to make sure they got to the room all right and then to see what the heck they were doing. We peeked in, oh, only five or six times.
They were fine. They were sitting there listening, talking, laughing. Looked pretty normal. Looked pretty good. Every once in a while their heads leaned in toward one another's.
We were back at the dot of seven to pick Belinda up. The following conversation ensued.
"So, you like this guy?"
"Oh, yeah, we really have a lot in common. And he's really nice."
"That's great, honey."
"He said I have really small hands."
(And how would this casanova have found out that my daughter has small hands?)
"Well, gee, how come he said that?" I asked.
"We were holding hands, and he said my hands were small."
"Ah ha. Holding hands, that's, um, nice."
"And he really likes my hair."
(Her hair? Her hair? This reprobate dared to touch my daughter's hair?)
"Well, you do have pretty hair," I responded weakly.
"Yeah, he said it was really soft. Then, Mom?"
"We discussed how far we would go."
(Ah! #!$&%#$ sex education classes!)
"I see," I managed to reply. "And what did you decide?"
"We thought a kiss on the cheek. That would be okay in public, right?"
"Whew. Yup, that's just fine," I said with relief.
The next day Belinda got to discover another typical teen-age experience—teen angst. She had been hanging out in the Teen Room with a girlfriend the day that she met him. When Belinda and Michael decided to go to the Mock Trial, Belinda invited Laura along. Laura, convinced that she definitely had third-wheel status, rather dramatically refused. Belinda left with Michael.
Later, back in the room, we found an emotional message from Laura on our tape, expressing her distress that Belinda had ditched her for a guy. Overcome with guilt, Belinda called Laura back to beg her forgiveness. Alas, no one was in the room, and Belinda had to leave a message. All night long, through dinner, through our evening activities, through getting ready for bed, John and I listened to Belinda's anguished laments. "Will she forgive me? I really didn't mean to leave her out. I asked her to come. It's not my fault she wouldn't come. She could have come with us. I'm so sorry. Will she forgive me?"
I am happy to report that Belinda's apology was accepted, and the two friends went out for ice cream the next day.
That evening one more sweet thing happened. Belinda and I were sitting in a computer meeting when I happened to notice Michael come in and sit down in the back of the room. "Belinda," I whispered, "Michael is here. Why don't you go back and say hello."
I pointed Belinda in Michael's general direction and heard her calling his name in order to locate him. You should have seen how his face lit up when he heard her voice and realized it was Belinda. Wow, a boy lighting up over my girl's presence. That was a pretty sight.
Could these events have happened elsewhere? I guess they could have. But they didn't. They happened at the NFB Convention, the place where our kids can venture out, taste some independence, try out a few skills, and have new experiences--all with thousands of blind people around to provide help and inspiration. Convention Magic. It's a beautiful thing!
Pooled Income Gifts
In this plan money donated to the National Federation of the Blind by a number of individuals is invested by the NFB. Each donor and the NFB sign an agreement that income from the funds will be paid to the donor quarterly or annually. Each donor receives a tax deduction for the gift; the NFB receives a useful donation; and the donor receives income of a specified amount for the rest of his or her life. For more information about the NFB pooled income fund, contact the National Federation of the Blind, Special Gifts, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998, phone (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653.