From the Editor: In recent years Miss Whozit has answered reader questions about etiquette and good manners, particularly as they involve blindness. If you would like to pose a question to Miss Whozit, you can send it to the attention of Gary Wunder, 200 East Wells Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, or email me at <email@example.com>. I will pass the questions along. Letters may be edited for space and clarity. Here are the most recent letters Miss Whozit has received:
Dear Miss Whozit,
I have been legally blind for just under five years. I need your advice to decide how much it is reasonable for me to ask my family to modify their way of life now that I can’t see the messes they leave around the house.
I have read Federation literature and am very encouraged about our attitudes about independence and normality, and I certainly don’t want to use blindness as an excuse, but I am having trouble with some things that my kids do. Since my diagnosis my husband has gotten better at closing drawers and cupboard doors—he is certainly better than he was when I could see to close them and avoid walking into their corners. I guess I should have taken a stronger stand on such things when the children were little because when the kids come home for visits from college and their jobs, they are making my life miserable.
Not only do they leave doors half open, they leave their not-quite-empty soda cans on the coffee and end tables. Of course I find them the hard way and then have to clean up the spills that result. I have asked them to close drawers and clean up after themselves, not to mention removing their shoes and coats from the living room floor, but they apparently can’t be bothered. I don’t want to spend their visits complaining and nagging, but I also don’t want to spend them cleaning up messes and applying ice to my bruises. Please help me decide what is fair to ask others to do and chart a reasonable course in my home.
Bruised but Still Trying
Miss Whozit commends you for your impulse to avoid using blindness as an excuse for insisting that the world be remade for your convenience. She merely wishes to enquire with all due respect, whose house is it anyway? A good deal of negotiating territory lies between insisting that every movable object in your home be returned to its exact location and no furniture should ever be moved out of its appointed position on the one hand and allowing members of your family to make your life miserable by disregarding reasonable requests to be considerate. Your husband can take a hand in resolving this unfortunate situation if he is willing to do so. When he observes someone leave a drawer open or sees a soda can in the living room, he can casually ask the offender to close the drawer or enquire whose can is on the table and then ask him or her to deal with it appropriately. Mostly adult children can be pretty lax about maintaining the rules of their parents’ home when they have become used to the trash heaps that most dorm rooms and first apartments become at their hands. But that is no reason why they should not be expected to remember the adage: when in Rome, do as the Romans do.
When you are visiting in someone else’s home, Miss Whozit is quite certain that you try to meet or exceed the owner’s standard of neatness. You make the bed, hang up your towels, tuck away your possessions in public rooms, and offer to carry glasses and plates to the kitchen. Your children are becoming visitors in your home, and they should learn to adopt the same principle. When you are in an unfamiliar space, you would be advised to use your white cane to check your path and find room doors that are ajar, but you should not be forced to use the same precautions in your own home. Young children cannot be expected to pick up their possessions, and blind parents soon learn to kick the toys aside and pick up the mess frequently, but your adult children do not have the same excuse for inconveniencing or damaging you.
Miss Whozit emphatically urges you to establish rules of conduct in your home that will keep you in control of the space. She then urges you and your husband to inform your offspring and their friends that those who do not care to abide by these rules are welcome to spend their vacation time elsewhere and make brief visits when their behavior can be limited to that of casual guests. Hold the line by not making exceptions. If your home had just been painted, you would not allow anyone to write on the walls. If your husband was allergic to peanuts, you would not allow anyone to bring them into the house. No one would think you were obsessive if you asked people to remove their shoes before stepping onto new white carpeting. We all establish house rules to fit the circumstances of our families. Your circumstances have changed, and everyone should expect you to adjust the rules for your own convenience.
Good luck holding the line.
Dear Miss Whozit,
My wife and I are both blind, and we have three children who are getting old enough to be helpful to us in reading and identifying things. I have observed blind parents who expected their kids to stop what they were doing whenever the parent had a problem that required sight to solve. We don’t think this is fair to the kids, and we do not want to be dependent on our children. At the same time it seems as though we should not have to pay for all the reader time we need when our kids could do some of those jobs.
What do you think? Is it fair for us to expect our children, who are fourteen, twelve, and ten, to contribute their vision to the smooth running of our home? Or would doing so undermine our authority as parents and rob them of their childhood?
A Perplexed Parent
Miss Whozit subscribes to the principle that every member of the family old enough to understand instructions should bear some responsibility for the efficient operation of the home. For a toddler this might be merely picking up toys and fetching tissues or diapers for a busy parent. As the children mature, their duties should naturally expand. Of course no child should be expected to carry an adult share of family responsibility, but youngsters who grow up learning that their duties expand to fit their growing maturity and capacity to behave responsibly usually adjust to carrying their share of the load.
Parents should expect to assign jobs that are age appropriate and within the child’s ability and attention span, and it goes without saying that the jobs should also be useful to the parent. Identifying mail or groceries for a blind parent is a perfectly appropriate job for any child who can read. Paying the family’s bills, however, is not. Identifying bus numbers or addresses when the family is traveling can even be a privilege for young readers, but taking a child out of school to serve as a human guide on a parental trip is almost always inappropriate.
In short, Miss Whozit believes that all children should have age-appropriate duties in the family, and there is nothing wrong in these being tasks that will assist a blind parent. Mutual respect and consideration should guide family discussions about assigning jobs. You might consider offering to pay your oldest child to do extra reading for you. If the alternative would be hiring a paid reader, why not give the business to your own teen. Some reading and identifying should be expected of all the children, but extraordinary jobs should be paid for in cash or extra privileges. This usually motivates everyone to try to prove that he or she is old enough and responsible enough to get the paid work.
Don’t be surprised, however, if your children grumble about the amount of work they are expected to do. All kids complain, but they will thank you later on when they know how to do things around the house and aren’t afraid of work or organizing their time.