Elizabeth and Miriam Anderson
Blind Woman Couldn't See
Living Without Her Baby
by Ellen Thompson
From the Editor: What should a Federationist do when a newspaper undertakes to write a story about her but leaves out important information? That's what happened to Elizabeth Anderson of St. Paul, Minnesota. The reporter spent a good deal of time with Elizabeth and her daughter but ignored the question of how she had come to deal positively and matter-of-factly with her blindness. The following story is reprinted with permission from the August 24, 1997, edition of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
This story is for a seven-month-old girl named Miriam. It is for her to read when she is grown up and curious to learn more about her first months of life with her mother Elizabeth Anderson, who is blind and has been from birth.
Miriam, your day begins in a two-room, low-income apartment on Wabasha Street in St. Paul that your mother has furnished cozily with your crib, picture books, and playthings. Your mom wakes up to the sound of your strong, plump, creamy-white legs pumping and kicking against a toy that hangs on the inside of your crib.
Before she rises from the double bed in the next room, she lifts up the hinged crystal that covers the clock face of her watch and runs the fingers of her right hand over it in one deft stroke. It's 6:00 a.m. Snap, she closes the crystal, rises eagerly. Without hesitation, she strides toward the thumping, gurgling sounds that are you.
On the way to your room she trips over a stuffed bear you left on the floor when you were rolling around last night. Otherwise, though the apartment appears clutteredtossed piles of clean laundry along a wall, papers strewn on a tableit is organized in her memory, and she is certain about the locations of hundreds of objects.
"Well, hello little Peanut. Precious. How are you? How are you?" she says in a sweet, sing-song voice as she stoops over the crib and scoops you out. You weigh twenty pounds and are twenty-seven inches long. You are her treasure.
She places you on a mat on the floor and reaches for a package of diapers under a table. Takes the messy diaper off. Wipes you clean. Puts a clean diaper on. Reaches into a pile of clothes and pulls out two pieces of clothing. Perhaps it is the lace-trimmed, pale yellow knit dress with the pink rosebuds and the little bloomers that match. When you are out on the street in your stroller, strangers marvel at how perfectly you are dressed. Each item of clothing feels distinct to your mother's sensitive touch.
Your mom learned colors by associating them with particular objects. She learned shades of color by picturing them as hot or cold, warm or cool. Someone told her your hair is getting a brighter red, but she is not sure exactly what that means. Your eyes are blue, lighter than your mother's. "I think hers...are they like the sky?" your mother asks.
"I know I love you." There is no one else in your mother's life right now. At twenty-four, she is a single mother and estranged from her family. Her life revolves around you.
She left home during her senior year of high school, ran away to a friend's house, and stayed there until she graduated. She loved schoolespecially her English classesbut her family didn't think she could go to college. She figured she never would if she didn't break away.
She became pregnant with you, Miriam, while enrolled at the University of Minnesota. Your father, who is also blind, did not want to acknowledge you. Others urged your mother to put you up for adoption. "You'll be able to go on with your life," they said. But once you began poking and kicking with tiny hands and feet at your mother's ribs, your mother thought, "How can I go on with life and not wonder if what is going on with my child is good?"
It was bitterly cold January 13, 1997, the day you were born. But you entered the world fast, aerodynamically, your mother thought. Out to the end of the berthing bed, kersplash. Everyone in the room was crying, especially your mother. She couldn't wait to hold you.
"I know I love you, Miriam," she thought. "And there are no other guarantees. I could give you up to a couple with a nice income. The couple could divorce. They could lose their jobs. I may not be able to buy you fancy things, but I do know I love you."
She joined a church because of you. She had always had faith, a belief in God, but suddenly it seemed important to have clear values and to have you grow up seeing your mother living the way she should.
She takes you now to church each Sunday. In your small apartment she plays cassette tapes of children's songs and hymns.
She reads to you often, too. Someone somewhere told her about the Red Balloon bookstore on Grand Avenue. She made her way there and bought you five books, including the classic, Good Night Moon. She mailed the books to an organization that translated them into Braille on clear, adhesive-backed plastic cards and mounted the cards onto the pages. She asked for Braille descriptions of all the pictures as well.
Your mother's left hand quickly pushes her right hand into place, and the fingers of her right hand quickly decipher all the little raised dots. She laughs with delight as she reads aloud to you.
"Is she looking?" your mother asks every once in a while.
"Does she like it? What is she doing?"
Of course she means you. And you, Miriam, are looking right at the page of colors and shapes as she holds them up.
If you grow sleepy as she reads, your mother sings. She doesn't see your eyelids drop, but she feels your body grow still and surrender with a little shudder. Your legs and arms grow limp.
You and your mother don't go out often. Mostly on errands to nearby city blocks. Your first visit to the Children's Museum was a big trip. That is beyond Walgreen's, where Mom picks up diapers, over a bricked area, past a place where an open door tosses out air-conditioned air smelling of coffee, past a spot heavily scented with popcorn and sugar.
"Here we go," your mother says brightly as you set out. She pulls your stroller with her left hand, arm crooked back at a right angle, out through the apartment. The air in the hallway is stale and smells of grease. The carpet is grimy. Voices, some arguing, can often be heard behind closed doors.
Down the elevator. Your mom stops to fish a brimmed bonnet from a bag and ties it on your head. Her left arm crooks back again as she grabs to pull your stroller along, and her right arm wags her white cane. Back and forth it probes. Brick, carpet, metal bottom of a glass door. Pull the door. Push the next door. Out to the sidewalk.
Kick-kick. Kick-kick. On your back, in the stroller, looking up at the world, people's faces, windows, sky, awnings, you're excited.
Your mom charges along, waving the cane before her. People on the sidewalk scatter. A little boy yelps when she mistakenly bumps him. Near each corner she runs into a collection of newspaper boxes and a trash box. In front of some stores her cane catches and arches on flower boxes.
"I didn't realize it was this close," she says at the museum entrance, which is just blocks from your apartment.
Elizabeth and Miriam play on the floor of the baby's nursery.
"Are you so happy? Are you so happy?" she sing-songs to you.
Your mother explores the wall of a child-sized castle, brick by brick, tries on a costume, fingers weavings made by children, and shakes sheet metal to create a scary sound like thunder. You roll around in the "pond life" infant play area, where you chew on a fake lily pad and play with a stuffed frog and turtle.
On the way home you stop at Applebaum's grocery store, where an older man named Eddie helps your mom find milk, cereal, and a dozen perfect eggs.
"I can make her laugh, I'll make her laugh," Eddie says, leaning his face in at you.
Folks keep an eye out for you and your mother. Besides Eddie, there's Dick, who operates a little convenience store close to where you live. Dick baby-sits you once in a while when it's cold or raining. You sit with him behind the counter, with the popcorn machine and cigarette cartons, and all sorts of characters who come into his store fuss over you.
Some people worry about you and your mother. When the din of jackhammers in the street confused your mother and she wandered into the middle of Wabasha Street with you one day, all traffic stopped. And your mother got somewhat angry when someone tried to help.
She has little patience with people who threaten her hard-won independence. And she hates those "wishy-washy stories that make someone blind out to be this amazing person just because they are able to do things."
When she became your mother, someone told her, "You are making a big mistake. You are going to have a harder time than most."
"Really," your mother said determinedly to herself. "Want to bet?"
The Pioneer Press article was positive, but Elizabeth believed that very important information had been left out. So she wrote a letter to the editor to fill in the missing pieces. The Pioneer Press published the letter a few days later. Here it is:
September 5, 1997
I want to thank the Pioneer Press for printing my story (Sunday, August 24). I hope my daughter will treasure it as much as I treasure her.
Ellen Thompson wrote a beautiful message that I want Miriam to understand: Because I love her, I will give her the best upbringing I know how to, and my blindness will not interfere with my ability to do that.
There is, however, more to my story that I want Miriam and your readers to know. It is not by accident or luck that I keep my blindness in a positive perspective. Actually it may have involved a bit of luck. When I left home, I knew that I must create a better future for myself, but I did not know how to go about it. I was fortunate enough to meet members of the National Federation of the Blind who helped me realize how much I had to learn about being blind. I was a person with high aspirations but little self-confidence. I was told about a program in Minnesota that was operated by blind people and could teach me what I needed to know. It was called BLIND, Inc. (Blindness: Learning In New Dimensions), and, by moving to Minnesota, I was able to avail myself of this training. I learned to believe in myself.
My friends in the Federation provide constant encouragement. In return I hope that I can do the same for other blind people. A mother has many hopes and dreams for her child. There are also some certainties. Miriam will always be loved; she will know the value of caring and sharing with others; and she will know that it is respectable to be blind.