The Posont Family: Peter and Katie, standing in rear; Paul standing beside his parents, Donna and Larry; Betsy seated on Donna's lap; and Ruth Anne standing in front of Larry.
Seeing Is Believing They Told Us We Couldn't Take Care of our Children Because We're Blind by Lori K. Baker ********** From the Editor: the following article appeared in the May 11, 1999, issue of Family Circle Magazine. Donna and Larry Posont are leaders in the NFB of Michigan and the NFB's merchants division. Here it is: ********** It's 7:30 on a school-day morning, a hectic time for forty- two-year-old Donna Posont. The mother of five stands at a sizzling griddle, flipping French toast as fast as a short-order cook. Two-and-a-half-year-old Betsy toddles to her mother, bells jingling on her tiny shoes. "How's mama's baby?" Donna gently coos, sprinkling cinnamon on the French toast. She whisks her youngest into her arms, hoists her on a hip, and begins to set the breakfast table.
As the scent of cinnamon wafts through her Dearborn Heights, Michigan, home, Donna's sons, Peter, ten, and Paul, eight, bound into the kitchen, followed by daughters Katie, sixteen, and Ruth Anne, five, and husband Larry, forty-eight, a snack-bar-service owner. "Ruthie, why don't I go to school today, and you stay home?" teases Larry. His little girl giggles, flashing deep dimples.
Quickly finishing breakfast, the kids are ready to dart out the door for school. But first Donna checks how they're dressed. "Let me see you," she tells Ruthie, running her hands over her daughter's shirt and sweatpants. One by one, she touches her other children's clothes and asks what they're wearing. Donna can feel for herself if they are dressed warmly, but she and her husband can only imagine how adorable their kids look. Donna and Larry are both blind--and all five of their children are sighted.
"How do you do it?" friends constantly ask the couple, who juggle two careers and run a household of active youngsters. It takes lots of love, courage, and ingenuity, say the Posonts, especially when you can't see what your kids are up to. "We do a lot of careful listening," says Donna, who runs a snack bar and vending machine service called Donna's Delights from her home. "Sighted parents see their children going into the kitchen, but I hear the cookie jar opening or juice pouring into a cup. I smell toothpaste when my kids have brushed their teeth, soap when they've washed their hands, and candy on their breath." ********** Starting a Family, Facing the Fear
When Donna and Larry married nearly twelve years ago--the second time for both--they realized they'd face unique challenges, especially since they knew their children would be sighted. Donna's blindness is genetic--she has retinitis pigmentosa (RP), better known as tunnel vision, which causes a progressive loss of sight. Donna lost her sight at age eight. To inherit RP, typically both parents must pass on the gene. But Larry's blindness is not genetic. His stems from scarring of the retina, a condition brought on by being placed in a high-oxygen incubator as a baby. Larry had limited vision in his left eye until age sixteen when he suffered a detached retina and became totally blind.
"We never had any doubt that we could raise a family," says Larry. "If we had married sooner, we would have had a dozen kids," he adds, laughing. When Donna became pregnant with son Peter soon after their wedding, the couple were thrilled, especially Larry. He didn't have any children from his previous marriage, but Donna did--her daughter, Katie--and she knew the stress and anxiety of being a blind parent all too well. "My biggest fear was that Katie would get sick, and I wouldn't know her temperature," Donna admits. At first she would ask a neighbor to take Katie's temperature at the slightest hint of fever. But she soon learned to trust her sense of touch, placing her hands on Katie's forehead and cheeks. (These days she uses a talking thermometer.)
Like many new mothers, Donna also lived in fear that her baby might choke or swallow something unsafe. When Katie was thirteen months old, Donna's worst nightmare came true. Katie had become lethargic--almost lifeless--and she wouldn't eat. Frantic, Donna wondered whether Katie had swallowed something dangerous. "I was hysterical," she recalls. Donna's brother-in-law rushed them to the emergency room, where doctors took blood tests to rule out poisoning. After an agonizing wait, Donna overheard the doctor phoning the lab for the test results, "The mother doesn't know if the baby swallowed anything," he said. "She's blind."'
Tears of humiliation welled in Donna's eyes. "It just crushed me," she says. "Suddenly I felt totally inadequate. I started thinking, I am blind. Maybe I shouldn't be a mother." Heartsick, Donna felt utter relief when tests showed no signs of poisoning. Doctors later discovered Katie had a hernia, which was making her nauseated and lethargic. After corrective surgery Katie quickly returned to good health.
Although the terrifying episode caused Donna moments of self-doubt, deep down she knew she was a capable mother despite what anyone else might think.
After the birth of the Posonts' first son, Peter, in 1988, a hospital social worker stopped by to see Donna before she and her newborn were discharged. She asked whether Donna needed help at home, such as rides to take the baby to the doctor. "Of course I always need rides," replied Donna, who relies on taxicabs, buses, and friends to get around. The social worker jotted down a few notes and left.
A week later Donna was shocked to get a call from child protective services. "Why are you calling us?" she asked. The caseworker said it was a hospital referral and that she must now come for a home visit. Donna's stomach immediately tied in a knot. "I felt like I was on trial, and I had to prove my children were okay," she says.
When the caseworker arrived, she asked questions about who fed and bathed the baby and who changed diapers. She noticed Katie, in pigtails, playing on the floor with one of her friends. "Who braided Katie's hair?" the caseworker asked curiously. "I did," Donna told her.
"I think she was surprised that my daughter's hair was fixed and that another parent was allowing a blind woman to watch her child," Donna says. Once the caseworker realized Donna took good care of her children, she left.
Bells, Beepers, and Other Tricks of the Trade
What child protective services didn't know about the Posonts is just how ingenious they are in handling all the day-to-day tasks of raising youngsters. "We're like anyone else," Donna says. "We just do things differently." While laundry for a family of seven is a daunting task for anyone, Donna has figured out clever ways to make it easier. (Even sighted parents could try these tips.) She has family members fold dirty socks together; then she pins them so they stay matched in the wash. In the laundry room, she keeps a different basket for each person, lined up according to age. "When the clothes come out of the dryer, I can tell who they belong to by size and shape," Donna explains.
Donna can also maneuver through a maze of supermarket aisles with no problem. She's memorized her grocery store's layout and can easily shop alone. But she prefers to take a different child with her each week. "This gives me one-on-one time with each of them, something they find precious," Donna explains.
One thing Donna won't do is rely on her children for help beyond their basic chores. Otherwise, she believes, it blurs the line between a parent's role and a child's. To keep track of the flood of mail and school papers that land on her desk, for instance, she hires a reader to come in once a week and go through a stack. "I'd be willing to pay Katie to do the job," says Donna. "But I'd never make it her responsibility."
Still family roles become confused in public, where strangers often treat the Posont children as if they are the ones in charge. Katie remembers well-intentioned strangers often asking, "Aren't you Mommy's little helper?" when she was young. "Who do they think took care of me?" says Katie. "My mom and dad can do everything."
"It's not that strangers are trying to be rude," Larry says, recalling similar incidents. "There's just a lot of misconceptions and negative stereotypes about blindness."
The Posont kids' friends are equally curious about what it's like to be raised by blind parents, say Peter and Paul, who are often asked what they can get away with at home. To their friends' amazement, the answer is "not much." Careful listeners, Donna and Larry always seem to know what their kids are doing-- "Like when we're downstairs playing, and we're supposed to be in bed," admits Paul. The eight-year-old also confesses to trying to sneak chocolate. Then his mom will give him a kiss, smell the chocolate on his breath, and his secret is out.
Typical boys, Peter and Paul enjoy roughhousing and playing sports with their dad. "I spend a lot of time with my kids," says Larry. "I want them to know how much I love them." Thanks to clever inventions, he and his children are able to play all sorts of games together. "We play catch with baseballs and soccer balls that beep," says Peter. "And we shoot hoops with a basketball with bells. We also have checkers and Scrabble in Braille." But what amazes the boys about their dad is his uncanny ability to bowl. "At first the kids thought they could beat me bowling," says Larry, laughing about a recent family outing. "Then I scored 163 on one game. When I got a strike, you could hear everyone in the bowling alley hollering." Larry's secret? A guide rail designed for blind bowlers, which he holds with his left hand as he rolls the ball with his right. The kids were still impressed. "It's amazing how he gets all those strikes," says Paul. "I always get curb balls."
Like any proud father, Larry totes a camcorder to his children's hockey and soccer games, school plays and musical performances. "We want pictures of our kids, too," he says. "Not just for us, but for our children to know they're special." But, he admits, it's a real challenge. Sometimes kind strangers help; other times Larry aims and hopes for the best. "I don't always get a picture of the kids, but at least I get their voices. Someday they'll look at these tapes and say, `My dad was blind, but he was always there.'" **********
A House Full of Love
On a recent afternoon Betsy squeals with delight as Larry arrives home from work at 4:30 p.m. He sits on the living room floor and quickly becomes a human jungle gym with kids crawling all over him. "Hi, buddy," he says to Paul, playfully tousling his son's hair. "This is one thing no one can take away from me-- the closeness I have with my children," says Larry. "Sure, it upsets me that I'll never see my kids. But I know what their faces look like because I've felt them, touched them, and kissed them."
In the kitchen Donna sets the table for a crowd-pleasing dinner of spaghetti, crescent rolls, and salad. After dinner Peter and Paul rush out the door for hockey practice. Nowadays Donna's biggest challenge is keeping track of her active kids' schedules: church youth groups, hockey, cheerleading, Boy Scouts. "It's a lot to juggle," Donna readily admits.
While Katie does her homework, Donna snuggles on the couch with Ruthie and Betsy for story time. Nestled between her daughters, Donna reads The Berenstein Bears Forget Their Manners- -the girls' favorite--aloud as her fingers decipher raised dots of Braille. Donna's Twin Vision(R) book is cleverly designed so the blind and sighted can read together: it has transparent pages with Braille over typical storybook pages. Hanging on to every word, Ruthie and Betsy burst into giggles when Papa Bear forgets his manners and Mama Bear gets after him. Much too soon it's time for bed.
Once everyone is tucked in, the weary couple have a quiet moment to reflect on how being raised by blind parents has shaped their children's lives. "They don't make fun of people who are different. They're very patient and tolerant of others' disabilities," says Donna. "In many ways they are wise beyond their years." That doesn't mean they miss out on typical childhood joys. The family has been on trips to Disneyland, Six Flags amusement parks, and different cities across the country.
Like other parents Larry and Donna dream that their children will grow up feeling loved and become happy, healthy, compassionate adults. "In the future I hope my children will get scholarships, go to college, serve the Lord in their lives, and give me lots of grandchildren," says Donna, smiling. Along with these common wishes is a special dream: "We want our lives to give hope and encouragement to parents of blind children. These children can grow up to enjoy fulfilling lives with careers an families," says Donna, a perfect example herself. "No one is limited by blindness. We're only limited by attitude."
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