Braille Monitor                                                                                                            January 2005

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My Parents Are Blind

by Maria Rivera Ley, as told to Brooke Lea Foster

The Ley family: Eileen holding Jon Carlos, Tom, and Maria.
The Ley family: Eileen holding Jon Carlos, Tom, and Maria

From the Editor: The following article first appeared in the September 2004 issue of Parents magazine. Eileen and Tom Ley are longtime leaders of the Federation. They live busy, productive lives, and they are bringing up two delightful youngsters. Now meet the Ley family as viewed by daughter Maria:

Life is surprisingly normal when neither of the adults in the house can see, says this twelve-year-old girl.

Some kids bring their goldfish or coin collection to school for show-and-tell. In third grade I brought my mom. Since she's blind and I can see, my classmates wanted to know: could I steal cookies from the cookie jar without getting caught? I had to laugh. Of course I couldn't. She could hear the jar closing. Even now I think I get away with less than other twelve-year-olds in the Baltimore suburb where we live. My mom is always listening. I swear she can even hear me rolling my eyes at her! And if I choose a low-cut T-shirt when we're shopping, she'll examine it with her hands and make me find another one.

My stepfather, Tom, is blind too. He lost his sight when he was eighteen because of juvenile diabetes, but my mom has been blind since birth. She's never seen my face, yet she knows that my hair is long and dark, my skin is mocha, and I have her wide, almond-shaped eyes. She says she doesn't mind that she'll never see me in a graduation cap or wedding dress because she'll always be there listening and touching. But sometime if I have a soccer game or I'm dancing in a musical at school, she'll admit that she's sad she can't see me in action.

I actually didn't understand that my mother couldn't see until I was five years old. After that I kept asking her to take me to the doctor because I wanted to have my eyes checked. My mom realized I was worried that I'd become blind too, and she explained that I couldn't catch blindness the way I could catch a cold.

Kids--and sometimes adults--assume that, because my parents can't see, I'm in charge. For example, people think I read their email to them. But my mom and Tom read their own email using a special computer device that talks and has a keyboard with Braille letters. People also figure that I lead my parents across the street, read them bedtime stories, and bathe my three-year-old brother, Jon Carlos. Not true. To cross the street, my mother waits at the corner, listens to make sure the cars have stopped, and then leads me across the busy four-lane intersection. At bathtime my mom rubs a sponge along my brother's back, feeling her way down to his toes. Before bed we read books that have words printed beneath Braille.

Like everyone else's mom, mine is always on me about my schoolwork. She makes me read my homework answers out loud to her. Tom used to be a math teacher, so I ask him questions too. Mom has never let her blindness stand in her way. She went to college at Harvard and to Wharton School of Business, and now she works from home part-time selling advertising for a local magazine. This encourages me to work extra hard to overcome my own challenges. I have dyslexia. Teachers assume I'm dyslexic because I have blind parents who didn't read to me. That really annoys Mom. We've always listened to books with our talking computer.

My mom does most of the cooking. We love her rice and beans. Some blind people have Braille labels or magnets on their canned and frozen food, but Mom feels for textures instead. A short, round can is tuna. She can tell the difference between bags of frozen carrots and broccoli by feeling the shape inside.

Mom doesn't let her lack of sight stop us from having fun. We play versions of Monopoly and Scrabble that use Braille. Last year we went to Walt Disney World and Hershey Park. Jon Carlos and I went on the kids' rides, and a guide took Mom and Tom on the roller coasters.

I think we're closer than a lot of mothers and daughters because we've been through so much together. When I was a year old, my sighted father left my mother, and she was single for several years before she married Tom. My father lives a few hours away, and I spend summers with him.

Because my mother and Tom can't drive, she has to find creative ways to get chores and errands done. She's made friends with neighbors who pick up our dry cleaning and take her to the grocery store. Tom takes taxicabs to his job as a manager at UPS's information system. I get rides to and from school. My mom doesn't want anyone to think of us as a charity case. To repay people for their kindness, she'll often drop off a precooked casserole for them, or Tom will fix their computer.

But sometimes things don't work out so easily. Recently we had to take my brother to the eye doctor on the same day I had to go to the pediatrician because I'd hurt my foot. After my appointment we called a cab. Mom waited on hold for more than forty minutes, until her cell phone battery died. We were stranded and had to walk two miles to get home. My foot was aching, and Jon Carlos was getting cranky. Mom balanced his car seat on one shoulder so she could use her white cane. When he refused to walk, we took turns carrying him. "Some people get tough by playing sports," she told me. "We toughen up by getting where we need to go."

We have our hard days. But every day my mom teaches me how to overcome challenges, a lesson she says is the greatest of all. I think it's really cool having blind parents. Some of my friends are scared to be different, but I've always liked the fact that my family is unique.

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