by Terri Cotten
From the Editor: This article is reprinted with the permission of the Denver Post, its author, Terri Cotten, and her daughter who is both the photographer and the inspiration for this article, Jamie Cotten Walker. It appeared on March 27, 2014, and does a tremendous job in describing Ena and Brent Batron and the role the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind plays in their lives:
When Ena Iraheta and Brent Batron met in May 2001, just days after arriving at the Colorado Center for the Blind, it was "love at first sound," they said. They loved one another's voices. But then Brent, who has limited tunnel vision, took off the blindfold required of every new student to fill out some paperwork. When he saw Ena for the first time, she was so beautiful, he said, "I knew she was out of my league."
Today, the two are married with five sighted children—two-year-old twins, Noah and Roman; Olivia, four; Sienna, seven, and Gavin, eight. Brent, forty-three, supports the family with a full-time job as director of youth programs at the Colorado Center for the Blind. Ena, thirty-eight, cares for the children and can often be seen using the city's bus system, the twins in a buggy and the other three in tow.
Iraheta cares for their children in their Littleton home, where love and humor are in abundance. In their boisterous Littleton household, love and humor go a long way, and every day brings a new parenting challenge. "For the most part, they do respect what I say," said Ena. "It amazes me that they're so young, and they understand it's for their safety. They're my life," Iraheta says. "Everything revolves around them."
Others who know the Batrons agree. "They never miss a school function," said Marcy Guthrie, Sienna's second-grade teacher at Highland Elementary School in Littleton. "They are all about their kids." When Brent spoke to Sienna's class about being blind, he brought books about blind people, a Braille calendar, and a Braille alphabet card for each student. "When he came to school and talked, he had such an easy way with the kids, making jokes, making light of things," she said, "and making the kids understand that 'just because I can't see doesn't mean I'm not just like you.’"
Blindness doesn't slow down this family. They ride bikes and play ball together. Sienna plays on a softball team, Gavin plays baseball, and Olivia is in gymnastics. On a recent weekend, Brent stayed home with the twins while Ena took the other three swimming. When the school held its annual "Highland Hustle," a run for which the children train, Ena came and ran with the children, Guthrie said.
Ena, herself, wasn't always so positive. Born in El Salvador, she immigrated to Los Angeles with her mother, brother, and sister when she was five. Ena was the oldest child, and her family was not affectionate or understanding. When she realized she was losing her sight, her mother told her to stop complaining.
After she failed a driving test out of high school, Ena was referred to an ophthalmologist, and diagnosed with dominant optic atrophy, a rare condition that has left her with limited peripheral vision. "I had been working in the hospitality industry, at the reception desk, but my sight became a barrier," she said. "I tried to joke about it, but it was no longer funny."
At the age of twenty-five, she arrived at the Colorado Center for the Blind, hoping to learn Braille and computer software skills so she could return to the hospitality industry. She wasn't thinking about a family.
Brent grew up in Maine as an only child. He wanted to be a teacher, but the parents of one of his good friends were both teachers and discouraged him, so he majored in math and went to work at a grocery store.
"I was moving up the corporate chain, when I began having trouble seeing," he said. "I was put on disability and in 1997 was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa," a condition he calls a "family heirloom."
"I've probably had it since I was a kid," he said. "I loved baseball but was a terrible hitter in Little League. Later, after I was diagnosed, I was bouncing from job to job and very depressed. My uncle quit working at twenty-seven; my father quit at thirty. Neither ever went back to work . . . It was pretty hard to think I'd never work again."
After he met Ena, the two began going to Colorado Rockies games and out to dinner. Both graduated from the center's program that October, then moved to Maine and got jobs at call centers. They continued dating and married on May 10, 2003. A year later, they returned to Colorado for Brent's job.
The Colorado Center for the Blind's largest program is the residential Independence Training Program for adults, the one in which Brent and Ena met. The center also offers programs for students of all ages, senior citizens, and support for the families of those with vision impairment.
Executive Director Julie Deden said she was "very excited about the opportunity to have Brent back." When he was a student, he was a mentor to a couple of our other students. He would volunteer to do some teaching in 'cane travel.' I was very impressed with that. After directing that program, Brent became youth services director in 2008 and significantly strengthened those programs, Deden said.
"Brent has a lot of creativity and a lot of passion for his work. We're serving more people and doing a lot more innovative types of things. The quality of what we do has really grown. That's exciting. He has all kinds of contact with universities, colleges, and professors in the area and has put together some very exciting programs for our blind kids."
Earlier this year Brent arranged for Arapahoe Community College biology professor Terry Harrison to guide students at the center to dissect sharks. "It's pretty unique to give them this opportunity," said Harrison, who is in his third year of working with the center, thanks to Brent. "I tend to think about my words a little harder and make it a little clearer. Other than that, they're just like any other students."
For his part, Brent gets to be the teacher he always wanted to be and have the size of family he always wanted. "Bonus family. We wanted four (children) and we got a bonus," Brent jokes about the twins.
When Ena was two months pregnant with the twins, Gavin saw the ultrasound and exclaimed, "Wow. There're two!"
The Batrons admit that money is tight, but say they're willing to sacrifice for their children. There also are many things they can do that cost very little. One evening, Sienna and her dad took the bus into Littleton to see a dress rehearsal of the musical "Annie." The center gets free tickets to dress rehearsals, and Brent wanted Sienna to see it.
Gavin brags about beating his dad at video football, but said one of the things he likes best about his family is their New Year's Eve tradition. "We play Monopoly, then watch the ball drop. We have sparkling cider."
Sienna and Olivia are learning to cook and bake from their mother. Sienna likes playing school with Gavin, Olivia and Brent. All the older children have chores, although Ena smiles when she said they tried childproofing the house, and the children just worked together to dismantle it.
Brent said he thinks Ena's skill with the children comes from her own childhood. She wants the opposite for her children, and so she gives lots of love and kisses.
Ena said she appreciates Brent's sense of humor. "We do a lot of joking," she said. "We do discipline with humor, a lot of humor."
That's not to say they never get angry. When Ena was seven months pregnant with Gavin, the doctors ran tests to see if Gavin would suffer the same condition as either of his parents. That irritated both parents. "If he is born blind, who cares?" Brent asked. "What better situation for him to be born into than two parents who understand blindness."
That prompted Brent to begin offering training for Denver-area medical staffs. “Blindness is not a disease,” he said. “If an ophthalmologist diagnoses a patient with vision problems, then we can be a resource."
While helping with homework, both parents strive to let their children work things out for themselves. They work hard to teach independence, but don't want their children to be afraid to ask for help.
"We know enough blind people who put (leash-like) belts on their kids," Brent said. "Ours are holding hands. They respect traffic. They're walking or on the bus. They're a lot better behaved around traffic."
Center director Deden said the Batron children are "great, great, great kids. They're very social, and always excited about something," she said. "Ena always has them out and about, which amazes me, because I don't think most moms would want to take five kids with them everywhere. These kids have already learned so much about the world and its diversity, and that's very valuable.”
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