Future Reflections Convention Issue 2013
by Dr. Jessica Ewell
Introduction by Carlton Walker: Our next speaker on the topic of life without limits is Dr. Jessica Ewell. And she's an opera singer!
It's a great pleasure to be here with you this morning. Thank you to Carol Castellano and President Carlton Walker for putting together such a great seminar. I want to talk to you from the perspective of someone who has been blind since I was a little child. The topic of this seminar is "No Limits," and there are no limits to the things I could talk to you about. I've chosen three aspects of what "No Limits" means for you as parents of blind children and what it can mean for your children as they grow up and realize their potential.
The first thing I want to talk to you about is talent. Each person has the capacity to live for something greater than himself or herself and to share with others so that others can also benefit. Everyone has gifts. If I talk to each of you, I'm sure you can tell me about the gifts your child has. But it's important to let your children experiment and find out what their gifts are. When I was little, my parents were very good at this. They let me play a lot. They let me figure out what I had to give, what I was good at.
I went through all sorts of things. For the longest time I thought it would be really good to be a waitress. I thought I'd be great! I pretended I was carrying trays. Then I wanted to be a judge, so we went through a courtroom spell. People would come up to me and I'd put them on the stand and they would call me Your Honor. It was great! Then I wanted to be a model. And finally I wanted to be a musician.
My parents let me go through all of those phases. They were very supportive. They never said, "How are you going to be a waitress? You can't do that!" They let me discover what I really could do, what I could offer. I discovered that I loved telling stories. I loved bringing music to people and bringing people into the beauty of art, helping them know what is true and good. My parents encouraged me in those things.
The other side of bringing out your child's talents is the tough love that Anil Lewis spoke about earlier. If I decided to take dance lessons, great! But I had to commit myself to those lessons. I couldn't take them and stop and move on to something else. I had to take them for at least a year, and I had to practice.
This discipline applies not only to areas that are unrelated to blindness, but also to training in blindness skills. In order to become successful adults, your children need skills. They're not going to wake up and suddenly be amazing travelers. They have to go through all the boringness of practicing. They have to get lost and find out how to get unlost.
I hated practicing the piano. I remember my cousin babysitting me, and she had been told to make sure that I practiced. I was great at throwing tantrums, because I had a really strong will. My cousin can tell you that I had my mind set on not practicing that day. But luckily for me, she was stronger than I was. She said, "You're going to sit there and you're going to practice."
My parents took me seriously. If you really believe in your child's gifts, you also must believe that your child needs the training that will bring out those gifts and develop them to their fullest. So training is the second piece that I want to emphasize today. Whether or not your child pursues the talent she is developing now, the skills that she learns through practice and discipline will carry over into whatever she decides to do.
Finally, I want to talk about trust. It's so important for you to trust your kids and to give them real responsibilities. I'm the oldest child in my family. I was thrilled when my baby brothers arrived. Then I was even more thrilled when I got a sister--I wanted a sister very badly! I remember being really really excited because my parents let me take care of my brothers and sister. I don't mean they pretended I was taking care of them while they supervised. No, they said, "Jessie's in charge. She's taking care of you. She's the oldest, so she's the authority."
I remember telling my mother that I could rate my grandparents and my aunts and uncles according to how much they trusted me. I said, "Aunt So-and-So, I don't like her because she never lets me hold Ben." And I said, "I love you, Mom, because you're not afraid to let me hold him. You let me hold him all the time." I distinctly remember how much that trust meant to me.
As the parent of a blind child, you may feel it's a little scary to let go. Sometimes it's easier to protect your child than to let him go out and do the protecting. I encourage you to trust your children and let them feel that trust. As they grow up, they're going to become contributing members of society who can give of themselves. They're going to learn that contributing is a heavy and glorious responsibility. Teach them the skills they need so that your trust will be well founded.
I would love to be here for you as a resource. If you just want to talk, or if you want to tell me about your child's talents and accomplishments, I am here for you. Thank you for being here this morning, and enjoy your convention!