Future Reflections         Winter 2010

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Encouraging Independence

by June Maurer

Mother of Matt Maurer and Marc Maurer, Mrs. June Maurer addresses a roomful of parents and blindness professionals.Introduction by Carol Castellano: We have a very intergenerational morning today. You have probably heard that behind every man is a great woman - but I bet you didn't know that they were referring to his mother! I am very honored and happy to introduce Marc Maurer's and Matt Maurer's mother, Mrs. June Maurer. Please welcome her.

Marc was a premature baby. He was two months premature, and they said we'd have to watch his eyes because he was having problems with them. He didn't seem to have any trouble with them at first, except that his eyes were large. We lived in Iowa, and we moved to another town. My husband went back to Des Moines to pick up a few things we had left there, and while he was away I noticed that something was wrong and Marc wasn't able to see. He was three or four months old at the time. We were so afraid he wouldn't be able to see. We knew a good doctor up in Minneapolis, so we went up there and had the doctor look at him. The doctor did something for him so that he could see again.

Marc was able to see fairly well until he went into kindergarten. He finished kindergarten in a regular school and then he had another operation on his eyes, and afterward he couldn't see. He had always been such a happy child, doing and going, but after he had that operation he didn't want to do anything but sit in the house. So one day I took him by the hand and I said, "Come on, we're going out to the slide." No, he wasn't going. But I made him go, and he went down the slide. He said, "All right, I went down the slide. Now I'm going back in the house." [Laughter.] I said, "No, you're going down again!" After he went down maybe three times he was having fun, so I went back in the house and he stayed out and played. [Applause.]

He went to regular kindergarten as I told you, but when he lost his sight he had to go to Vinton to the Iowa School for the Blind. I found that out about a week before school started. We scurried around getting him ready and took him down to Vinton. I remember he was standing there looking very sad because we were going to leave him. I said, "I know you probably want to cry, because you're going to miss us and you're going to be unhappy. But try not to cry when anybody will see you, because if you make too much of a fuss they won't let us take you back home again." They had told us that. He had to get acclimated before they would let him go back home. The following weekend we went down and had a picnic with him, and after that his father picked him up every weekend and brought him home.

I think it's important that fathers work with their children who are blind and teach them things. When his father died Marc got up at the funeral and said, "It was my father who taught me to be dependable." His father was very active with him.

When Marc came home at the end of the first grade he said to me, "Do you want me to read you a story?" and I said, "Sure." He sat there reading away and I noticed he wasn't using his fingers. He wasn't reading that story. I had a book from a group of Jewish women who taught Braille. I had learned to write Braille, and eventually I became a certified Braille transcriber. I showed Marc words from the story and he only knew two or three of them. So I went to the library and got out a print book, and I asked the librarian, "May I keep this out longer than the length of time you're allowed? I want to try to teach my son Braille." She said, "Sure." So I brought the book home and I put the words from the story into Braille and gave the story to him to read. When he got through it I gave him another one. By the end of the summer he had read three pre-primers and a first-grade book. He was right where he needed to be for second grade.

Realizing that Marc was blind, my husband and I made certain decisions. We wanted him to be a useful, contributing person in the world. We knew we had to let him be free to do pretty much whatever he wanted as much as possible. His father taught him to ride a bicycle. I didn't think that was the best thing in the world, but then he bought him a bicycle built for two. That was better because he could ride it with somebody else. Unfortunately, what I didn't know is that when he left the house he rode in the front! [Laughter and applause.] He let the other kids get on the back; it was his bicycle!

My husband, Fred, and I had trouble sometimes about the way we did things. For instance, one day Marc said to me, "Do you know where my jacket is?" I said, "Yes, it's on the front porch, on the floor." My husband said to me, "You could go get it for him." I said, "Yes, I could. Who's going to get it for him when I'm not around? He's got to learn to hang it up and put it where it belongs."

Friends would often complain that we weren't treating Marc right. Fred and I had some difficulty with each other, too, because one of us would think we weren't doing the right thing. We tried very hard to let Marc be free to do what he wanted to do.

I wanted to tell you about one thing that happened. We lived in Boone, Iowa, and one time Marc found out there was a library in Des Moines that had books in Braille. He said, "I want to go get those books!" So he and his brothers talked me into letting the three of them go to Des Moines on the bus. Marc was twelve or thirteen and the next one was ten and the other one was eight.

So off they went on the bus to Des Moines to the library. Of course I told them to stay together at the Commission for the Blind, but they didn't. Marc stayed there. He was all involved with the library. But the other two went up to the capitol. [Laughter.] They found out when they went into a store that they could ride the escalators and nobody bothered them. Up and down they went, two or three times! Well, Marc learned to be free and to do things, which was what we wanted.

When we found out Marc was going to be blind I said a prayer. I said, "O Lord, let me raise my son so that he can be independent and he can contribute to the world and be a man." I would like to know if you think I was successful. [Enthusiastic applause.]

Carol Castellano: Thank you very much, Mrs. Maurer. That was terrific. This lady was ahead of her times! I would say that that talk explains a lot.

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