Writing contribution by Katie Kemp
My eight-year-old daughter enthusiastically wanted to pray before dinner. “Thank you God for blessing me with the disability of being blind,” she began. And time stood still. What did she just say? My mind raced to flip through a file folder of memories.
We were in the car, in a gas station parking lot. She was around two. Just before we had gotten in the car, I’d been making small talk with the gas station cashier, and Hallie had asked to meet her. I introduced my daughter by saying she was blind and asking if she could shake the cashier’s hand.
Afterward, from the back seat, Hallie’s tiny voice cut through the air like a knife as she asked, “What does ‘blind’ mean?”
Oh God,” I prayed, “not this young. She doesn’t need to know she’s different—yet.”
From the front seat I fought back tears. In that moment, I didn’t want to say anything negative. After what seemed like minutes, I found the words to say, “It describes you, Hallie. It’s just like saying I’m tall or you’re blonde. For you, it describes how you see. You see with your hands.”
Tears strolled down as I drove away. I hadn’t been prepared to explain it to her so soon.
I thought of all the awkward moments of explaining Hallie’s difference, every awkward stare and interaction at the park, grocery store, school, restaurant, and how I’d had to FIGHT to make them positive interactions. I knew that if I loved and accepted my daughter then the world would do the same; I just had to show the skeptics how.
When Hallie was first born, we were told of all the things she wouldn’t do. I had to figure out how to come to terms with her difference and gain perspective. I had a lot of grieving to do. Grieving because Hallie would do things differently. But this didn’t take away from her innate value and worth as a human who had the ability to lead a fulfilled life.
When she was four, I came across a TedTalk that put words to what I knew to be true. The speaker, Amiee Mullins, had brilliantly redefined the word “disabled” as: “To crush a spirit, to withdraw hope, to deflate curiosity, to promote an inability to see beauty, to deprive of imagination.” In this light, my daughter was far from being “disabled.”
I remember the first time Hallie tried to “play the blind card” and get out of something we were expecting her to do by suggesting she couldn’t because of her disability. We didn’t let her. We are trying our best to have her be involved with housework (although there’s always room for improvement!). She helps with her laundry or dishes or setting the table, just as any of our other kids.
When Hallie started public school, there were countless awkward, and sometimes funny interactions. Like the time in preschool she felt a shorter woman’s front side (her breasts) and asked if she was carrying twins. Or when kids would comment that her eyes were closed and she would pull her eyelids wide as if to “open” them. That’s when we decided it would be good for me to go into her class to do a lesson on blindness. For younger grades we played games to identify objects. We called it, “seeing with our hands.” They learned about Braille and her cane and how to walk as a sighted guide. We allowed the kids to be curious and honest. We gave them permission to ask questions and be open, and it was empowering.
Along the way, we have met countless people who are blind and living amazing lives, people who have figured out how to transcend their disability and thrive. They have helped etch a path in my mind and given me hope for what I know my daughter’s future to be. They have inspired me in my own daily struggles.
It has not been easy raising Hallie. In addition to her blindness, she comes with behavioral and sensory issues. I’m in the midst of these things, and some days are better than others. But in this too there is hope, and perspective shifting, and celebrating how far we’ve come, and holding on because a bigger Love* is holding onto us.
In that moment at the dinner table though, my mama-bear heart wanted to celebrate my small part of the process. I say small part because I’ve been surrounded by incredible people—my husband, Hallie’s grandparents, friends and teachers—who have all played a HUGE role in Hallie’s life.
But this post is about my inner victory as a mom of a daughter who is blind.”
It has taken years of time and countless moments to get to this point. Knowing that all of the times of grieving and rising, all the moments we fought to make someone else comfortable with her difference, all the advocating and believing in her, have not been wasted.
I’ve known her incredible worth for her whole life. I love her just the way she is. But to hear her say aloud that she see’s herself, her whole self, including her blindness, as a blessing? Well, that’s seeing.
• • •
*Love: “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” -Romans 5:3
Photography by: Bridgette Sweeney
Katie Kemp is a speaker and blogger at TheYouAreWorthItCollective.com. She is finding joy in her ordinary life in Arvada, CO. Katie and her husband Adam love dating, basketball and dreaming. Together they have 3 kids. Katie is passionate about bringing life into difficult places and dreams about a world where every girl and woman know their intrinsic worth. She has learned to thrive even in the midst of challenges such as raising a daughter with special needs and living with an autoimmune disease. Follow along on her journey to finding freedom from the inside out.
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