The Learning Curveball

Ever had that moment where your kid becomes the grown-up and you are left sucking your thumb? It’s a revelation.

CurveballParenting is learning on the job. You sort of do what you think is right, borrow the best bits of your mum and dad and busk the rest.

However, with some experience, you at least get into a rhythm.

Having a child with special needs adds another dimension. You get a learning curveball [and that’s putting it very mildly]. Sometimes, distilled into a few seconds, the whole crazy ride is served up for you as a lesson.

This is the story of a priceless, perfect lesson.

Betty is a couple of years older than her sister, Olive. She has, for now, about 200 per cent more life under her belt. It makes her a very important guide, yardstick and occasional punch bag for her sibling.

Olive and Betty both attended a birthday party not too long ago. It was a nice party. Lots of fun and games. At the birthday tea, held in a squash court of the sports centre that hosted the do, a more chatty, less headless chicken atmosphere settled the kids down.

At these events, when the party goers aren’t quite old enough to be left for a couple of hours, parents form a sort of Templar circle around their gathered offspring at feeding time. They interject now and again to shove a food group into the path of an unsuspecting chocolate covered claw, or scrutinise the choking risk of a seedless grape.

At this particular feast, as the kids were tucking in, a girl turned to Olive then to Betty, chuckled and said:

“She’s got funny eyes!”

There was no malice in it. Maybe a hint of mischief, but nothing heavy. It totally threw me.

In fact, it turned the squash court into a silent, spinning cell. I had never heard another child point out Olive’s squint. Captain confidence was all at sea with nowhere to go.

What to say? What to do? The entire predicament of learning to parent, the road to finding out about Olive’s vision, her recovery from a near-fatal illness, the graft of putting all that together into a regular life; all undone by the innocent words of a four year old.

Olive, wholly unaware of the comment or its relevance, chomped away on a sandwich. I needed a line. I needed to overcome the shock, think of something sensible to say then make it come out of my mouth. The learning curveball had been thrown.

Then, from nowhere, Betty looked at the girl and said calmly, “No she doesn’t. Olive’s eyes aren’t funny.”

It was said with all the authority and gravitas of a state leader. There was a three foot tall instruction that gently told the girl it wasn’t a great thing to say, told Olive she was fine and told Dad the situation was under control.

“Yeah! What she said! In that way,” I thought.

I was edified by my eldest. She saved me. She had it covered. It was all in the delivery.

Her words were built on experience, on deciphering all the complexities and nuance of Olive’s situation and how that might appear to others. Intuitively, she calibrated all the moving parts. She caught the curveball as it dropped from hitting her Daddy’s chin…and she crushed it.

I didn’t realise it’s the kids in the driving seat? I thought I was driving? Turns out there are times when I’m just the airbags…or windbag, maybe?

This blog is mostly about Olive and visual impairment. Betty is an integral part of that world. She’s the wingman whose own world is framed by having a sister with CVI. She doesn’t have the baggage of being a grown up, but she has experienced all the bruises of being part of a family that adjusted to some new rules. CVI has shaped how she sees things.

And the lesson in the silent squash court brought it all home. No one in our family has all the answers, but between us they can all be found.

The RLSB provides bundles of support for parents of visually impaired children when their four year olds aren’t around the bail them out. Creating a parent network to share information, experiences and cups of tea is a critically important part of the community and services offered by the charity.

You can help me help them help me by sponsoring my London Marathon 2015 run here.


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