I remember being gutted that Olive couldn’t see the daisies in the park. The small patches of flowers that pop up amongst the grass this time of year were beyond her. There wasn’t enough information between her eyes and her seeing-of-things to show her a difference. She was short on data.
All parents know this feeling. It’s the one that comes when you realise your child has limitations. The bundle of unfettered potential that you love on a cosmic scale? Turns out they can’t do some stuff as well as other kids. That moment of realisation can be a humbling experience.
This time it wasn’t the tests at Great Ormand Street Hospital, where the team there put smaller items in front of Olive to see what she reaches out for:
- Building block [yes]
- Oxo cube [yes]
- Smartie [yes]
- Sweetex [no, not this time]
[How they did this test before the advent of fast moving consumer goods, I just don’t know]
…and it wasn’t her falling down a step because there was no contrast between the edge of it and the floor below. Block paving booby traps. Grrrrrr!
No, this time it was a daisy. It was the ‘give me an answer do’ symbol of childhood innocence and nascent promise. Bugger!
The next step in the daisy episode was to go all squinty-eyed in the park until the point that the daisies I could see became obscured. You look like a sort of well-meaning school mistress trying to force reading glasses up the bridge of her nose. It’s not a strong look. It’s also pretty useless as a facsimile to visual impairment. But you do it all the same.
World – 1, Olive – 0.
But, how things change in a year.
In the park last weekend, Olive bent down, picked up a daisy and offered it to me. I didn’t ask her to. She just did it. I was taken back to last year’s daisy defeat. Bloody hell! She’s cracked it! I went overboard in my praises, like parents do. But this was a breakthrough moment.
Olive went on picking daisies and giving them to me for…well…quite some time. Dare I say that, by the time we’d cleared the immediate vicinity of daisy heads, I was kind of all done on the daisy front!
But what a cool thing to have happened. It was like she’d been saving that one up for a while. “I’ll wait ‘til we’re on our own again, no Mum, no Betty, no dogs…then I’ll hit him with a daisy forage.”
There are still a bamboozling number of questions that come with these little victories. Is Olive seeing more, or is she just making more sense of what she sees? Is she building her own version of the world? Are those neural pathways re-working themselves across her brain? Should I even judge her ability to see in terms of defeat and victory – what kind of judgement is that and where does it get you?
Visual Impairment. It’s complicated.
I also think about the wider community of visually impaired children we know from the RLSB. Many of them have conditions that won’t improve. So is it improper to think of Olive’s impairment as one that will ‘improve’ from ‘being worse’? Seems a bit unfair in a way. I like to think Olive’s trying to build bridges to a sighted world. And, like all strong bridges, it needs good foundations in both camps.
A lot of people running the Marathon on Sunday will be bridge building.
Awareness and education of all the conditions that put people, children especially, in the margins of our society, form a critical part of the support process. It’s not all about the dosh.
After all, society is really only a matrix of margins anyway. It’s just that some have thicker lines than others. I am running the London Marathon to raise money for the RLSB. I am also trying, with each hairy-legged step, to rub out one of those marginal lines.
And let us not forget the resolve of the people we help and the generous ways in which they repay our efforts. That can be seen through all of the achievements of the millions of people who benefit from the work of UK charities helping people overcome their challenges…
…or by a kid putting a daisy in the palm of your hand.