Growing Up Without Sight (Tape 8)
Running Time: Approximately 19:47
Copyright © 1975 Family Communications, Inc.
Some children I know can’t see very well. Some can’t see with their eyes at all. Since I can see, it’s hard for me to imagine what not seeing is like. And children who can’t see with their eyes find it hard to imagine what it is my eyes do that their eyes can’t do.
Some things are really hard to understand. But a good way to learn about things we don’t understand is to ask other people about them.
I have a friend who’s blind. He can’t see with his eyes at all. His name is Ted Lennox. He’s a teacher and a father. One day I asked Ted what it was like to grow up without being able to see. I thought you might like to hear some of the things he told me.
I was born in the big city – Detroit – but I spent most of my early life in the country from the time I was about, oh, maybe a year old until I was around twelve years old. But when I grew up I had two brothers – Frank, who was a year younger than I am, and Ceece was two years younger than I am. So we were very close. We liked the same things, we did a lot of the same things.
Behind our house was a great big marsh with a lot of water and a lot of grass with frogs. My brothers and I used to go out and catch frogs and catch turtles and that sort of thing. My middle brother, Frank, was probably our greatest frog catcher.
Ted was luck to have brothers to do things with, but like all brothers and sisters they weren’t happy together all the time.
When I was a boy, my brothers and I, I think, were very close. Usually when you are close with somebody, I think there are times when you have arguments, misunderstandings, you hurt one another’s feelings at times and there were certainly periods of time as we were growing up when we fought with each other – either argued out or even sometimes got right down and had a big battle. But I found that usually after the fight was over, sometimes it cleared the air and things were even friendlier than they had been before.
They had good times together and they had hard times together. Ted likes to talk about one special day he remembers well.
I remember one wintry day – I might have only been four years old perhaps – and it snowed, and snowed, and snowed. After the snow was over, we went outside and my mother showed my brothers and I how to roll the snow into a ball and we rolled many many snowballs. Then we put them all together in a big circle and we put snowballs on top of snowballs. When we were through, we had a little snow house or a fort that we could crawl inside. I think dug a hole through – made a little tunnel to crawl in. I remember building that snow house together with my two brothers and my mother. Sometimes my father would join in and that was a marvelous, exciting thing to do together as a family.
There are lots of things that Ted remembers doing. Not only in winter, but in summer, too.
I can remember in our neighborhood we all used to like to play baseball. We had an empty lot on the corner of our block – it was a half a block down and across the street. It was a great big area that was just wide open and we played ball over there. Instead of hitting the ball in the air, the pitcher would roll the ball and I would hit it on the ground. We found ways that I could do things like that.
Ted found ways to do lots of things. I think if I couldn’t see, doing some of those things might have been scary to me. Ted told me about some times that were scary for him, too.
I think the things that scare me or have scared me – especially when I was little – were things that I didn’t understand. I can remember a slide, for instance. What is a slide like and what happens to you when you slide on something? The only way that I could handle that was to climb up that slide and not be in any hurry, find out what’s up at the top of that slide, and then carefully but slowly go down the slide. Once I understood what the slide was, that took away the scare. Then, of course, it became fun.
I can remember my first time at the dentist’s office. I didn’t really know what was going to happen. Only when the dentist told me what he was going to do and how he was going to do it and when he was going to do it – that helped me a lot. It helped me not to be as scared.
I can remember being scared of a sliding board, too. And going to the dentist. I’m sure that Ted’s right. Being told about what’s going to happen does make new things less scary. I know I like to be told. When I’m not sure what’s going to happen, I ask someone about it. Do you?
Ted and I remember a lot of the things that were sort of the same when we were young. I can remember being teased and spending a lot of time playing by myself. He remembers that, too.
There were times when I was a boy when I would get bullied or teased, and mostly by boys who were older. Sometimes I didn’t mind because I knew they weren’t trying to hurt me and they were really being quite friendly. Sometimes they kept it up so long that it did hurt me and made me feel very bad. There were times when my brothers would run off and play – either leaving me home and not thinking of how I felt or going off and playing or doing things that perhaps I couldn’t do. That was very sad for me.
I used to fill my hours doing many things. I can remember playing games in my living room. I think I can even remember back when I was very little I had a very soft rag doll that I used to – I guess, I used to sort of have this little rag doll sort of as a friend. I can remember building cities in the living room and I used to use old shoes or boots or just about anything.
A lot of times it’s fun to do things for yourself. What sorts of things do you like to do when you’re alone? Do you like to make up stories or songs or pretend about things? Or find out new things that you can do all by yourself? Like making a peanut butter sandwich. That’s one of the things Ted did.
I can remember having the opportunity to make my first sandwich. I was hungry and nobody was home and went to the icebox and got out the materials. I remember spreading the peanut butter back and forth. I’m sure I didn’t do it as well as I do now or I’m sure I didn’t do it as well as my mother could have. But that was a great tasting peanut butter sandwich. I did it and I was proud of it. Probably I’ll never have a peanut butter sandwich taste so good.
Of course, there are things you can’t do by yourself. Sometimes it’s not easy to know what you can’t do and what you can do. Sometimes you just have to try and find out. That’s true for everyone.
I think one of the things I had to learn as a boy was what could I do myself and where was it that I needed help and was it okay to ask others to help me if I really needed it. I also found out that there were things that I could do that others couldn’t do, simply because I had abilities that others didn’t have. So I could also help other kids in the neighborhood. For instance, I was very strong in the neighborhood and I could do some things that demanded strength that the other kids couldn’t do. I found that there were times that I would help them do things, and they would help me.
Learning to do things for yourself and being able to help other people is a very important part of growing. Growing isn’t always easy. It can be hard for all of us. Ted told me about times when he was growing up not being able to see. Times that were especially hard. Because he was blind, he felt that sometimes people didn’t understand him.
I think I felt, many times, different. Because sometimes people would come up, I know, and talk to my mother about me and I’d be standing there. They would say things like, “Oh, I’m sorry to see your little boy can’t see.” Or they would say other things that made me feel embarrassed or ashamed because I couldn’t see. Because they seemed to feel sorry for me and that made me feel very bad. Made me feel that maybe there was something wrong without being able to see.
But that’s how they felt. That’s not how I needed to feel. When I didn’t feel badly about myself, when I was proud of what I could do and what I did do, this seemed to make other people feel comfortable with me.
Growing is hard. But no matter how you’re growing, you’re growing in your own special way. That’s what’s important. And I’m proud of the way you’re growing. I hope you are, too.
When it comes time to go to school, many children find it hard to leave home. I know I did. Even though I knew I’d be going home very night. Children who need special care sometimes live for weeks at a time at their school. They do that so their teachers can spend more time helping them. That’s the way it was for Ted. But even though he knew he was learning important things, he missed his mother and his father and his brothers.
When you’re young, it’s not easy to be away from your family. That was certainly true for me when I started school. And it was true for Ted, too.
I began my schooling when I was five years old. And this was many, many years ago. At that time, most blind children went away and lived where they went to school. I went through a period of time where I was very lonely and very sad. I can remember going to bed at night, laying in bed weeping, missing my family very much. But it passed and I became able and comfortable at school.
I remember very fondly my first teacher – my kindergarten teacher. Her name was Miss Hammond and she didn’t seem to mind the fact that I missed my family so much. I can still remember sitting with her and I can remember her listening to me be very unhappy. I probably cried a bit. She allowed me to feel bad without making me feel that I shouldn’t. She just accepted me.
There’s nothing wrong with crying. Of course not. Crying is just one way to tell people how you feel about something. That’s one reason that friends are important. You can tell them how you feel and they can tell you how they feel.
Do you ever feel that you want to do something just right? To show how well you can do it for someone you love? Or even for someone you don’t know at all? Most people feel like that sometimes. And then you try and you try and it just doesn’t come out right. And you feel sad and disappointed. And sometimes even mad. Well, that happens to me and I learned from Ted that it happens to him, too.
There was a time in my life when I used to be worried a great deal about how I appeared to other people. How I did things. Did I do things well? Did I do things the right way? This used to make me feel very self-conscious. I wanted to do very well because I knew I was being watched. I found that I wanted to do so well that it would make me get very worried. I would get very anxious. I would get tense and sort of frightened. I probably still have those feelings to some extent and certain times when I know people are staring at me and wondering if this man will be able to do what he appears to be doing, even though he’s blind. I try to relax and just forget it and not let myself be so frightened that I make mistakes. I would rather go ahead and do things the best I can. If I make mistakes, that’s fine. If I don’t, that’s fine.
No one likes to be stared at. And when you can’t see but you think someone is staring at you, well that must be especially hard. In fact, if you’re blind, you may think other people can see all sorts of things that they can’t really see at all. Like seeing what you’re thinking. Now that’s something no one can do. No one can see what another person is thinking. And no one can see through wooden doors or around corners. Ted told me a story about that. About a time when he was little and he wondered about just how much a sighted person could see.
What did blindness mean to me when I was a little boy? What did that mean? All I knew that it was was that other people could see. There was something called sight and they could do things with that sight that I couldn’t do. Someone could walk in the house and they could look up and see who it was. I might have to wait until they said something. Or they could look way down the road and see a car coming before I could hear it.
For instance, I can remember one time I was living away from home – I was at school – and I was living in a big building – a dormitory. I had a room in that dormitory and I had a roommate. We had two beds, two closets, two dressers. One of the beds was mine, and one of the closets, and one of the dressers. For one reason or another, my clothes were all on the floor and not hung up. I remember the lady in charge told me – I believe her name was Miss McConkey – and she told me I would have to take time before I went out to play to pick up my clothes. I wasn’t too happy about this because I really wanted to go out and play. Of course, I had to do it. I went in the closet and I got distracted with something in the closet and I wasn’t picking up my clothes. I was just sitting there, I think, on the floor playing. The lady in charge, I remember, was way down the hallway and she hollered down the hall for me to get to work and pick my clothes up. Then I could go out to play. I recall wondering how she could see around the corner into my room and around the corner into my closet. Like, for instance, you can hear around corners and therefore I thought maybe people who could see could see around corners. I know now that she didn’t see around the corner and that you can’t see around the corner of a building or rooms or something.
Though Ted and I are different in many ways, we’re alike in many ways, too. We had some of the same thoughts when we were young and we have similar thoughts now. We like many of the same things. He’s a father and I’m a father. He likes talking to children and I do, too. It’s true that everybody’s different. But everybody’s alike in some ways also.
Now feelings are things that we all share. And Ted and I agree that one of the best feelings in life is being able to tell someone you love just how you do feel.
When I was a boy, and now as an adult, I experience all kinds of feelings as I think all human beings do. Some feelings are happy feelings and, of course, they’re to be treasured. Other feelings are sad feelings and they’re maybe to be treasured, too. Sometimes we’re angry. Sometimes we’re jealous. Sometimes we’re sad. Sometimes we get let down and so forth. I think feelings are friendly as long as we allow them to be so. I think we shouldn’t feel badly about our feelings.
I think that one of the things that I always felt as a little boy was when I felt badly or something happened that hurt me or something happened that angered me. It was always a marvelous experience to go to another human being and say to them, “I feel this way” or “This is happening to me and it affects me this way.”
And Ted and I talked about all of the things we wanted to do when we were growing up. And all of the things we still want to do. A person never stops growing and learning new things. I’d like you to know what he said about that. Ted is someone who can talk about important things. And I think that what he said was really important.
I think it’s important that in your mind you have some hopes, some dreams, some goals for the future that you hope to see happen some day. What would we like to be? What kind of person? What kind of job would we like to have someday? I think dreams are part of the present – part of living in the present. The past – all we can do is learn from our past. We can’t do anything about that. But we can certainly do something about our present and we sure can dream and plan and think about our futures.
We all think about how we’re going to grow up. And friends like Ted help us in our growing. Ted’s still growing and I’m still growing. And you’re still growing, too. I like to think that you’re my friend. I want you to know that I like the way you’re growing. You’re special to many, many people who like you just the way you are.
Appearing On This Tape