Where’s Wally?

WallyThis is a brilliant read for young kids and parents to bond over. If you have never read a ‘Where’s Wally?’ you have a missing link in your education. It is this little guy in a red and white striped top who is hidden in plain sight amongst people and objects of similar colours and shapes.  It is a lot of fun in a book, but not a concept that transfers meaningfully into the real life of someone with little or no central vision especially when it is inadvertently left unedited in your pathway.

I am talking about hidden levels and camouflaged steps accidentally abandoned in public spaces and even in modern constructions.

There are three buildings I have been in quite often lately and all of them are specifically for children, the sick or the elderly- two hospitals and an education centre.  I love the modern sleek designs, the gentle greys and muted stone hues that are earthy and relaxing. ..except on the stairs! When you intend to go on a trip , this is not really the kind you meant.  And, the ‘landing’ between stair cases, I don’t think was named implying a safe foundation where something generally considered  dangerous comes to an end…like an airport runway or the mat at the other side of the gymnastics vault. A stairwell landing should provide maximum safety for ascent and descent. In all these cases there is either no contrast colour for the edge of the step or a dull grey that is the same colour as the shadows on the steps, making it confusing even for the sighted.  (In one case the stairs double as the fire escape route, not making for a quick safe escape.)

When you think of having an access friendly building, one usually thinks of a ramp and a wheelchair friendly bathroom and occasional braille bumps on the lift buttons.  It is very seldom that the needs of a vision impaired person, or a short sighted senior , are taken into consideration. Colour contrasts, clear lighting and tastefully bold signage can easily be incorporated into the theme of the build.

When these aspects are short-sightedly (excuse the pun) excluded at the design phase , the afterthought can land up being a thick yellow or white  stripe sloshed on the edge of the step that looks unsightly and out of place and frankly ugly! And then, it is sometimes blamed on the unfortunate needs of the disabled.  I feel sorry for some of these beautiful, elegant   buildings as they nervously await an unavoidable desecration. Some steps are clear at only certain times of the day when there is a shadow on them.

There are so many attractively clear stairwells where the light catches the minimalistic shine at the edge because it was planned with high visibility in mind.

I think Wally would agree with me as he too wears  a large pair of black- rimmed spectacles, but  I get so passionate about this; I may need to watch my step!

Wally stairs

Love, loss and Levi jeans

jeans

There is nothing more relaxing and calming than putting on your comfiest jeans. They are usually the oldest and softest, bearing rips, patches, paint and other scars that hold memories and reminders that life is an adventurous journey. They are best worn with slippers and accompanied by a good book and a warm drink. We seldom wear these in public, especially if we are meeting people   for the first time. First impressions are important, but are only a glimpse of a person’s whole life journey. They can be misleading at times. So, my spaghetti brain (every thought touches every other thought) related this to how relaxing it is to be with people who don’t appear perfect.  Perfection has its place in the beauty of music, fashion, sports and mathematics, but it is a bit unhelpful in relationships.  This got me thinking about the strength of being real with our weaknesses.

“My power is made perfect in your weakness”- God himself.

Just as love conquers strife and forgiveness is sweeter than revenge, so is vulnerability a key to strength.
I have learned that being open with my weaknesses allows an opportunity for others to feel strong and, asking for appropriate help empowers me. No matter how hard, I tried to be independent; it was only when I admitted my need for help and got the skills to cope with my vision struggles, than I found real independence. Thanks to the professionals, at Helen Keller Low vision services, I got the freedom to move around independently even on public transport.

Asking for help takes courage as it can seem that we have failed. I know that family members can feel frustrated when they see us struggling, as they know that if we just asked for help then everyone is happier. I get that we need to be determined and persevering, but, if we don’t acknowledge our weakness, the frustration can easily become anger (at ourselves) or even aggression. Asking for help is not a failure. Being honest with our pain is helpful for everyone.

It cannot be easy to live with a person who appears to have ‘no need for help –no weaknesses‘. Hats off to all friends and relations of super- strong, perfect people. If a person is so independent and self –sufficient, without a gap, then how do you love them?  Softness can triumph over perfection as it opens an opportunity to value others and transact with humility, kindness and appreciation.

In the process of embracing my blips and blemishes and it is no easy process (especially for an A type personality), I have become less stressed and, in a way, more able. I am more comfortable in the worn jeans of my inability which opens up opportunity to ask for help and make someone else feel trusted and valuable. It’s a bit like letting an acquaintance come into your house through the back door and asking them to turn the kettle on. It makes them feel like family.

chair 2

For me, old jeans are an allegory of a life of loss, laughter and love… far more satisfying than clean-cut lines of pristine perfection. I love them so much that I restored an old wing back chair with the family’s old jeans and it is my favourite place to sit with a cup of tea, snuggled by the life journeys of my loved ones …and the scratchings of our naughty kitty!

‘Let the weak say I am strong’

(Thanks to Botha and Budler editors)

About time

clock reflectionThis morning I was late for a commitment. I was meant to be there at 7.45am. I was up early and thought that I was on time, so when my husband said, “It’s 7:35 I realised I needed to shower, wash and dry my hair, dress and be there in 10 minutes …. not going to happen.

Being a teacher at heart I was pondering my mistake whilst brushing my teeth at breakneck speed. It was then that I realised I was gauging my routine by my husband’s normal schedule. . He usually leaves at 7.25 and this morning his responsibilities were different and so his routine was not usual.

In the seconds between brushing and rinsing my mouth I realised that I hardly ever look at a clock. I judge time by other indicators.

I love revelatory thoughts, but they seem to pop up in the most inopportune times. Whilst multi-tasking the rest of my own beautifications at high speed I thought about the time clues that lurk in the backyard of my brain.

The geyser turned on …it’s half past four.

The Cape Robin is performing his entire repertoire of songs…the sun is rising soon.

The bus turned down our Street…it’s ten past seven. #

Our   neighbour is reversing out of his garage …it’s 7.30

I hear builders next door …it’s 7.45

The dog’s next door are going nuts…the children have just left for school …it’s 7.50 am

I can hear children playing in a playground…it is 10.15am

On Thursday the domestic service has arrived next door…it’s nearly lunchtime

The cat is meandering around my feet …its 5 pm.

On Tuesday nights the crowds at the sports club stop shouting…it’s 9.30

Using other people’s routines to keep my own appointments is not really the most accurate indicator of time. It is quite alarming

…I should have set mine!

Laughing at life

thinking

After eating lunch I was looking for the red lid of the Bovril and inadvertently started to pick up the last slice of red tomato you have to laugh!

I cannot decide if it is heart breaking or humorous to take a jibe at our weaknesses.  Sometimes the silly side is really refreshing.

So…

What is worse than a blind joke?
A lame one

What did they call the silo  filled with  eye balls?
The eye full tower

Why did the blind teacher resign?
He had no pupils

A blind man walked into a bar? What did he order?
Cane

A blind man walked into a bar ….ouch!

Why was the blind comedian rewarded?
His jokes were cornea.

What apparatus depicts the highs and lows of losing your vision?
A see sore

New technology for eye protection?
The iPad

What did the ophthalmic surgeons use to remove the eyeball?
A socket spanner

Why was the eyelid scolded for bad language?
He couldn’t blinkety – blink sit still.

I am legally blind… I didn’t know it could be illegal!!?

Advice for a low vision sufferer: “ it is hard to recognise people at first ….
but you’ll get a feel for it”

What source of energy do short sighted people use?
a magni-fire

Sight loss is never funny, but we might as well laugh … and occasionally  find a safe place to cry.

Let’s face it

faceVision loss is a tough companion to learn to live with. It means that as your vision changes, your relationship with yourself and others needs to adapt too.

Recently my father-in-law relocated to eternity and so , we had a rare  opportunity to get together as an extended family and close friends to celebrate his  well-lived  life and to rejoice in the hope  of the next generation of Webster’s and co. It was a sad happy time reconnecting with loved ones from around the world.  Somehow, if you don’t see each other often the changes you see in each other seem quite dramatic.  The little chaps are now big bruisers and us ‘young marrieds’ are now the ‘old marrieds’. It was in meeting old family and mew additions that I realised how my eyesight has deteriorated since our last meeting.

The family also noticed the changes in me as I now use a mobility cane, can’t collect the glasses off the table after dinner and am no longer the scrabble champJ , but what hit me ‘in the face’ was not a low branch over a walk way, but was that I could not see expressions on faces at all. In a social environment this is a big deal.  I was disappointed that I could not easily understand or gauge who these new loved ones were. Not able to look across a room and smile or nod in greeting etc.  The up side is that I just tried to spend a little time with each one, so that I had a reference for relating.

On our return I went to the Low vision support group where we spoke about  the obstacles around communicating without the feedback of facial expression. And, something I had never thought of …what is my face doing when I talk? I can’t even see my own face in the mirror (which may be a relief for my middle aged wrinkles) .  Also, eye contact is an important portal for social intimacy, as we can communicate through just looking. Children can gain confidence and trust through meaningful glances and encouraging smiles. Reflecting on our family gathering   I really felt like I was missing a channel of communication especially with the kids.

Being two-faced is always a problem, but being no -faced is exceptionally tricky. I find it difficult to aim my nose at people’s faces because they disappear in my central vision and, because my eyes look normal, they think I am seeing them …or think I am maybe high on something!!! It must be a bit weird looking onto eyes that aren’t actually looking back at you.

On discussing this with a mentor she told me that 7% of our communication is relayed through the actual words, 38% of our communication is transmitted through the tone or how we say it and 55% is related through facial expression and body language. Visual impairment thus greatly affects communication and places added hurdles in the way of easy social interaction.

I am very aware of body language and it is easier to see people in winter because clothes usually provide a good colour contrast. I see clothes moving about  and  as long as folk keep their heads above their shoulders, I can aim my nose for the designated  spot. When I see sleeves swinging about, there is generally an animated conversation on the go.

When I am talking to someone and they become still, I can’t always gauge how they are responding. I love it when sounds come out …”sjoe”or,” wow”….or,” hee hee”….or,” aaagh”  ! It is an expressive clue to their facial expression.

I am so grateful for my family and friends who are available for encouragement and help in all social contexts. I don’t know if you realise it, but you ‘smile’ at me by a squeeze from a hand, a touch on the shoulder or a friendly bump on the elbow. My smile-voice is usually loud, slightly over expressive and accompanied by touch.

Let’s face it …vision loss is tough, but love is tougher.

 

Love, disability` and a feline fur ball

kittyI never used to like cats… but then I never had the experience of growing up with one. Dogs were easier for me as I am somewhat of a control freak, love to do things my way and loved training our ridge-back to enjoy doing  what I thought was necessary. Dogs love to obey and they cannot hide their joy of being in your presence

Then I met Milly- a little stray kitty who was found on the streets of Langebaan where she had been terrorised by children… We think she was about 10 weeks old when my daughter got her and this little fur ball began to train me!

She loved to be loved and cuddled and fussed over, but unlike a dog, she did not ask for the attention, she just received it as if we were privileged to give it. Stroking her little head ignited a guttural rumble of satisfaction and she revelled in the affection so lavishly bestowed on her.  I never saw such a creature so confidently assured that she was alive to be loved.

One weekend after being out, we arrived home and she was not there to greet us. Eventually we found her on our blood covered bed. She had a huge gash on her hind leg and she hissed with pain when we tried to pick her up. Her back and hips were damaged and her tail was hanging limp. We think she may have been caught by a dog or in the motorised garage door…

To cut a long story short, she had layers of stitches in her leg and was put on medication for a sub located vertebra. We were not sure if the injury would ever heal. She spent the next two weeks hiding under the bed or in my hubby’s cupboard, too sore to come out and very reticent of people.  She still responded to gentle touch and as I lay on the floor talking soothingly to her, she purred like a massy Ferguson tractor.

As a person with a disability, I learned two things. Both of these lessons touched a deep nerve in me and tested what I thought about my life.

1             Our cat was loveable just because she was alive. If she had ended up being disabled, but still able to receive love then her life was still valuable. I am valuable just because I am alive and able to receive and respond to love.
2              It was not her owners fault; no loving pet owner would ever hurt their cat to teach them a lesson. My disability is not the fault of a loving creator – either he does not love or I have a warped belief system. (More about that journey later) Life is full of troubles, but we have been given the spirit to choose how we walk through them.

I was challenged about my thinking about myself and value and love. In short, I was edu-CAT-ed by an injured kitty!

 

 

 

Quirky Questions ’bout three blind mice

mouse question3 blind mice, 3 blind mice
See how they run, see how they run
They all run after the farmer’s wife
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife
Have you ever seen such a thing in your life
as 3 blind mice.

Was their blindness metaphorical? How can they run if they are blind? Were they just severely vision impaired?  If they had good mobility does it mean that they still had some peripheral sight? And for that matter, how can they run after the farmer’s wife if they cannot see where she is?  Does she smell? Why was she running with a knife? Does she not know how dangerous that is? What made her turn and attack the mice? Why is the farmer’s wife torturing the disable creatures? Did the SPCA and the disability rights associations get involved?  Where is the farmer?  What did she do with the tails? Are they still running blind? How are they doing after their unexpected amputations?  ‘ Have you ever seen’…why is our sight  being questioned?

This is a short sighted poem … not very mice!

(origin actually to do with Queen Mary’s assassination of three prominent protestants)