Blindness and the Sixteenth Birthday

Last week was Kai’s 16th birthday.  I remember when we first heard the words “your son is going blind” and the feelings of dread and loss that swept over me when I realized he would not be able to drive.  It’s been 6 years since diagnosis, but right now we are feeling the diagnosis and loss acutely — like a fresh wound.

With his mastery of orientation and mobility (O&M) skills, he’s become a fast walker and stays super active: skimming, skating and drumming. He attends advanced placement courses independently utilizing technology and Braille. He lives such an active, engaged life that his friends often forget that he’s blind. Which explains why so many of them ask: “When are you getting your license?” To which he chuckles and says, “Think about that for a moment.” After an awkward silence, they typically reply with something like, “Duh, I’m sorry” or “Ah, man, I forget that you can’t drive.”

Kai is so capable that we often forget that he is blind. I need to repeat that for myself: “My son has become so capable and well adjusted that we often forget that he’s blind.”

This week, he and I have had several emotion-filled discussions about “not being able to drive.” I do my best not to problem solve because we both know there are options, but the grief needs a voice — an outlet.

When I think back to the beginning of this journey I can barely believe all that has happened over the last 6 years, most of which I never anticipated. But his 16th birthday stood out in the beginning as something that would be a huge hurdle, and it’s here now.  So, for this moment, we are going to talk and cry and be angry.  Thankfully, after feelings are expressed and shared, their intensity begins to fade.

Later, I initiate a discussion about Uber and Lyft and mass-transit systems. He remembers how great the Metro system was in DC, and I tell him about MAX in Portland. Yes, there are options, but there is also grief.  I need to be careful not to skip over the grief by “silver-lining” it. Grief is important and needs a voice. If it’s not felt it becomes stuck in the body and creates issues later. I know this from experience.

On the big day, we are able to get on with the business of celebrating this milestone. Sixteen doesn’t mean driving, but it’s become a grand celebration of his independence. All those hours of cane, Braille, and technology training pay off. And Kai’s birthday weekend is celebrated at his favorite place, the beach.  Skimming the days away then “chillin’ on the beach with friends” after dark. Eating cupcakes and caramel apples — and laughing, so much laughing. He’s thrilled about his gift: a fully tactile and gorgeous Bradley watch. At one point over the weekend, he quietly tells me, “Please video a few skims, but then make yourself scarce…” I laugh and I’m so proud of the young man he is becoming. I begin to relax and feel my grip loosening again.  We made it over this hurdle and found new reasons to celebrate the milestone.

“I need to be careful not to skip over the grief by “silver-lining” it. Grief is important and needs a voice.” – Kim Owens


Image Description: A crowded beach and a group of young men and women holding skimboards and looking out at the ocean. Kai is wearing a bright yellow “Blind Athlete” shirt.

2 thoughts on “Blindness and the Sixteenth Birthday

  1. Having a blind daughter who just turned 16 last week, I relate to much if what you’ve shared in your post. This has definitely been one of the more challenging milestones that we’ve faced, as our daughter works to find her path to adulthood.


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