By Gabrielle. All photos taken by Kate.
Kate’s first letter to me included three short and sweet sentences, one of which was “I’m a hippie mom in Oregon who’s blind.” And my immediate thought was how in the world does she get through her day with two little ones? To add that she’s hearing impaired seems more than a little unfair, but trust me: you will not feel a smidge of sorry for this upbeat doer of a parent. (You will, however, mist up at her last few sentences. You can trust me on that!) Her positivity is contagious. I admire her so, so much, and I know you will, too.
Friends, it is with such pride that I introduce you to Kate, my new hippie friend who taught me a thing or two today about life.
Q: Good morning! How did your family wake up?
A: Toby has school today; he is five and is in preschool every other weekday. Toby is curious, well-spoken and also a jabbermouth, and wonderfully intelligent; so much, that he seeks out and gathers only the brightest in his class around him. He’s also very decisive; when we offer him a decision, he rarely changes his mind.
I wake to a vibrating alarm clock. The vibrating part weaves under our fitted sheet and on top of the mattress on my side of the body pillow. My name is Kate. I’m a mom, and I’m also blind and hearing impaired. I can’t hear a radio or a buzzing or beeping noise, but I can hear a vibrating thing directly under my head. I also end up in the middle of the bed, right in between the two pillows, so for our entire married lives, we’ve used a body pillow for our heads. Just’In calls me a hippie: I have past-waist length hair, I use the no shampoo method to wash it, I am barefoot or in Vibram Five-Fingers very often, and I swish with coconut oil (inspired by Design Mom, of course!). I use Earthpaste on my teeth, aluminum-free deodorant, and a menstrual cup. If being a hippie is just personal product choice, then I’m perfectly fine with that label.
Just’In is an early riser. He sleeps in only when he allows himself to or when he’s sick. He even wakes early on vacation! He’s out the door to get to work before my alarm clock goes off. Just’In sews fireflowers, Triforce symbols, and Ghostbuster patches onto different-colored polo shirts, and teaches Toby how to play video games, but also how NOT to get addicted. The happiest I’ve seen him this year is when he came home from a D&D character building night. He’s also a brilliant actor; we’re both heavily involved in our awesome local community theatre. The most important part is that he loves me; even though he’s always been a better actor than me, he has declared this year the “Get Kate On Stage” year.
Toby wakes to a regular alarm clock that his dad sets for him and is usually dressed by himself. How long we take to get him ready for school depends on two things: whether he has turned off his alarm clock in his sleep, and whether I have to veto his clothing decisions. I’m slowly picking out which clothes battles are worth it: weather-appropriate and matching are more important than droopy sweats and an ugly cartoon-y shirt that was a gift from a grandparent. Oh, how I struggle with gifts.
Lottie is turning out to be an early riser, as well. More and more, she is waking up around the same time we do. Lottie is definitely into toddlerhood; she’s signing vigorously and tantrumming rarely. I can tell that she, like Toby, has excellent hearing and great intelligence. Lottie loves birds and dogs, and only chooses to smile at some people she meets and wave at even fewer people. We call Lottie “Baby Fearless” because she is much less cautious than her brother. Right now, she walks five or six steps at a time, but she’s still working on balance. I only hope it’s not connected with defective ears and eyes. The genetic degenerative disorder that affects my eyes and ears is also possibly passed on to my kids, so those first two years give us nervous spots as we evaluate eyesight and hearing.
Q: What are you having for breakfast?
A: Breakfast on a school day is very, very low key – bowls of cereal or poptarts. The fanciest I get is a bowl of Malt-O-Meal with brown sugar for me or a cup of homemade hot cocoa and toast on cold days. Food for us is normal because many other things in our lives are not. Food on school days also has to be quick; Toby and I love to sleep, but he also has to get to school. The only food restrictions we have are that Toby’s allergic to peanuts, but he’s well-adapted by now and that’s old news already. We’re teaching him how to be a self-advocate, and this was the first step.
Q: What’s next?
A: Toby gets to school via a ride from another school mom. Her oldest child goes to a middle school very near us, and her youngest attends the same school Toby does. When Toby first started preschool, I took him to school. Travel for me means walking, riding the city bus, or being a passenger in a car, and I chose a preschool that did not require us to transfer buses to get there. It was a rush to get me AND him ready in the morning, and Toby hated the five-minute jog to the bus stop in the cold. The stress of hurrying and thinking of missing the bus brought tears and sobs from him nearly every morning.
It took me two months to meet a friend at the school whom I liked and trusted well enough to take my child with her many mornings, drop him off safely to school, and not have it be a complication to her everyday schedule. Providence guided my timing; I connected with her right before I gave birth to Lottie. After the influx that gave Toby a ride from loving relatives had gone, all it took was a phone call, and my mornings were not-so-magically stress-free.
Before you ask – and everyone does – no, I can’t drive that car that sits in my garage all day. Just’In rides his bike to work every weekday, and we live on the opposite coast from New York City. We live in Salem, Oregon, on the edge of very normal suburbs in a town that struggles to be a capital smushed between two much larger cities, both with vibrant personalities. I ride the bus. When I was a teenager, I wasn’t even allowed to take the Driver’s Education classes with all my friends and peers because, even at 16, I couldn’t pass the vision test.
But, confound it, I can still be a mom. I’ll figure out how to do soccer carpools later.
Q: How is the early part of your day structured?
A: Once I get Toby out the door and waiting in the driveway for his ride, I feed Lottie and my me time begins. Usually, I use this time to try to tackle a specific project, whether it’s cutting and hemming tabletops for Toby’s school auction or posting a photo album on Facebook. Today, I took apart floral centerpieces that I made for a church dinner. Wednesdays are laundry day, and that starts in the morning, so I did that today, too. Some days have more successful me time than others, what with Lottie waking earlier on a more consistent basis.
My blindness means I can do lots of close-up activities normally. While using the computer, I don’t need a large-text program or a read-aloud program yet. I’ve always been a voracious reader of books; every room in our house has books in it, except the kitchen. Less than ten of them are Braille books. Sometimes, my me time is inhaling a book.
In the winter, I often go back to sleep. It takes me more energy than most to see and hear and compensate and process the world, and that means more sleep.
Being blind throws people off sometimes. Most people think of blindness as absolutely no sight at all. I will thankfully never reach that point. My left eye has always been bad; when I was a kid, I called it my grumpy eye. I’ve always only been able to see vague patches of color and light and very broad movements. My right eye does all the work, but I have very poor peripheral vision that degenerates slowly through time. Every few years, I notice I can see less than I used to. Lately, I’ve noticed that my head moves like a bird’s when searching for something all around the room – jerky and by sections, instead of fluid and sweeping. I haven’t always done this. I don’t know how bad my sight will get, and the degeneration could stop at any time. I had glasses from three to 15, and I’ve had hearing aids since I was five.
I don’t go to eye doctors anymore; the last time I did, the doctor looked for less than 30 seconds at my retinas and told me, “Yep, you’re definitely blind. What do you want me to do now?”
I was taught from 12 to 18 by a mobility specialist named George how to use a cane, how to use the bus, and how to use your ears at an intersection to figure out when to cross the street. I use a metal-tipped cane at night in unfamiliar locales because I have very poor night vision that is also deteriorating. It’s still good enough that it’s fascinating to watch how regular-seeing people respond to blind people with canes.
Right now, the hearing impairment affects more of my life than the blindness does. When Lottie wakes up and I don’t have my hearing aids in, the only way I can tell she’s awake is if she starts kicking the wall through her crib slats. When she slept in the same room as us as a newborn, I couldn’t hear her even if she was screaming her head off – a great advantage if I wasn’t the only food source. Every night, Just’In would get out of bed, pick up the screaming baby, stand on my side of the bed, and try to wake me up so I could breastfeed her. I’m a very sound sleeper, and I also talk and walk in my sleep. My subconscious is not a nice person, and occasionally, he would get her and not me!
I’m trying to teach Toby that if I’m sitting in the same room as he is and I’m doing something different while he’s playing video games, he should tap me if he needs to say something to me because my hearing aids are off. I’m also trying to teach him to look at me when he’s talking to me; not only have I always depended upon reading lips, it’s good social etiquette to look people in the face when conversing.
I get about two hours of partial me time before I have to concentrate on leaving the house. Toby’s at school for four hours, but the bus to get to his school only runs every hour. After dressing me and Lottie and heading out the door – Lottie in my Mei-Tai sling and me in my awesome navy trench coat – we hustle to the bus stop. If we miss the bus by one minute, we’re an hour late. At best, we can catch the bus going the other way on the same route, and we end up at the school right when they’re letting out. If we catch the bus we originally hustled for, we make it to the school an hour earlier than school lets out. This lets me feed Lottie breakfast in the teacher’s lounge. Today, she eats a Fig Bar and applesauce in a pouch.
I also have time to catch up with school happenings via the school’s heart. Her name is Carol, and she will be the main thing I miss when we have to switch schools next year. She is the school’s sole secretary, personal assistant to the principal, volunteer coordinator, and school nurse. She is short and round, with straight, ear-length silver hair and lovely cheeks. She is genuine and intelligent, understanding and accepting. I can always tell when she’s in good health because she has a sparkle in her eye, and she greets Lottie like she hasn’t seen the girl in months.
After we pick up Toby from school, we go back inside so he can go to the bathroom. We’ve had too many potty dances while waiting for the bus to get home. Lottie plays with the echoes in the basement of the school with the syllable “Gah!” Sometimes I let her out of my sling so she can climb up the stairs, but there are lots of staircases in Toby’s gorgeous school, so I quickly get tired of this. Then we walk to the bus stop. The neighborhood around the school is gorgeous: huge trees, well-kept and full-of-character houses, many with bright color and funny details.
Toby gets to pick which way we walk to the bus stop, and sometimes even which bus stop to take. If I’ve got an errand to run, now is the time to do it with snacks in backpacks to fend off lunch hunger. Taking Toby home IS the main errand of the day. While at the bus stop, Lottie crawls through the dirt. Dirt can’t hurt her, and it could be healthy for her. Because it’s Oregon, we have bushes and trees all around us, so sometimes she pulls the berries and leaves off a nearby bush. Sometimes Toby jumps over puddles or plays with sticks. Sometimes we sing songs; while waiting next to a road full of traffic and cars full of no one to hear you, one finds that one can sing at the top of one’s lungs with no cares. We play I Spy at the bus stop and we have races from one sidewalk crack to another. But sometimes, especially when it’s rainy, we just stand and stare, trying to stay as warm as possible. Traffic can also be mesmerizing.
Lottie’s behavior on the bus ride home is always very different than on the bus ride from home. The first ride has her standing on my lap, touching , tasting, seeing everything. Sometimes, it’s where we sit that makes all the difference. If we sit in the highest seat on the bus, and there is at least one person sitting next to or behind us, so she’s pretty much guaranteed to be well-behaved. If we’re sitting in a high place so she can see out the windows, but the entire back of the bus is empty and there’s no one to stare at or flirt with, then Lottie squirms and twists and stands up, then plops down, then tries to get off the seat I’m sitting on. There are no seat belts or carseats, so my lap is where she has to stay. Even at toddlerhood, teaching the Rules of The Bus is important. On the ride home, though, she nearly always falls asleep in my sling, against my chest or my shoulder. Until I let him pull the signal for us to stop, Toby falls asleep about half the time as well. Dang, it’s hard to wake a child while holding another sleeping child when the bus is stopped, waiting for just you to get off so it can keep schedule.
The walk home is almost always leisurely. This ramble, this mosey, is our talking time. Toby tells me about his morning at school. We had a neighbor who lived very near the bus stop, and we’d often stop in his yard and talk and talk. He died in January, and we miss him. Now, we hug the trees that he cared for. We’ve gotten to know many neighbors on this route home. They’re out in their yards or getting in or out of their cars or checking their mail. We like to recite their names as we walk by their houses to our own. It makes us feel like we have a community, like our neighborhood is alive and full of faces, not just rows of empty houses.
Q: Do you have lunch plans?
A: Lunch is always at home. We usually have naan with cheese. It’s Tandoori naan that we buy from the store with colby jack cheese. Sometimes I’ll use cheddar or mozzarella, or sometimes I’ll put homemade sun dried tomatoes in my part. I put a row of grated cheese on the flat naan, zap it in the microwave for a minute, then fold the naan so it looks like a wrap. Then I bring a butter knife to Toby at the table and he picks which side he wants and where I should cut it for his portion. If we’re out of naan, we’ll eat bagels with cream cheese. If we’re out of cheese, we’ll cut the naan into strips and dip them into tomato sauce with garlic powder in it or ranch.
After lunch, Toby starts his screen time. Sometimes I’ll share it with him if he decides to watch a movie. Sometimes, I’ll continue to work on the project I was working on that morning. Lottie naps reliably, so the transfer from outside and sling to inside and crib is always effortless. She won’t always be this way, so sometimes I nap, too. I take showers on days we don’t have school, and they usually happen in the afternoon, when Lottie is asleep. After Lottie wakes up, we might go to the park. We live within walking distance of the worst park in the city. Apparently drug deals go on here, although the graffiti is certainly no higher here than it is anywhere else in the neighborhood. I have the graffiti hotline programmed as a contact in my phone, and I often call it when we’re running errands. It was scary to get phone calls from Salem Police Department, but now I know all the voices who report back on the calls I make.
My philosophy with the park is that if we, as moms, stop going to the playground, the park will get worse. Crime happens in empty places, in secret places, in places that aren’t cared for and aren’t frequented. If we keep going to the playground and keep going in the middle of the day, the crime won’t get worse than it already is.
Toby loves crafts. Sometimes, he remembers that he was crafting at school and he asks for crafts at home after lunch. This throws me because I can craft, but I only create when the creation has a purpose. I alter clothes, I make ATCs, but I despise craft creations that just sit on a surface. And Toby is rarely interested in the things I like to create. But very occasionally, we’ll create together after lunch and put off screen time for later in the afternoon or when Just’In gets home.
Q: How are you errand-ing today? And do you do anything to plan for the rest of the day, like prep dinner?
A: Tuesdays are grocery night. Before Just’In gets home from work, I prep a meal list for the week and a grocery list. We eat the meal I’ve planned for that day, then we get supplies for the next week of meals. We usually go as a family. In the store, he takes the cart and the kids, and I have the grocery list. The most important thing for me is that we load the groceries into the car; this process would be a lot harder if I had to carry the groceries home by hand. I’ve had to do that before, living in a college town with no roommates and terrible bus connection to anything, but also single and free to walk anywhere on my own, as fast as I wanted.
Since Wednesday is Laundry Day, Thursday usually ends up being Fold and Put Away Laundry Day, but I try not to let that take up the entire day. Some Saturdays we clean house and do yard work, and others we run errands. We go to the places I can’t get to with two kids or just at all, like the local post office store with packages to mail or the library which is too far across town for two buses connected by a transfer, time at the library, and the very long bus trip home.
Q: When do you meet back up with the rest of your family?
A: We usually eat dinner as a family: Lottie in her hook-on chair, Toby with a kiddie plate that was a gift from grandparents, and Just’In and I with adult-sized glasses, even when he consistently drinks only half the glass. When Just’In gets home, we do one of two routes: he tends kids while I make dinner, or we have dinner quickly and we go to various evening activities.
Just’In and I have a date monthly. I’ve determined over our ten years of marriage that the date activity has to be away from our home, and the kids cannot be with us. We need that date for rekindling of our friendship and a break from household responsibility, and I try really hard to make sure it happens. Sometimes, we go to a play. Sometimes, we go to dinner at a friend’s house. This month, I think we’ll try free dance lessons. Always, we hire a teenage babysitter from our congregation. Eliza is slowly becoming our regular. She is lightly sarcastic with a different body type than me, which is refreshing for Lottie because she loves to snuggle down on a body that’s heavier and a shoulder that’s not bony.
Q: Describe the evening rituals for us. What makes the end of your day special?
A: When we’re not on a date, we’re not out doing other activities, and we don’t have any dinner guests over, Toby starts getting ready for bed at 8:30. Lately, Just’In times him because it was just taking him too dang long to change his clothes! Dawdling is fine every other part of the day because it encourages the imagination, but not when we’re waiting for him.
We wait for him so we can all say prayers as a family. Sometimes, this happens before Lottie goes to bed, and sometimes it happens after. Just’In puts Toby to bed. Lottie loves picking which board book we’ll read together right before I lay her down in her crib. I love this part the best about our evening routine – just the girls in the house, enjoying someone else’s work of art. Sometimes, we read it straight through. Other times, we read half of it before she decides to flip through it herself. The point is that she has time with just me to lay in my arms and listen to my voice. I always tell her I love her before I leave the room.
Q: Please finish the sentence: The last thing I usually think about before falling asleep for the night is…
A: …amber waves of grain.
There’s just something about imagining fields of flowing wheat or prairie grass that reach all the way to the horizon like the ocean. It pushes thoughts of the next day and the feelings of the finished day right out of the conscience. It’s such a big image, expanding the entire view of the mind – wild, long grass as far as the eye can see, an ocean of flowing, rippling grain – and puts me right to sleep.
The mental picture of endless prairie grass also accompanies a dream to see it someday. It’s a positive and approachable dream to travel that also tints the conscience with hope. My dad once told me that he hoped to take me traveling as much as possible – so I could see as much of the world as possible before my sight degenerates so badly that I cannot. But even if I had to peer through a pinhole in the bottom of a cup, I think I’d be able to see and grasp the enormity of amber waves of grain.
Gulp. Kate, I can’t stop thinking of your dad’s wish to show you as much of the world as he could before you can’t see it anymore. Goodness, I want to drive you to the closest amber waves of grain filled field myself! Your work ethic and positive attitude is a day-changer for me and, I’ll bet, for most of my readers. Thank you so much for adding yourself to our day!
One of the sentences that really sticks with me is how, despite Kate’s difficulties, she maintains: “But, confound it, I can still be a mom. I’ll figure out how to do soccer carpools later.” We do what we can when we can, and we’ll worry about the next obstacle later. Pretty much sums up parenthood, right?