Earlier this summer, I was invited back to the Montana School for the Deaf and Blind (MSDB). All of our children were born in Montana. It was the state where we learned how to parent, how to love unconditionally, and how to raise a child who is blind. Our first trip to MSDB happened when Eddie was almost one-year-old and we went many times after. As we moved to Washington and then Texas, MSDB was gracious enough to bring me back to share our story. For me, it is very much like coming home.
Now that we live in Texas, I arrived at the event without my family for the first time ever. As my youngest said on my way out the door, “How can you attend a family conference without your family?” Well, as I told her when I got home…it was hard. Hard because I know how much my children love the experiences and the environment at MSDB, and also hard because I want other families to find hope and accomplishment in our story…and mostly in our Eddie.
As I led the Saturday morning conversation, I looked out on the audience of families with children ranging in age from nine months to 18 years old. They come to this event with eyes and hearts open to new ideas and futures they never imagined for themselves or their children. As their children who are blind and their siblings remain occupied by the tremendous care team, the families simply learn alongside other families. Although I had center stage for a time, I was there for the exact same purpose: to learn alongside them, too.
The motto of the Family Learning Weekend at MSDB is “Families Learning with Families.” I know this well because it’s on all of the t-shirts I’ve collected from them over the years. There is freedom and opportunity in that concept. As a parent, it’s intimidating to speak up in a room of professionals. It’s hard to voice your thoughts or concerns because you don’t want to be seen as incompetent, or even worse, a bad parent. It’s easier to keep your thoughts to yourself, which means our questions remain unanswered.
When learning with families we have freedom to be honest and have the opportunity to speak our mind. There are no right or wrong answers or questions, and parents look around the room to see nods of agreement or tears of compassion, but never questions of competence. MSDB provides a place of unconditional support that even those of us embraced by the field and the profession need…even me…especially me.
Thank you, MSDB. Thank you for filling my cup and allowing me time to embrace families like mine and to share Eddie’s story. Although many days are so good, some are still so hard. Events like yours keep me brave enough to push for the good and strong enough to handle the hard. For those interested in learning more about MSDB’s family event, please go to: http://msdb.mt.gov/campus/summer-programs.html.