My mom started going blind when she was 17 years old. The eternal optimist, she pretended everything was OK until what was happening to her couldn’t be ignored anymore. She had to drop out of high school just shy of graduation and give up her brand new drivers license forever. By 18, it was official: she was legally blind and whatever she had planned for her life was changed.
With no diploma, no transportation, and still deteriorating eyesight, what were her options? Coming from a family with no money, there was zero cushion. She had to figure it out on her own.
As the oldest of my mom’s two kids, I’ve only known the version of her that is, technically, disabled (although she’s never described herself that way). Most things—from using a cell phone to walking down stairs, to reading, to checking out at the grocery store—are much harder for her than for a person with 20/20. She is dependent on me, my brother, and my dad for all of these everyday things that come so easily to us.
When mom meets someone new, they might make a side comment on how she didn’t look them straight in the eye or ignored their wave from across the room. For as long as I can remember, I’ve stood up for my mom when people have made these comments. People react to the truth in weird and regrettable ways, but for the most part, I tell it anyway. She just didn’t see you. She wasn’t being rude, you were just making an assumption. I can’t fathom how much sadness/anger those exchanges have probably brought her, but she has always handled them with grace.
For too much of my life, this is all that I saw. I saw the side of my mom that was dealing with frustrations and inconveniences, all caused by not being able to see well. But too often as kids do we forget that our parents had lives before us, and those lives don’t stop once we’re born.
It wasn’t until I got older that I started to realize all of the extraordinary things my mom has done, from before I was born until now; all of the times she came out on top, despite the circumstances.
Before our family existed, my mom found the only place in town that would give her a job and made enough money to support herself until she married my dad. She so easily could’ve become a complete shut-in (which, if I’m being honest, might be how I would handle things), but she has always found ways to stay active and challenge herself. Even when she was at home with two kids under 6, she did things like pull us both in a buggy behind her bike so that we could go to the movies once a week. She also sewed all of our clothes for years to save money (how a person can make impossibly cute baby dresses when they can’t see well enough to read a book will always baffle me).
From 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., until dad got home, she didn’t have any help. And until I went into 8th grade, my mom homeschooled me and my brother by herself. Keep in mind that she can’t read textbooks without the help of major magnification, but she taught us everything and she taught it incredibly well. She made it her full-time job and we got straight A’s. Then, when I started high school, my mom got her GED and a bachelor’s degree in Psychology by the time I finished 12th grade. She aced every paper and test and graduated Summa Cum Laude, top of her class. After getting her degree, she went on to get very involved in the community and became a counselor at a crisis pregnancy center.
Now, in her mid-40’s with her sight still diminishing every single year, my mom’s idea of weekend fun is a 20 mile bike ride with my dad. Can you imagine biking when you can’t see the path (how’s that for a metaphor)? What about whitewater rafting? Or climbing a mountain at 14,000 ft elevation (a physical challenge for anyone, made that much more difficult when you can’t navigate the uneven terrain)? Well, she’s done all of it and never hesitated once. She told me as she’s doing these (arguably crazy) things, she repeats “I can do all things through God who strengthens me”—a Bible verse that happens to be tattooed on my foot—to get her through it.
My mom is living proof that sometimes you don’t need to know exactly what’s up ahead, you just need to swallow your fear and do it. And when bad things happen, there is always a way to move on.
In the literal sense, I’ve been my mother’s guide for my whole life. What I didn’t realize was her example has been the force guiding me to where I am now. Because of her, I am moving across the country with no real plan and trusting that everything won’t fall apart. And if it does, I’ll know it won’t kill me.
If my mom can live every day without complaint, I can do this. In her words, as long as she can still see enough to appreciate one of God’s beautiful days, it doesn’t matter if most details are missing.
Sometimes, you forget to thank the influencers in your life for not being bad examples.
Sometimes, you forget to even notice just how wonderful they are.
Here’s to you, mom. Thank you. You are the reason I understand my own privilege. You are the reason I’m walking through every open door that leads to somewhere. And when people ask me why I’m not even a little bit scared, I point to you every time.
Gabby LaRue is a moonlight writer who spends a lot of time trying to get out of her own [virgo] way. She’s from Minneapolis, currently wandering Nashville on her way to the beautiful west coast. She loves everything that’s bad for her and would spend the rest of her life at a festival if she could. You can follow her on Twitter: @gabbylarue.
(Image via Natalia Tejera)