One night Alden and I were talking as I was putting him to bed, and I asked him mostly joking, “Alden, when I get old, will you take care of me?”
“Yeah. I’m going to be a big firefighter so I can help you because you’re blind. If there is a fire I can save you. Or I can save you if you climb up in a tree and you get stuck because I’m going to be a big firefighter.”
Alden already knows his dad is different. He knows that if dad is coming down the stairs, that he has to say something or make noise so that dad won’t knock him down the steps. (It only took him a few times to learn this.) Alden saw a service animal at an indoor children’s play area, and he said, “That guy has a dog like my dad.”
Alden will help me find things like his sister’s shoes, or the remote control. He already takes care of me. The other day I left the house to find my family at a neighbor’s backyard barbeque, and as I closed the door, I heard Alden yelling from across the cul-de-sac, “Dad! Dad!” He ran over, took my hand and pulled me over to where he was playing with his friends in the neighbor’s yard, knowing that he was guiding me. He sometimes tells his mom, “Look mom, I’m doing Anderson’s job.” He’ll also ask her to set up the TV so he can watch “Toy Story,” and say something like, “You can’t do it because you are blind.”
Alden began asking how I became blind when he was 2 and a half. It was an interesting challenge figuring out just how to explain it to him. He began asking questions about my eyes such as, “Are your eyes broken? Why do you have a scratch on your head?” he asked, perplexed by the patch of forearm skin on my forehead. I guess I figured I’d just be honest about it since I knew he was going to hear about it sooner than later anyway from somewhere. I didn’t want to tell him something and then have him hear people say something different, or worse yet, hear me say something different.
“I got a really big Owie,” I said.
“I was out fishing, and I saw a mama grizzly bear with her cubs, and she was very scared of me. Even though I wasn’t, she thought I was going to hurt her babies, and so she scratched me.” (I couldn’t really say that she had attacked me or had bitten me, because I didn’t want him trying to think of what that might have looked like.) He was silent as he thought about what I had said.
“The bear scratched your eyes? And then poked you because she was very mad?”
“Yeah. I think she was scared of me, even though she didn’t really have to feel scared of me.”
“And that’s how you got blinded?”
I had no idea if this was the right thing to say to a 2 year old. I couldn’t decide if honesty was the best approach in this case, but I went with it. This information has certainly played a role in Alden’s behaviors and thinking since then. One day I was explaining to Alden that he had to stay close to mom and dad in the woods and not wander off too far by himself because in Alaska, we may see a moose or a bear.
“And then the bear might poke you in the eye and then you’ll be blind?” he asked.
He seems to be wary of moose and bear, which is not such a bad thing, but I question the age-appropriateness of his level of concern in this regard. Sometimes I feel that he worries about bears too much for a now 4 year old. Of course, since I work everyday with people who have experienced trauma, I’m keenly aware of various forms of trauma responses. I sometimes wonder if his hyper-vigilance isn’t some sort of response to his experience of vicarious trauma as a result of me sharing my story with him. I have no idea if I did the right thing by telling him so young.
Last year, during one of Alden’s soccer games, Alden was staring out into the woods instead of playing soccer with his team.
“What are you doing Alden?”
“I’m looking for bears.”
He is always talking about how “if you see a bear, that the bear might poke you and make you be blind.” Sometimes at night if he is scared, or just doesn’t want mom or dad to leave him, he’ll say, “There is a bear outside! I heard a bear outside my window, mama!”
Yes. I’m afraid I’ve turned bears into my son’s boogieman. No matter what we tell him now, he’s going to know that a bear is what hurt daddy, and that’s why he is blind.
Maybe I should have told him that daddy lost his eyes in a poker game.