What I Learned from Blind Children at Age 50
I say--- not nearly enough candles!
I have reached the age where it doesn't matter. What age ? Frankly, it's none of your business, but I learned something about age and first impressions when I was a sub teacher in a classroom of young blind children.
First some background: My birth order gave me an advantage, as the baby of a bunch of girl cousins. Some years ago, at a family wedding, one of my "elderly" 40-ish cousins asked me how it felt to always be the "baby."
I said with a hint of "last laughter", "Sometimes it wasn't so great. But now . . . It's All Right!"
I learned: When you are the youngest of your middle-aged cousins, they all want to be you.
My mom and dad always looked younger than their contemporaries, so I never thought about aging much until I hit 50. Fifty is a "fat" number, and though I was still doing the same things I did at 49, it seemed, for the first time -- different.
I learned: People will tell you, "Age is how you feel." Yeah, right. People will say, "Age is a state of mind." Yeah, right. I didn't feel different. I didn't think differently.
I learned: Age is age: an objective chronological, factual statistic.
Reaching the half-century...
Shortly after that anniversary, which is disfigured by the phrases "half century," "golden anniversary" and the ever popular "over the hill," I was working as a substitute teacher in a special-education class.
Teaching in the blind class opened my eyes to the idea of using all of the senses for instruction.
Blind students tend to be very perceptive and responsive to sounds, rhythm, touch, texture, fragrance, odor, and all of the other physical sensations that we some times take for granted.
They tend to sense changes in the weather by the "smell of rain" or the change in the direction of the wind. They also seem to get a sense about people by the tone and cadence of their voice and other auditory clues.
Teaching Blind Students
Not My First Time
I had been in the blind class a few times before and was acquainted with the kids in the group.
It was an easy substitute assignment because these classes always had capable assistants and often a few volunteers. I was mostly there to fulfill a legal requirement (I had a credential). I certainly had no specialized training in teaching the blind.
I was glad, however, that I had been requested to return. It at least indicated that I had not been deemed a liability to the normal functioning of the class.
I was also given some simple things to do, that I could handle, to make me feel useful.
On this particular day I sat on the floor in a circle of children, while sharing jokes and riddles (technically -- an orderly, educational, verbal, cooperative communication exercise.) One of them suddenly asked me how old I was.
In a moment of vulnerability I blurted "Fifty."
They immediately laughed and rocked back and forth as if I were continuing the jokes and riddles. Though greatly flattered and encouraged, somehow I felt obliged to insist on the facts.
"I'm Fifty," I repeated somewhat desperately, though I could hardly believe it myself.
They remained unconvinced so I asked them how old they thought I was (expecting, maybe, 90).
The general consensus was "about thirty-five," which I accepted with glee, laughter and my own rocking back and forth.
Who Would Believe?
When I related this story to acquaintances they regarded it with some suspicion until I revealed that this was the visually impaired class.
Most of them were very bright, but legally or totally blind children.
It certainly would have been a major compliment to have been judged 15 years younger by a sighted class (no way!), but pondering the experience, I realized that it was even more of a compliment to have been judged not by my appearance, but by my attitude and interaction.
I could sit on the floor and laugh at silly jokes with them and it made me younger.
Perhaps we all taught each other something about perception on that day.
Yes, we do make judgements about people on our visual perceptions. We may also make assumptions based on their words and attitude.
I once had someone tell me that I probably got along well with young children because I never really grew up.
At the time, I don't think it was meant as a compliment, but I have learned to take it as such, because it is partly true.
I hope it always will be.