Saturday, April 27, 2013

Interacting with the Visually Impaired...An Etiquette Guide

My wonderful partner Rob is visually impaired, with very little usable sight. Over the course of our relationship, I have learnt a lot about the realities of living without sight, and have observed the ways in which people interact with him and his Seeing Eye Dog, Jasper. I have come to the conclusion that while some people are great, the majority of people in our society simply do not know how to deal with someone with any form of disability- or possess very bad manners- and that everyone can benefit from some advice on these matters. I've learnt a lot myself about what to do and what not to do, and I have read quite a few etiquette guides for interacting with those who are visually impaired, but felt moved to write my own as the ones I have read tend to be quite broad and do not seem to speak from personal experience or include examples. So here we are...this is my list of suggestions. 

Don't stare. Just because someone can't see you does not mean that you should forget your manners and stare. I am frequently astonished at the amount of adults who see Rob and Jasper and stare at Rob unashamedly. Then they usually turn their stare to the person who is with him. Depending on my mood, I either ignore them or they are startled to find that I have taken note of their scrutiny and am looking straight back at them. Staring is rude and there is no need for it. 

Do announce who you are when you approach someone who is visually impaired. Most visually impaired people are very good at recognising people that they have met before by their voices, but it can take them a few meetings to do so and simply saying something like "Hi Rob- it's Karen" is much appreciated when you encounter a visually impaired person that you know out and about or visit them at home. 

Don't ignore the visually impaired person and speak only to the sighted person with them. This happened to us yesterday and it is quite offensive. We drove into a tyre dealer to get new tyres fitted on the car and Rob got out first with Jasper. As I was getting out I saw that one of the employees had come out to our car and was just standing there looking at Rob and looking uncomfortable, while Rob was unaware that he was there. I deliberately took my time getting out in the hopes that he would greet Rob, but he waited until I was out and greeted me. He then directed his answers to me even though Rob was the one speaking to him about the car. Treat the person as you would want to be treated- there really is no need to be uncomfortable. Likewise, answer a visually impaired person when they speak. Rob has at times boarded a bus and asked "Is anyone in this seat?" received no reply, gone to sit and discovered that there is in fact a person there. This is embarrassing for him and can easily be avoided by using common courtesy.

Do feel free to use words like see, watch, look without worrying about causing offence, and don't feel embarrassed or apologise for using them. Visually impaired people use these words too- they are common ways of speech. I will often say to Rob "Look at this," as I put something in his hand, or ask him if he wants to watch a movie or television show with me. He will say things such as "I saw it there the other day."

Don't ever interfere with a visually impaired person's dog guide, be it a Seeing Eye Dog or Guide Dog (most people think that Seeing Eye Dogs and Guide Dogs are one and the same- they are actually completely different organisations). These dogs are working hard to guide their handler and there is a reason they wear a large sign asking you not to touch- it is distracting and potentially dangerous. For that same reason, you should not speak to the dog, either. I am constantly staggered by the amount of people- mainly adults- who try to pat Jasper, or ignore Rob and speak to Jasper. While we are on the subject of Seeing Eye Dogs, stop and think before you use the dog as an excuse to interrupt someone. Would you like to have someone suddenly loom over you in a coffee shop while you are in the middle of a conversation with your partner and start talking about their own dog? This kind of thing happens to us a lot. Unfortunately people seem to think that Jasper being there gives them an excuse to invade personal space and cross boundaries. If you are in a conversation with someone with a Seeing Eye Dog and want to ask questions, that's fine, but keep in mind they have probably answered them a thousand and one times before. Also don't assume that the dog leads a miserable life of servitude. They may look serious, but this is because they are in 'work mode'. They are very different dogs when they have their harness off and receive plenty of affection and attention at home.

Do tell a visually impaired person that you are talking to before you walk away- such as in a party setting, a large gathering or while serving them in a shop. Otherwise they may not hear you go and feel embarrassed by continuing to talk to someone who is no longer there.

Don't offer fact, do your best not to feel pity at all as visually impaired people neither want nor need it. They are just like you with loved ones, hobbies, interests, jobs. Rob has a full and happy life with a loving partner, two beautiful children and another baby on the way, a job, hobbies and interests, favourite movies, favourite activities...and yet some strangers still feel the need to remark "It's lovely to see that you're out and about." Would you say the same to someone who could see? Rob has accepted his lack of sight as the way things are and does not let it hold him back in any way. He has raised two children as a single father, goes shopping with Jasper's help, goes to appointments, cooks, cleans, gardens, builds computers, sends text messages...and this is not out of the ordinary for him. It's no different to a sighted person leading their life, so put any pity aside as it isn't necessary. 

Do take care not to move or change anything around if you are in the home of someone who is visually impaired. Home is where we like to feel comfortable and safe, and it is the same for someone who can't see- they know where everything is and feel free in their movements. The biggest hazard in the home for a visually impaired person is not a set of stairs- these don't change position- but is in fact a cupboard door that has been left open. Running into a cabinet door that you didn't know was open can be a shock and cause injury, and isn't a very pleasant experience. Likewise, if you find a door has been left open, such as in the bathroom, open it again after you are finished to prevent someone who remembered it being open running into it. Put things back where you find them if you are doing something in their home like making a coffee- even something being moved ten centimetres from where they remember it being can be frustrating.

Don't ever grab a visually impaired person's hand to 'help' them. This can be a shock and throw someone off balance. They will ask if they need help and it is far better for them to hold your arm than to have their hand or wrist grasped. Offer assistance by saying "Do you want me to put your hand on the chair?" in an unfamiliar place, but do not simply grab at them and do so without asking. You may have good intentions, such as the waiter at the Grand Chancellor when we attended High Tea who grabbed Rob's wrist so tightly that his knuckles turned white in order to show him where all the cutlery was, but visually impaired people are good at working these things out for themselves. 
Lastly, don't feel embarrassed or unsure of what to say or do. Treat the person as you would want to be treated, not as an invalid, object of pity or as a spectacle. 

I hope this guide offers some insights and guidance and I am happy to answer any other questions people may have. Like I said, it took a while for me to learn some of these things as well. I am so comfortable with Rob and completely used to his lack of sight, and it has never affected our relationship at all. There is only one time that I wished things were different- and that was the night when the mother of all huntsmen spiders appeared on our bedroom wall and I realised that I had no choice but to deal with it myself as Rob couldn't see it. I'm still amazed that the children slept through my screaming. I really don't like huntsmen. 

Jasper- truly another member of our family

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Memories of a Meeting...From Two Perspectives

When we meet someone who is going to completely change our life, we very rarely realise it. I certainly didn't realise the first time I met Rob that I was meeting the man of my dreams, my future partner and the father of my child. I would like to share the story of our first meeting with you.

Back in 2011, I was working as a Literacy Support teacher at a small and friendly primary school in the city. In the second week of the first term of the year, I was asked to do relief teaching on one of the Prep classes on the Friday of that week (my day off) which I happily accepted. In the class was a five year old girl named Mikayla, all blonde hair, gorgeous grin and chirpiness, who I had started working with the previous week as she needed a bit of extra help with her literacy skills. 

The first time I met Mikayla, she informed me that her daddy was "very special. He can't see, and so he has a special dog called Jasper to help him. You should meet my daddy!" She also told me that she lived with Mummy for some of the week and Daddy for the rest of the time. On the Friday, she was excited to discover that I was to be her teacher for the day and told me, "I'm at Daddy's today! You can meet him when he picks me up!" 

The day passed in a blur of 23 busy five and six year olds and soon enough it was home time. After I dismissed the students, most ran outside to where their parents were waiting, but one of the fathers- who I instantly noticed was very tall- came into the room, holding the hand of an adorable little blonde boy who looked just like Mikayla, and also holding the harness of a Seeing Eye Dog. Mikayla ran to him for a hug and I followed.

"Hello! I'm Karen. I was Mikayla's relief teacher today. You must be her dad," I said. The man smiled and held out his hand, saying "Nice to meet you- I'm Rob, this is Harry and this is Jasper." I shook his hand, impressed not only by how warm and friendly he was, but that he had held out his hand at the exact height to shake mine. (I was to learn later that he is very good at working out people's heights based on their voices.) We had a little chat about how Mikayla had been that day and how I was a new teacher at the school and had been working with Mikayla on her literacy. I bid them goodbye and watched Rob walk away holding onto his children and Jasper. What a nice man, I thought, and what a good father he seems to be.

I am now going to do something I have not yet done here, and hand the reins of my blog over to someone else this case, Rob himself as he would like to share his own memories of our first meeting and the friendship that began that day.

"When I first met Karen I was picking my daughter up from Prep. I was quite surprised when she came over to me where I waited for MJ inside the classroom and introduced herself. We shook hands and she said that Mikayla-Jade had told her a lot about me and it was a pleasure to meet me.
I've often looked back at that moment and thought how warm and caring she is. For a relief teacher to go out of their way to meet parents and to put so much heart into their work is really not often found.
It was such a pleasure to see her other times throughout the year and I was always greeted by a warm smile. Later in the year when my son Harry began attending pre-kinder once a week he also had the privilege to have Karen as his teacher where we would often sit down and chat. These were short minutes no longer than ten but were really pleasant and I think we both felt comfortable with each other’s company.
Jasper even got his trotters in by getting the occasional off-harness time for a tummy rub and Karen being the big dog lover that she is found a new love interest.
It was very fortunate for me that months later and after frequently bumping into one another we talked more and found that we got along so easily and started to spend more and more time together.
Fast forward till now and we are living together, expecting our first child together and really in a happy place.
Kaz is my best friend, a beautiful and supportive partner whom I share everything with and hold nothing back. I love how she reads my expression and always looks for the best. She has so much to give and really lives life never holding anything back. She is a really important part of our lives and I am so happy we are in love with each other and are building an incredible life together."

My life was very different then. If someone had told me then that within the next two years I would be not only living with Rob and very much in love, but also helping him to raise his children and expecting our own baby together, I would have been skeptical, to say the least. But that's the direction my life took and I am glad to say it was the right direction and I am very happy with my little family. I am adored, cherished, cared for and loved. I am happy and feel like my dreams are all coming true. Rob may be legally blind, but no one has ever seen me so clearly and for that, I will always be grateful. He may not be able to see my face, but he always knows when I am smiling and smiles straight back at me, just like he did the first time we met.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Time for a Change

My little blog has been reborn this morning with a new name. It is no longer known as Bebb and the Bubs but instead Daisy-Scented Dreams. It was time for a change for several reasons, one being that the name Bebb came from my 'old' life and I wanted a fresh new start to go hand in hand with the new direction my life has taken over the last year. I have also changed my user name from Bebb to Kaz, which is the nickname most people call me by and especially my family. 

The new name has been inspired by several things- 'dreams' refers to my hopes for the future and my own sleeping issues that I continue to work on, and 'daisy-scented' is taken from the song 'Big Jet Plane' by Angus and Julia Stone. 'She smells of daisies, she smells of daisies." This song has been my pregnancy song as I have been playing and singing it to the baby since finding out I was pregnant and he definitely responds to it now, so a beautiful song that I have always loved has taken on a new and special meaning. I am hoping that the song will soothe my little one after he is born as well.

I hope there aren't too many people wandering around lost in cyberspace looking for Bebb and the Bubs, and that you have managed to find your way here. I look forwards to continuing to share my journey with you all.


Autumn Sunshine

School holidays are upon us and the weather is getting colder. We had Friday and Saturday with the children before they went to their mother's house for the first week of the holidays and were determined to do a few fun activities as a family. Friday was a nasty day, weather-wise, putting paid to our plans for an outing to the park. Instead, we had a cosy morning baking cupcakes before venturing out of the house and into the wind and rain for a trip to the library. 

I do love the library, even though it was quite busy and noisy on this occasion. The children chose some books and DVDs and I got some books and pregnancy magazines to keep me entertained during the long hours of insomnia.

When we returned home I pulled out the Sculpey and the children and I had a fun time creating some bits and pieces to be baked in the oven. I made some mini strawberries that I later turned into earrings using earring backs and my glue gun. (Apologies for the terrible blurry picture, but you get the idea.)

The children were very excited to discover my glow-in-the-dark Sculpey and Harry made three figurines- Batman, Robin and Flash. I was very pleased with how hard he worked and he was thrilled with the end result.

Although it was a cosy and comfortable day, we were happy to discover that the sun was shining on Saturday so that we could get out of the house. We ended up enjoying some fish and chips at Heritage Forest and a play in the park. The wind was quite chilly but I enjoyed sitting in the sun and watching the children play, before we all walked to the dog park area to let Jasper have a run. I have been feeling very uncomfortable the last few days with worsening pelvic pain, but it was good to stretch my muscles and breathe in some fresh air. The baby is growing quickly and I can't believe that he will be born within a matter of weeks. 

I am still struggling emotionally this week due to lack of sleep and other factors, but I am getting there. Thank goodness for the support of my amazing little family, and for Pesto the cat, who keeps us all endlessly amused with his antics such as drinking from the toilet (not very elegant for a cat!) and being a complete busybody. I think he decided I was standing at the mirror for too long trying to get a good bump picture and felt the need to check out what was going on. 

I have been reading a lot lately as I've been unable to sleep, and have some book reviews to post very soon. Until next time...

Sunday, April 14, 2013

My Journey and Those Along the Way

My pregnancy journey has been amazing. Oh, sure, I have suffered from my fair share of morning sickness and aches and pains, but on the whole I am loving it. I have wanted a baby for so long and my journey has had its ups and downs, but I feel so blessed to finally be growing my own baby. My pregnant body still amazes me. I catch sight of the curve of my stomach in shop windows or mirrors and still feel astonishment that I am looking at my own pregnant belly. 

It has been a long journey so far, and it is fast reaching its end- or rather, its beginning. I have been fortunate enough to have the support of some wonderful people along the way and would like to take a moment to mention them now.

My yoga instructor, Sarah of Sacred Journey. Deciding to attend weekly pregnancy yoga classes has been one of the best decisions I could have made. Each class leaves me feeling energised, revitalised, relaxed, free from aches and pains and in a better frame of mind, and more and more prepared for the birth. Sarah has such a wealth of knowledge and leads her classes with joy, humour and a sense of calm. I also enjoy the opportunity for a chat with the other mums-to-be before and after the sessions. I plan to continue the classes right up until the birth and am looking forwards to putting the techniques I am learning into practice during labour. One thing she has said has really stuck with me: "The pain you will feel during labour is coming from your own body and therefore it cannot be stronger than you or more than you can bear." This is something I want to remember during my labour.

My massage therapist, Annie of Sanctum Body Skin Soul. I met Annie at a Niche Market several years ago and quickly became addicted to her beautiful candles and soaps. She has since opened Sanctum and I have had several enjoyable experiences there, being pampered and wrapped in chocolate, having foot soaks, facials, and more recently, pregnancy massages. Back, shoulder and pelvic pain have been a problem for me over the last few months and Annie's wonderful pregnancy massages have been a lifesaver. I feel more relaxed from the moment I step through the doors of Sanctum, and enjoy every minute, from the chat with Annie to the massage itself to the cup of herbal tea and sample of fudge afterwards. 

My doula, Cherie Chugg. A doula is a trained birth partner; someone who is there for you and your partner before, during and after the birth to offer support- both emotional and physical- assistance, encouragement and act as your advocate. She is there from the beginning to the end of the birth as continuous support- something that will be very helpful in a public hospital with no guarantee of having the same caregivers throughout the labour and birth. I decided long ago that I wanted to have a doula with us at the birth and am very happy with our choice of Cherie. We have had several pre-birth sessions together now and I feel relaxed and comfortable with her, as if I am chatting with a trusted friend. She brings a sense of calm and support with her as soon as she steps into our home and I am very grateful to know that that same sense of calmness and support will be brought into the labour room. 

These three ladies are lovely and I do feel incredibly lucky to have them as part of my journey. I feel sure that it would have been a lot harder without them. I have no idea what my birth experience will be like, but I am feeling strong and ready to face it. 


Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Story of Finding a Grandfather

As I said in my last post, my Grandpa Jeffrey passed away last Sunday morning and it hit me fairly hard. Losing both my grandfathers within a twelve-month period was not something I expected. Grandpa Jeffrey was a little different to Pop, however. Pop, my dad's father, has been around since I was born. Grandpa Jeffrey was someone I only met when I was seven years old, back in 1991. How does that work?

You see, my mother was adopted as a newborn baby. She was adopted by a Tasmanian couple who already had two sons and enjoyed a happy, loving childhood. From the age of four, she knew about the adoption (though it came as an initial shock) but was happy with her adoptive family. Her adoptive father passed away when she was 18 years old, and she lost her adoptive mother to breast cancer when I was less than a year old. 

Though she still had her adoptive brothers, to whom she has always been very close, she began to want to find her birth parents. It took a number of years for her grief to subside and for her to feel ready. When I was six years old she began her search, with the help of an agency. She discovered her mother's name, and that her mother had travelled from the mainland to give birth to her and have her adopted. She wrote a letter and sent it out to all the women of that name that she could track down. There are strict guidelines for that sort of thing- the agency does not recommend that you write "I think I am the daughter that you had adopted," etc. Instead, she wrote that she was looking for a woman of that name, who had travelled to Tasmania on that date, to discuss a personal matter. Then she waited.

I remember Mum checking the mail every day. A few replies began to trickle in- all return to sender, or 'not known at this address, or 'sorry, but that wasn't me'. Then one day a letter arrived. I remember Mum reading it, and then I remember her asking Lisa and I to go outside and play as she wanted to lie down. It was only years later that she told me that she had sent us outside, whilst barely holding herself together, so that we would not see her sobbing her heart out. Later that evening she explained to us (we were fully aware of her search) that her mother had written to her, but did not want to talk to her again. Many years later, Mum showed me the letter- the letter that broke her heart, but which she had been unable to throw away as it was the only thing her mother had ever given her. It was formal, impersonal, cold and typed. 

"Dear Mrs S,
Yes, I did travel to Tasmania on that date. That chapter of my life is now closed and I have no desire to enter into any further communications regarding the chapter. 
Mrs. K"

No wonder Mum was devastated.

Life went on. Mum locked her new grief away as best she could and tried to put this second rejection by the woman who had given birth to her aside. I remember her sadness and her quietness. I remember cuddling her and feeling shocked that someone's mother would not want them. A few months went by.

Then one Wednesday, Mum received a phone call from the agency that had been helping her. We were in the kitchen and I remember her dropping into a chair and the look of amazement, wonder and joy that spread over her face. The agency told her, "Sit down, Debbie, as we have some news...Your father has been trying to find you for the last 33 years."

By that afternoon, Mum had spoken on the phone to her father. She had learnt that her mother had refused to allow him to have anything to do with the pregnancy and had never told him where she had gone to give birth. She had wanted to marry another man and wanted a career and therein lay her decision. Jeffrey had never given up searching. Mum learnt that she had a half sister and two half brothers, and when she tentatively asked about meeting up, Jeffrey announced he planned to fly to Tasmania to meet us all the very next week. 

Mum was beside herself with joy and we were so excited, for her and for ourselves at the prospect of a new grandfather. The following week Mum drove to the airport, an hour and a half away, to collect her father, while we waited at home with Dad. When we saw the car we ran out to see our beaming mother, and our grandfather. He wasn't a stranger to us and we ran straight to him, to both be swept up into a tight, tight hug by strong arms. He held us close against his woollen jumper and we laughed for joy. One of the most important things we wanted to know was what to call him. Mum was still calling him Jeffrey- it wasn't until she spent time with her sister that she began to slip into calling him Dad from time to time- and he told us we could call him whatever we wanted to. He told us that his other two grandchildren- our new cousins- called him Grandpa and we quickly decided that Grandpa Jeffrey seemed right.

He was a big part of our lives from that day. Before too long, we had flown to New South Wales to meet Mum's siblings and stay with Jeffrey in his beautiful home in the Blue Mountains. Mum became very close to her half-sister, who she closely resembled, and we were instantly close to our new cousins. Over the years Jeffrey would visit us or we would see him, and he loved to spoil us at birthdays and Christmas. He took us to the beach and would carry us, one at a time, out into the crashing waves and hold us tight while jumping the waves. He never forgot a birthday or passed up the opportunity to see us. 

The last few years of his life were hard. Due to several poor decisions, he lost his highly successful law practice and his lovely home and moved into a small flat. He lost none of his spirit and passion. He may have had flaws, but we never doubted his love for us and he has undoubtedly left a hole in our lives. He was unwell for some time before slipping away on Sunday, and though I am sad I did not see him again before the end, I am also glad in a way that I did not see him in a coma. I am glad I can remember him as he was- loud, and jolly, and full of life, jumping the waves and keeping us safe.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Thrown Off Course

To everyone who has been reading my blog, both new and old readers- thank you for reading, and I apologise for the silence this past week. I feel a bit off course at the moment. I am coming up on 17 nights of insomnia (by which I mean still being awake past 2 or 3 am, and only getting an hour or two of sleep on the worst nights) and it is taking a toll. Those who read my blog will know I have suffered from insomnia for my entire life but it has never been this bad before. I am frustrated and a little more exhausted each day. Someone commented "Yeah but you're on leave now- does it matter that you aren't getting much sleep? Can't you just nap?" This wasn't really helpful. There are children in the house who are early risers and need to be taken to school, appointments to be kept, children to be picked up from school, etc, and the knowledge that if I give in to an afternoon nap (why, why oh why is it so much easier for me to sleep during the day???) I will make it harder for myself to sleep come night time. 

I am finding it a bit of a struggle at the moment. Each night I think I will surely sleep as I am so exhausted...but it won't happen. 

To make things harder, my Grandpa Jeffrey passed away early this morning after spending the last three days in a coma, and it has hit me fairly hard. I have now lost both my grandfathers and it makes me sad that neither of them will be around to become a great-grandfather. I have many fond memories of Grandpa Jeffrey to hold onto and am planning on writing about him soon. I don't think I can say much more about it all yet. It's still too raw.

I planned to just write a sentence or two to explain my silence but once I started to type, it just came out. Writing has always been therapeutic for me and I do enjoy my little blog and hate neglecting it. I am hanging in there. Sleep will come...and then disappear for a while once my little man arrives, but that is a journey I am looking forwards to.

Stay well, everyone, and I will return with happier entries soon. And hopefully I will feel as relaxed and rested as Faye clearly does.