My Mother, the Wind Beneath My Wings

Collage with Cover of Deanna's book with her and her Guide Dog and Picture of Deanna on left and her Mother on right

Editor’s note:  It is fitting that for Mother’s Day, we revisit a post that Peer Advisor DeAnna Quietwater Noriega wrote in May, 2013, as a tribute to her mother. This post marked the inaugural post for the Peer Perspectives on Vision Loss Blog—now called “Visually Impaired, Now What?”

Diagnosed with Congenital Glaucoma

My mother was seventeen when I was born. I was the first of her five children. Six months after my birth, I was diagnosed as having congenital glaucoma. The prognosis was not good. My mother was told I would probably be totally blind by age ten.

Back then, many of the surgical techniques which are used successfully today did not exist. The primary treatment was drugs administered in eye drops to control the pressure inside the eye. With each uncontrolled rise in pressure, irreversible damage was done. Unlike the adult onset of glaucoma, the congenital form is painful.

Three operations to stabilize my condition were attempted between the ages of five and eight. The last of these left me without light perception, totally blind.

By then, I had two brothers with normal vision, two and four years younger than me. My mother had no experience to guide her in rearing a child with a visual impairment. She had never known a person who was blind, nor were there any experts to turn to for advice. I was a lively child, curious about everything and independent in temperament. Mom decided that since she knew so little, the best plan was to stand back and let me discover my limitations.

Many years later, my mother admitted that there were times when she watched fearfully from the kitchen window as I ran full tilt in to a tree or backyard fence. She fought her instinct to rush to the rescue unless I was hurt. She held her breath as I climbed trees, stood on the seat to pump my swing or played rough and tumble games with my younger brothers. Sometimes, she put aside housework to help me learn to roller skate or jump rope. Never did she impose her own fears for my safety on me. She always encouraged me to try new things, understanding that this was the only way I would learn to handle them. She didn’t want her fear transmitted to me, burdening me with another handicap to overcome in addition to blindness.

Learning to Do Household Tasks

As I grew into a young girl, she taught me to do housework, sew, and cook. This gave her an extra pair of hands around the house and gave me a sense of competence and usefulness. I never realized that she directed me through the steps of preparing a meal from another room because she found it difficult to watch me handling sharp knives or hot pans.

She worked to see that I didn’t develop “blindisms” [Editorial note— mannerisms such as repetitive movements of parts of the body such as eye rubbing, hand gestures, rocking, or swaying used to be called “blindisms”] which would single me out as different from my sighted peers. She gently admonished me to look in her direction when I spoke to her and hold my head high. She offered advice on which colors went together and looked best on me. She spent a lot of time shopping and sewing for me to make sure I dressed in the latest fashions. She taught me to feel confident in my appearance and to take pride in good grooming.

Involved in Activities to Practice Social Skills

She drove miles to take me to special camps and other activities with youngsters with visual impairments so that I could practice such social skills as learning to dance. I could then use these skills confidently in my sighted community. Most of all, my Mother gave me the freedom to try my wings. She held me back from offering me comfort when I fell unless I was actually hurt, gave it freely when I needed it, and never intimated that she thought I might fall. My wonderful Mom understood that to love a child with a disability truly meant that she must suffer in silence through her fears and doubts and let me go. She knew instinctively that if she tried to protect and shelter her little wounded chick; I might never reach my full potential.

Married With Kids of Her Own

I am now the mother of three grown children, grandmother of seven, married to a fine man, and a woman with myriad activities in my community. I was the first in my family to obtain a college degree. I spent two and a half years serving in the Peace Corps and once climbed a ten thousand-foot mountain. All of these accomplishments are mine because my mother was strong enough to let me run and play, explore, and grow, just like her other four children without disabilities. She was always there to offer a hug or word of encouragement but never there to teach me her fears. She was the wind beneath my wings.

Published in the Braille Forum, Volume xxxvi, May 1998, published by permission.

DeAnna Continues to Honor Her Mom

As Liz Bottner stated in her post about DeAnna in 2021,

DeAnna wrote her first book-Fifty Years of Walking with Friends – in honor of her mother who just had her 90th birthday! To quote DeAnna, “I have been working on it for years but lacked the courage to send it out into the world. If I hadn’t been struggling over my disappointment at not being able to be with my mother for her 90th birthday, this book would probably still be trapped in a file on my computer. Wanting it as a gift for Mom made me take the risk of taking it out of my computer and discovering if I really have a story to tell that others want to read.”

Happy Mother’s Day from APH VisionAware! Check out our gift guide!