by Kazuko Ren‚s

So that you will understand this story, I will offer a bit of background. My eyesight deterioration started in 1968. An inflammation of unknown cause began to destroy my retinas, replacing healthy tissue with scar tissue. There is apparently no cure. At this point, I am almost totally blind.

Several months ago, I received a phone call from my granddaughter Amanda. She and her husband, Ben, had purchased a new house and they wanted me to see it and also to spend time with them. They live in Hillsboro, Ore., some 200 miles from my home. I was afraid to go because their new house has two stories and stairways are always frightening to me. She asked me to stay for four or five days so that I could spend some extended time with their son Bailey, my first great-grandchild. He was 19 months old at the time, and I had not seen him for several months. My husband, Bob, insisted that I go, saying that I would enjoy the visit. I decided to go, though I was very apprehensive about it.

When I arrived, I was surprised to find that, although Bailey refuses to talk, he understands my disability very well. And I was absolutely astonished at how well he accommodates it.

As is customary with blind people, Amanda showed me around the house, placing my hands on walls, doorways, stairway railings, furniture, counters, and such. Bailey watched and apparently took note of it all.

I first realized this on the following morning. His room is next to the guest room, where I slept, and we woke up around the same time. When it came time to go downstairs, he took my index finger and led me to the stairs, then released my finger and placed my hand on the wall. I then walked down the stairs sliding my hand along the wall and stair rail, feeling for the steps with my feet. He went down the stairs in his usual way, a backward crawling motion to the bottom.

All during the day, and for the rest of the time that I was there, he took my hand and guided me everywhere that we went, being very careful not to cause me to walk into anything. It was an amazing and very enjoyable period for me.

During the first day, I had a difficult time finding the bathroom, which was off the entry hallway near the dining room. So I asked him to show me where the bathroom was. He not only took me to the bathroom, he also led me inside and placed my hand on the toilet. I asked him where the toilet paper was, so he placed my hand on the dispenser. Then he went out and waited for me.

The next morning, he led me to the stairs as he did on the first day, but, this time, he first put my hand on the wall, and then put it on the floor. I understood that he wanted me to go downstairs in the same way that he did. He apparently thought that my way of doing it was unsafe and his way was safer. I went down the stairs his way.

His method of play was also very interesting. He assumed, as children do, that I wanted to play with him, so he brought a toy truck, put my hand on it, and pushed it with my hand. I pointed out to him that I could not see to do that and suggested that we do a kind of "choo-choo train" in which he would push the truck and I would hold onto him and follow. Thereafter, he would bring a push-toy, hold onto it himself, and place my hand on his back at his waist.

As part of his quiet time, he likes to watch the animated movie "Finding Nemo." He never seems to tire of it. He usually sits on a cushion in front of the couch to watch, so he brought another cushion for me, led me to the cushion, turned me appropriately, and pushed me to sit down. We watched "Finding Nemo" together.

At snack time on the first day, Amanda set out juice and graham crackers on the coffee table for him and coffee for me. He stood next to me as I sat on the floor. As Amanda and I chatted, he would take a bite or two, then offer a bite to me. After a few bites, he would take a sip of juice. He noticed that I wasn't sipping my coffee as often as he was taught, so he touched my lips and pointed to my coffee cup with the same finger. The manner in which he touched my lips was interesting too. He didn't just touch with the end of his index finger; he placed the length of his index finger ever so carefully across my lips, from side to side. Amanda noticed his pointing, told me that he wanted me to drink some coffee, and reminded him that I could not see his pointing finger. After that, he touched my lips, and then put my hand on my cup. Amanda also commented that it is extremely rare for him to offer food to others.

On the second afternoon, he started calling me Baba. No one taught him to call me this. (Although he clearly understands virtually everything, he refuses to say more than a word or two. Pointing gets what he needs, so I assume that he feels that talking is unnecessary.) I also assume that, because I could not see his pointing finger, he used a spoken word to attract my attention. It is interesting that, since the birth of Amanda, my first grandchild, she and my daughters and sons-in-law, and then my grandson, have all come to call me "Bachan," which is familiar Japanese children's speech for "grandmother." In that connection, it is also interesting to note that Amanda also first referred to me as Baba without it being taught to her. Baba is country-style Japanese children's speech for Bachan.

One day, Amanda had to go and tidy up the apartment from which they had just moved, so Bailey and I went with her. While she was working, Bailey devised a hide-and-seek game for us. First, he led me into a closet and closed the door with both of us inside. I knocked on the wall and said, "Where is Mommy?" He found that very funny, laughing a lot. Next, he led me out of the closet, then pushed me back in, and closed the door again. I knocked again, and said, "Where is Bailey?" He laughed more. Then he led me out of the closet, and he went inside and closed the door. I again knocked and asked, "Where is Bailey?" He had a really good time with the game. But the interesting part is that he devised it with no help from me.

I had a wonderful time with Amanda, Ben, and Bailey; but especially with Bailey. We laughed a lot together. He gave me a marvelous gift -- memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life.


Bailey and Kazuko share a hug during playtime. (Photo courtesy of Keri Pratt.)

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