Are you listening to Invisibilia? You should be.
If you only listen to one episode, let is be this one. The central question is whether or not our expectations of others can have an impact on what they are physically able to do. Amazingly, they can. This idea has had my mind churning the last few weeks, turning it over, looking at it from every angle, contemplating what it could mean for my children.
Dr. Haim Ginott, the child psychologist who inspired Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish's book, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen, said that "we treat the child not as they are, but as we wish them to become." That quote has been on my fridge since Gianna was two years old but until listening to this podcast, I don't think I truly understood what he meant, or even believed it was possible. But science has proved that our expectations of each other influences behavior in a real and measurable way. What power, then, we have as parents with such proximity to our budding children, to influence them to become good people.
The episode features a blind man, Daniel Kish, and his ability to navigate independently through his use of echolocation. When he lost his eyes to retinoblastoma as a toddler, his mother decided to banish her fear and raise him as a sighted child. Wild statements are made; that blindness is a social construct; that the reason that people with visual impairments have such a high unemployment rate is due to the low expectations of those around them.
A researcher in Germany studies Daniel's brain, and the brains of other blind people who use echolocation, and discovers through fMRI that the areas of the brain that are implicated in vision show activity in a similar way that a sighted person's would. For years, researchers assumed that those parts of the brain would be dark; but they're not. The researcher makes an astonishing assertion: "You might not need eyes to see."
"You might not need eyes to see." I scribbled this quote on an index card and hung it above my sink. In my darkest moments, I have begun to repeat this phrase to myself. I don't think echolocation is a good option for my deaf children, but I do love the idea that our brain can receive the information it needs to create images without the presence of vision. In all truth, vision is a complex system; we don't really "see' with our eyes, we "see" with our brain. Our just eyes collect the information.
I've been thinking and thinking about this. How can I be sure my expectations for my children; that my daughters know they can do whatever they want despite their vision loss and that my son can, in fact, express his anger without a major meltdown, are influencing them for the good and not holding them back? My initial thought was that it was fear that would cause me to shelter them; fear that would convince me to limit activities, to be nervous and overbearing. The various people interviewed on the podcast, though, think it is is something else. They think my love for my children is what could hold them back. As I've turned this over in my mind, I've realized the reason I feel fear is because I love them so immensely.
How can I overcome this? I once heard a priest giving a homily on self-denial say that we must start small, to exercise our self-control in little ways until we gain the grace and strength to say no to the big stuff. Things like, putting one less teaspoon of sugar in your coffee or waking up just ten minutes earlier. I wonder, can I banish my fear this way? Can I find the small moments where fear threatens to take over and choose to push it away?
Could I push away my panic when Gianna struggles with her math homework? Could I stop telling her that she's always the last one to finish because she's working so much harder on a basic level than other people and instead assert that she not worry how long something takes but only concentrate only on finishing? Could I stop anxiously asking her every time we're outside at night, "Can you see the stars?" and dreading the day when she'll say no? I'm going to try. I have to try.
I wish my children, sighted or blind, deaf or hearing, to become holy people who seek the Lord and will the good for every person they meet. I have no idea what the future holds for any of them but I can arm them now with the knowledge that I, their mother, expect great and simple things for them.