If you're just starting to read my blog, please view the other Snippets (Part 1-3) prior to reading this one. It helps to go order. :-) (Picture to the right is my Mom - in the middle and two of her cousins.)
Do you have a favorite childhood storybook? Mom does and I know what it is ~ the story of the Ugly Ducking. Mom loved that story when she was a little girl. She related to that ugly duckling and how the other baby ducks made fun of it and it felt ugly. It's her favorite story ~ one of rejection and wanting to belong. And in the end, the ability to stay faithful to oneself despite the name-calling and ridicule ~ one of hope, faith, courage and finding yourself.
If you look into the layers of the story ~ it's one that promotes tolerance and diversity, that there's no standard of beauty. That beauty is within and once you find it ~ it shines... not to care what others think, as long as you're happy. Mom picked a perfect child's story for her motto.
Albinism ~ doesn't just keep your skin and hair and eyelashes and eyebrows white. It means you don't have pigment. People who have albinism don't produce melanin, a photoprotective pigment. Without melanin, there is no protection from ultraviolet light. What does pigment do ~ it protects your skin. When you're in the sun, you get tanned that's pigment. When you overdo it in the sun, you bake. That's me. I don't tan; I burn.
Mom doesn't have anything to protect her skin. So, when she's out in the sun, she's burning herself. Every time. Every day. When she's out on bus duty, she's burning. When she takes the students to the park for a field day, she's burning. Every. Singe. Time. And no, Mom doesn't want to use her condition as a reason to not do her job. She doesn't want to be seen as different. She takes on the obligations and takes best of care of herself as much as she can.
I know what skin cancer looks like, because I would drive Mom to the dermatologist and he had to cut the cancer out of her. One time the cancer was at the back of her neck, between her shoulder blades. She couldn't reach it to put the antibiotics on it, so I took care of the wound for her. When I thought the cancer wasn't completely removed, I had words with the doctor and he finally agreed that he had missed some...
Every summer, Mom goes to the dermatologist to have liquid nitrogen put into her skin at spots where pre-cancerous spots, Keratosis, are starting to form. Liquid nitrogen freezes the Keratosis and stops it from forming into cancer. It creates bumps that look like measles. Sometimes Mom has so many that it covers her face and arms. She takes it in stride, though I know it's painful.... "you do what you have to do" (how many times do we NOT do what we have to do because it's easier to put our head in the sand and ignore a problem?)
One time, after Mom had the spots frozen and was left in a gruesome sight of bumps, she and Dad went on a vacation. They wanted to go into the Jacuzzi, but Dad said, "There are too many people in there." Mom replied, "Not for long. Watch this." Mom sauntered up to the Jacuzzi, took off her bathing suit robe and got into the water. She made sure that her arms were visible, which was the worst area of Keratosis that year. People in the Jacuzzi must have thought she had some sort of disease, because they quickly left and my parents had the water all to themselves. Lol. Gotta love her!
To go back to melanin.. melanin is responsible for developing the "center of the macular region of the retina, the most sensitive area of vision in the retina." Hence the blindness, hence the sensitivity to the light. We play "musical chairs" when we go to a restaurant, until we know which chair placement is easiest on Mom's eyes. It might look strange to people watching us, but it's the first thing we think of when we sit down, "Is Mom OK with where she's sitting? Is the light bothering her?"
When my parents come over to home and have dinner, Mom gets first pick of the chairs and how dim the lights should be. Sometimes she won't tell me when the light is on and bothering her, but I can see it in her eyes. I'll get up and turn off the light and ask, "Is that better?" She smiles her thanks.
Most of my regular blogger readers know what my Mom does for a living.
She went into the field of education in college, but wasn't so she could be a teacher.
Mom told me, "I went into the field of education, not to become a teacher, but to learn how to be a parent. I knew I needed to learn how to be a good Mom and that's why I picked education. It wasn't until I took a child psychology course that I learned I was a product of an abusive family. I read the descriptions of behavior in the home and how a child reacted and felt and I recognized myself between those pages."
Mom isn't just my Mom and my brother's Mom ~ she's a Mom to every student she's taught. As a young girl, Mom had to learn in a different way than most students. In the classroom, as a teacher, she recognized the need to ~ teach ~ different ways to reach as many students as she can. Mom told me, "Not everyone learns in the same way. Some need to see a picture to identify with the material. Others need the words, some need to hear it.... everyone can learn, it's just finding what reaches the student."
And her students remember her. I can't go anywhere with Mom without someone stopping us to say, "You're Mrs. Grimball aren't you? You taught me." It's always with a look of admiration in their eyes when they greet Mom.
And yes, a legally blind teacher teaches regular sighted children. How does she do it? She knows the material. She studies it. She gets all of the paperwork done at home and works long hours in preparation. She finds a way to get the children's interest in the material and to inspire them.
Mom's students don't know about her visual handicap. In fact ~ you have to see the humor in this ~ the kids have often said, "Mrs. Grimball - you have eyes in the back of your head!" Because Mom KNOWS what's going on in the classroom without having to see the children. She cares, she's aware. She loves her job. I doubt Mrs. Jindal even knows about Mom's vision....
But some of the teachers do, because Mom had to tell them. The few that do know, look out for her when she has to go to workshops. This is a scary thing for my family, knowing Mom is on "new ground" where she doesn't know the bumps in the walkway or how to get to a place.
One time Mom went to a workshop at a building in Baton Rouge. She was unfamiliar with the building and the landscape layout. When the workshop let out for a lunch break, all of the teachers went outside to go to their vehicles. Mom walked outside and knew there were steps going down to the parking lot, only she didn't know how far down the step went ... was it a shallow step... was it a deep step.... she doesn't have depth perception and it can make for a broken leg if she isn't careful.
Mom kept looking down, trying to figure out the step, until her teacher friend grabbed her hand and said, "Gay, come with me." Come to find out... Mom wasn't looking at a step. She was looking at the edge of the building that dropped 2 stories down! If her friend hadn't grabbed her hand..... It's scary. I told Mom, "I'm getting you a walking stick!" She'll hear none of it. Stubborn woman. (Greg, if you think I'm stubborn, you know where I get it from now.)
I'm jumping around a little here... going back to when my brother was a baby.
My brother is two years my senior. When he was a baby and sitting in a highchair by the kitchen table, Mom gave him a cracker to eat. She didn't see his arm held out to her or the edge of the cracker in his hand. When she leaned down to pick him up, the cracker went into her eye. It hurt, but she kept going on about life.
That cracker..... ended up giving her epilepsy years and years and years into the future. When we were on a family trip to Maryland, Mom kept complaining that her eye hurt and she bought a black patch to put over her eye. It was the first time I saw snow, in Maryland. I went outside to play in it and then go shopping with my cousins. I came back to my cousin's home to find out Mom just had a seizure. When we came home, Mom saw a neurologist who explained that it was scar tissue. The cracker was the only incident Mom could think of for that eye, where the scar tissue was located, because it wasn't on the side where her face smashed in from the car accident.
Mom was given Dilantin. She takes it 3 times a day and it controls the seizures.
But not always. ~~~~ Mom went in for dental surgery. After the surgery, she came home and laid down in bed to relax. I heard Mom asking Dad to get her a glass of water. Dad got the glass and we heard Mom say, "Lester...." Nothing more and something in her voice... I don't know, I don't know.. but I felt like I had someone behind me (and there wasn't anyone) pushing me HARD to move fast to the their bedroom. I was right behind Dad.
Mom was having a seizure. Her eyes rolled into the back of her head. She was shaking. And then ~ She stopped breathing. I cried out, "Ma! Ma! Dad - DO SOMETHING!" He yelled, "Call 911!" Then he slapped her in the same place where she had the surgery. That worked. It was enough pain to make Mom gasp and breath.
Some things you don't ever forget. Now, if Mom thinks the light in her eyes from an eye appointment is too strong or she has to go to the doctor for surgery of any type, she takes an extra Dilantin pill. She thinks it was the light in the dentist's office that triggered the seizure later.
Dilantin ~ so she doesn't have seizures, but nobody told her... it isn't good for the calcium in her bones. She didn't find that out until she was in her 50's and took a bone density test. Come to find out Mom has the bones of a 90-year-old. Now she takes calcium supplements.
Physically abused by her own mother
Legally Blind from childhood
White skin and white hair ~ on the receiving end of cruelty from children
Wanting to fit in and be independent ~ where prejudice thrives
Horrible car accident that crushed half her face
Skin Cancer on an annual basis with treatment of liquid nitrogen.
Epilepsy from a cracker
Osteoporosis from the medicine to stop the seizures
~ all of this makes Mom who she is today.
But it isn't her. It didn't ruin her. It didn't break her spirit.
My grandfather (Paps) passed away when he was in his 80's. He fell and broke his hip. While recovering in the hospital, he caught pneumonia. Mom heard the death rattle in his breath and cried. He passed away, with my grandmother saying, "I want Will (Paps). Where's my husband? Who is this man?" At this time, my grandmother had multiple stroke, but prior to this, Alzheimer’s had set in. It was a very sad situation.
I remember going to my grandparents' home in preparation for my grandfather's funeral. We were in a large vehicle and somehow the conversation turned to Nana and Mom made mention of how Nana treated her as a little girl. Mom's eldest sibling turned around in the front seat and said, "Mother (Nana) was afraid of you, Gay. Didn't you know that? She was afraid of you, because Paps thought Nana had an affair when you were born. There was a big ruckus in the family because of you for a long time."
Cripes! There was the missing piece to the puzzle that so long eluded us and made me wonder why Nana was like she was. Mom used to say, "Nana was abusive, because there were eight of us and it had to be difficult raising that many children. Or maybe it was just who she was...." But that wasn't the case.. not totally at least.
Here's a woman who is faithful to her husband and out pops this "blond hair blue eyed" (she has white hair and lovely lavender eyes) child when all the other kids have brown hair and brown eyes or at the most different, green eyes. Paps thought Mom wasn't his child. Nana knew that she was and she felt anger towards a child because of her husband's treatment and thus, the treatment rendered on to Mom. It wasn't until my Uncle was born that they learned about albinism and Paps did the gene research. But by then, it was too late for Mom and Nana's relationship. It had turned into a habit of hate towards her own daughter.
Mom and I were silent as we let this missing puzzle piece fill in the space. It was a start to the understanding, but it wasn't enough for me to forgive Nana.
After Paps' funeral, the eight had to decide where was Nana going to live. She was at an old folks home and when Dad saw the conditions, he said, "We are not going to leave her here." No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Don't I have wonderful parents? They are such role models!
My aunts and uncles voted and it was decided that Nana would stay at my parents' home. When I heard this I thought, "My Mom is a better person than I am, because NO WAY would I take care of someone who hurt me!"
Mom didn't just ~ take in ~ Nana. Mom became a "Mom" to Nana. Mom was Nana's Mom that Nana never was to her. This is how my Mom forgave her mother. She cared for her. She loved her. She gave her the warm, loving home that Nana didn't give to her as a child. She made sure her mother was bathed, fed, had clean cloths. Mom would put make-up on Nana to make her feel pretty and hugged her often. Mom watched how Nana would communicate and she'd know if Nana needed something by the way that Nana tapped her hand on the wheelchair. She took Nana outside to enjoy the rustling leaves on the trees and wave to neighbors.
I watched Mom and saw how she cared....I saw Mom being my Mom. This was what my Mom did for me when I was little, taking such loving care.... and realized, if my Mom can forgive Nana for all that she's done then who am I to hold on to the hurt. I let it go and forgave. It wasn't easy to do, but it can be done. You let it go when you see love. Mom's love was enough for her inner child, for her husband, for her children and for her own mother when she needed it the most. Love is like that. I learned that lesson from Mom and it's the reason I never gave up on finding love.
One day when Mom was taking care of Nana and holding her close.. Mom whispered, "I'm not the ugly duckling any more. I'm the swan." Nana patted her hand and smiled.
Nana lived with my parents for 2 1/2 years before she passed away. I know those years she was well loved and well cared for.
This is the end of my snippets for Mom. There's more that I know I missed, but these are the memory points that wouldn't be ignored and needed a voice. My Mom is the swan. I never knew her as the ugly duckling. She's beautiful and an inspiration for me, that no matter what happens, you do what you have to do and all that you have to do is to keep going.
Eventually life gets better. It's ups and downs and I'm one of the lucky ones.... my childhood had a heck of a lot more ups than downs. I can't even remember the downs, to be honest.
Life was just that good for me ~ thank you, Mom and Dad. I can't write a book about all I went through with my childhood, but I can fill my book with love.