Many good ways

Jonathan, at about 2 years old, dancing in the kitchen

Raising children is pretty tricky really. Despite wanting to be a mother all my life, when I managed to produce our first child, William, I really had no idea what to do with him. Penelope Leach became my new best friend as we struggled with sleeping, feeding and crying. (and looking after the baby). I liked that she didn’t make the baby the enemy that required beating into submission, or at least the occasional truce. We learned as we went. I’ve heard it said that “The first child, like the first waffle” should be thrown away.” Though I would hesitate to throw WIlliam away, and my husband, a first born, is a pretty acceptable human being, I understand the sentiment. As new parents we were certainly making it up as we went along.

Consequently I felt a little less anxious about raising a second child. We’d been through it once, and with WIlliam’s health problems had experienced a range of issues. William was two years old, and walking, talking and pretty fun to be with. Surely a second child would be more straight-forward.

Silly me.

Jonathan’s delivery was worse that William’s (which had been no picnic), as he decided to come face first. But he didn’t need an incubator, and his face recovered quickly. He always had a beautifully shaped head. And, joy of joys, he didn’t have excema or any allergies. He fed well and was gorgeous. His eyes did some funny things, but we figured/hoped that was just being newborn. The first six weeks were pretty idyllic really.

How we found out he was blind is a story for another day. We will now fast-forward a few months. We are starting to come to terms with having a child out of the ordinary. But all the rules have changed. Blind babies do things differently. And being the parent of a blind child requires some extra skills and seems to require super-powers. I search through library books and try to find out what we need to do to parent our Jonathan. It is a daunting and worrisome time.

Then one day I am in the University of Otago library, in among the books on parenting. I find one produced by the magazine, Exceptional Parent. I open it up and start reading and find the sentence that changes my life: “There are many good ways to raise children”.

There are many good ways to raise children. That is it. There are many wrong things to do, but there isn’t one good thing that we have to find out. If I do things differently from someone else, we can both be right. I am freed from the need to find the one right way to raise my sons. I would never say that all we have done and continue to do is the right way for anyone else. But I do know that most of the time we did the best we could under the circumstances. Given the time again, there are things we did that I wouldn’t do, and things left undone that I would attend to. But mostly it was ok. We were not the perfect parents to William and Jonathan, but neither were they perfect children. But as a family I think we have done ok.


Jonathan learns to lie, cheat and deceive

It is hard to know where to begin, writing about our never ordinary life. I won’t be working through our lives in chronological order, but rather will jump around at whim.

Let me tell you about one of my favourite episodes.

The week when Jonathan learned to lie, cheat and deceive.

Jonathan is extremely honest. I really like that about him, as I always know where I stand with him. Once there was a lady at church who sang loudly and enthusiastically, but with little regard for the tune as it appeared in the hymnbook. It did encourage the rest of the congregation to sing a bit louder in self-defence, but I think it caused my poor children pain. Once we were sitting waiting for church to begin, and Jonathan heard this woman talking behind us. He turned around and announced to her, “You shouldn’t sing, it’s too hard for you.” Fortunately the woman in question was also a little deaf and Jonathan can be difficult to understand, so she was spared his helpful suggestion. I shushed him up and changed the subject.

This directness is refreshing, and he has now learned to temper it with tact. There is another woman from church, visiting from America. She is about ten years older than I, and an accomplished pianist and music teacher. She adores Jonathan, and it is mutual. One day I said to him – “I think you like Sister S more than you like me! Who do you like better – Sister S or me?” I was delighted that he was forming attachments to people. His response was wonderful – “I don’t want to say because it might hurt your feelings.” Very sweet. Point to Jonathan.

However when he was younger I worried that this total lack of guile made him vulnerable to dishonesty in others.  (William insists to this day that Jonathan had a bit more guile than we thought!)

My fears were allayed in a single week when Jonathan was eleven. His teacher reported to us at an IEP (Individual Education Plan) meeting that she had caught Jonathan cheating on a spelling test. His book was in his bag, and he was reaching into the bag which was hanging on his chair, and reading the braille words with his fingers. He blushed when she asked him what he was doing. He knew he was cheating.

It was at this same meeting that Jonathan appeared at the door looking very pleased with himself. He had told the substitute teacher that he was supposed to come down then. He explained to us that Daddy could take him home now so he could watch Open Sesame. I introduced him to the other people at the meeting, then told him he could stay there and say nothing, or he could go back to the classroom. He would have to tell the teacher that he had been mistaken and come back at the end of school, when his father would take him home. Jonathan took his bag and his cane and went back to the classroom.

The following day Mark and I had planned to spend the night at a hotel to celebrate our wedding anniversary. William and our home-stay daughter would stay with my mother, and Jonathan was going to his fortnightly Caregiver. At about 2pm I checked my voicemail at work and found a message from the school nurse saying that Jonathan was in the sick bay and looked as if her were going to vomit any minute. “Noooo!” I cried to the room, as I saw our night away evaporating.

I rang the school and found that Mark was already on his way there. But I found I couldn’t concentrate on my work and decided to go home to see if I could help Mark. He’s not good with vomit. All the way there I was trying to think what I should do about our night out.

Halfway home I met Mark coming the other way in the other car. We stopped and swapped cars. Jonathan was in the back, looking pretty normal really – perky even. Mark told me that Jonathan’s first comment had been to ask if Mark had his “going away” bag. I started to feel relieved. I drove off with Jonathan and asked him how he was feeling. “Oh”, he said casually, “I was just pretending to be sick.”

I was so relieved I laughed out loud and couldn’t be bothered working out the most suitable response. He had learned to lie, but his follow-through clearly needed work. The little toad just wanted his weekend to start a little early. I did make him apologise to the teacher and the nurse on Monday, and Mark and I did have a nice little break.

One of my very favourite movies is “Galaxy Quest”. In it there is a race of aliens, Teurmians, who are completely honest and do not understand deception. They have been watching old television programmes from earth and call them “historic documents”. (The programmes include “Gilligans Island” – “Those poooor people!”) The Thurmians are totally vulnerable to the dishonesty of Sarris, the leader of another race who is trying to conquer them. Knowing this movie so well, I was pleased that Jonathan did have a little deceptive streak.

Jonathan introduces himself

Jonathan goes to the gym three times a week.

(At the beginning of the school year in February Jonathan started a course at CPIT. He sent this email to his teacher introducing himself.)

My name is Jonathan Petty and I’m blind which means I can’t see with my eyes. I read and write using braille and I use a computer called Braille Note and a Desktop Computer called Jaws and they both talk.  I go to the Gym two or three times a week which is located at Burwood Hospital. When I’m at home I like to listen to any kind of TV programmes including classics, children’s programmes and (one of my personal favourites) game shows, because its fun and its for everybody to enjoy (young and older like).

Sometimes my mum Nicola or my dad Mark go to the Canterbury Public Library which is now re-opened because of an earthquake we had last year. But when places like the Library is re-opened there are still things that needs cleaning up from the inside. But mainly the reason why I like going to the Canterbury Public Library is because there are something that you can’t borrow, but you can read it there anyway. And its called Listeners. And its not the articles you can find, but it also includes the TV guide. And that’s what I like about Listeners, because it has past programmes that maybe you remembered watching from along time ago. Like Its in the Bag, Krypton Factor, Country Calendar and course Sesame Street.

And speaking of Television I was on there a few time. In 2007 my first TV appearance was on 60 Minutes (NZ), then one year later I was on New Zealand’s Got Talent. And mostly I made a few appearances on the program that’s made especially for disability people like me called Attitude which is on Sunday Mornings on TV One. The first one that I was on was just a 7 minute segment in 2008, then I played the Piano for the Attitude Awards both for 2008 and 2009. By the way the piano is an instrument I play. Then in October 2009 my mum, dad and I and the Attitude crew went to New York to meet some of the characters from one of my favorite programmes which was Sesame Street. And that was my dream, because Sesame Street was 40 years old then and I wanted to congratulate them. And believe it or not the people of Sesame Street kindly recorded us as part of the program, but only the beginning part which is when my mum and dad and I came past a couple of Sesame Street characters named Elmo and Telly and they said hi to me and they were playing basketball. And speaking of Sesame Street it came back to New Zealand early this year (if you didn’t know that). So if you want to find the ones that had me on I’m on episode 4219.