I can’t believe how quickly 2017 is whizzing by. Valentine’s Day is almost upon us. If you’re lucky, the thought of the holiday sends visions of roses and jewelry dancing in your head. But if you’re like many blind moms, Valentine’s Day also gives you the jitters, because along with the romantic pampering comes yet another classroom party your kid is over the moon about. You want to attend and support your child, but hanging out with twenty-five screaming sugar-crazed maniacs in a classroom half the size of a box of chocolates, feeling like your eardrums are on the edge of disintegration, isn’t your idea of a good time.
Don’t worry. As a blind mom and a Valentine’s Day veteran, I’ve come up with a few survival tips. Most of them will work for other parties—Halloween or harvest festivals, Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas or winter break parties—-but Valentine’s Day bashes offer some extra challenges.
Valentine’s Day Classroom Party Challenges
- Valentine’s Day Cards: The first challenge is that your child will usually be asked to sign and pass out Valentine cards for his or her classmates. A printed list of names will be sent home well in advance of the party. By this point in the school year, you should hopefully be e-mailing regularly with the classroom teacher. Ask for an electronic copy of the class list so you can enlarge the print or braille it, then help your child spell the names correctly. A very young child may simply sign pre-made cards with his or her own name. An older kid can make cards and write the names of the other students, perhaps while you dictate them aloud letter by letter.
- Decorating Your Valentine’s Box/Bag: The next challenge is that your child will often be asked to decorate a box, bag, or other container for receiving Valentines. An empty plastic ice cream tub with a handle makes a good base. Help your kid measure and cut a piece of construction paper so that it will wrap snugly around the tub. Then lay the construction paper flat and let your kid decorate it with stickers, yarn, buttons, glitter, ribbons and bows left from Christmas wrapping, or anything else that adds color and texture. Crayons, markers, and colored pencils also come in handy. When the masterpiece is finished, wrap the construction paper snugly around the ice cream container, taping it down in several places underneath where the tape can’t be seen. Be sure to tape the last edge well so the paper stays in place. It’s also a good idea to tape the paper edges along the bottom of the tub and at the rim in several places, using clear tape so it won’t be noticed.
- Volunteer & Contribute: Contact the teacher ahead of time to find out what you can bring to the party or how you can volunteer, if you’re interested. Some teachers will be more receptive than others to your help as a mom with a visual impairment. If you want to volunteer but are turned down, pushing the issue head-on amidst the plans for a class party isn’t the best time. Teachers need classroom help all year long. Save your activism for a less stressful moment. Offer to bring napkins or doughnuts to the party. I usually try to contribute something I can carry easily in one hand, leaving my other arm free for a guide dog or a cane. Then, while at the party, engage with the kids. Help one with an art project, let another read to you, join in a game, ask about the cookies a group at a table is decorating. Let the teacher see you interacting with the class; he or she may decide you can help out in spite of your blindness.
- Meet Up With Other Moms: If you have a friend whose child is in the same class as yours, consider meeting up at the party. Someone who can describe the lay of the land and let you know what games the kids are playing and what funny things might be happening is invaluable. Facing the mayhem with an ally is definitely a plus. However, having your own escape plan in case you need to leave the party is also helpful. It’s awkward if you need to leave but you’ve depended on someone else for transportation, and you have to stay till that person is ready to depart.
- Being Prepared: Be self-contained at the party. Bring your own beverage in case there isn’t anyone available to assist you in getting one. Twenty-five children rushing around in a small classroom, desks and chairs in disarray, a scattering of parents, and off-the-charts noise level, can overwhelm even the best guide dog or the most well-oriented person. I like to carry a snack in my purse so I don’t look conspicuous by not eating, even though my daughter is very good about sharing her treats.
- Take Cues From Your Child: Speaking of sharing treats, be careful not to depend on your child too much. Greet his or her friends, make small talk with the other parents and the teacher if they allow it, and let your kid guide you on how open to be about your blindness. During the early grades, my daughter asked me to braille names on the Valentines for her classmates. She wanted everyone to pet my guide dog. Now, as a third grader, she’s becoming more reserved about having a mom with a disability. I’ve taken my cues from her and backed off some, foregoing the braille Valentines and making sure my guide dog stays unobtrusively by my chair where she belongs. It’s normal for kids to go through stages of openness and reticence about their parents’ disabilities at different ages, so don’t take it personally.
The most important party tip of all is, try to have fun. Your kid knows when you’re faking it. It’s easy as a blind mom to believe you’re the only one who’s overwhelmed and doesn’t know what to do with herself, but it simply isn’t true. A few of the parents are party naturals. They fix the food trays perfectly. They set up all of the crafts just right. But most of the moms and dads feel a bit like clumsy giants among those tiny desks and chairs, just as you do. So take a deep breath and relax. With love in the air and these party tips, hopefully the upcoming Valentine’s Day celebration at your school will go off without a hitch.