I don’t remember exactly when it happened. My daughter might have been three or four years old. She may have been climbing up on the kitchen counter, quietly trying to snitch a cookie, while I was in the living room typing away on my computer. Or she may have been easing open the bottom drawer in her dad’s workbench, intent on swiping his screwdrivers for the thousandth time.
In any case, I called out to her, “Sarah, I know what you’re doing. The eyes in my face are broken, but the ones in the back of my head work just fine.”
I was halfway goofing around when I said it. The fact that I had rock star hearing was already well-known in our house. Blind people don’t necessarily hear better than those with sight, but they rely on the sounds around them, so they tend to pay attention and notice what they hear more than sighted people do.
My daughter, however, took me at my word. She rushed over to me and started examining the back of my head, combing her fingers through my long dark hair.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Looking for your back eyes,” she said in that matter-of-fact tone kids get when they are answering grown-ups who ask dumb questions. “They must be really small. I can’t find them.”
“They’re hard to see,” I answered quickly. “They move around in my hair. They don’t want to be found.”
“Oh. I won’t look then. They’re secret.” Sarah was intrigued. “Have you always had back eyes?”
“Nope.” I thought fast. “I got them at the hospital when you were born. Only moms have them. Like Santa’s phone number, and the magic way to know if a kid has a fever by kissing her cheek. Back eyes are just for moms.”
Over the years, my daughter’s understanding of my blindness has become more clear. First, she realized she had to use her words instead of pointing and whining when she asked me for M&M’s or fruit snacks at the store. Over time, she has figured out that when we play Candyland or Snakes and Ladders, the game goes more smoothly if she reads the dice and moves the colored tokens around the board for me. She knows I stick braille labels on canned goods in my pantry and use a screen-reading program on my computer so I can listen to e-mails and navigate the Internet. Describing our surroundings when we go out together has gotten to be almost second nature to her.
But now and then, when she has created a particularly exceptional art project or perfected a super awesome dance move, she’ll still say, “Mom, Mom! Look at me! Look with your back eyes!”
Not wanting to disappoint her, I’ll turn my head, face away from her, and say, “Wow! That’s incredible!”
After that, I’ll ask her to describe her art project or give me the details of her dance move, but she seems to need me to have that first quick look, so my imaginary “back eyes” live on, somewhere under my hair.
I keep expecting them to fade away like so many other adorable childhood fantasies have. But a few days ago, when Sarah got a fabulous new Barbie doll for her ninth birthday, the first thing she said was, “Mom, check this out! She can move her hands and feet and everything!”
When I reached for the Barbie doll, she put her hands on my cheeks, turned my face away, and ordered, “Look … no, look with your back eyes!”