What Happens at The Seeing Eye

Soon, Ill be off to Morristown, NJ, to train with my next dog guide. I thought you might like to read parts of a letter they send out to news students. Although I am a returning student, affectionately known as a retread, it will give you a picture of my life in training.

During the three and a half week class you and your dog will get to know and become comfortable with each other. We call this process the bond. Each dog guide is an individual with strengths and weaknesses ~ just like each of us. Although the dogs have been thoroughly trained each is accustomed to working with his or her own instructor, and will spend many weeks getting used to you and wanting to work for you. With the proper balance of affection and discipline, this bond will develop and you will, in time, experience the same wondrous mobility that others have experienced since 1929.

The students who comprise your class come from all parts of the United States and Canada. Your group will be instructed by five or six instructors and a class supervisor. The entire group of students in residence will number between 18 and 24. Your individual group will be anywhere from three to six students. You will each have a private room with a bathroom

When you arrive on Monday, you will be greeted by Pauline Alexander and your class instructors. Most of this day will be spent on orientation. Tuesday we will travel into Morristown to give you an idea how your dog will work. This will also give us an opportunity to get to know you better so that we can choose the dog that will be the best match for you. On Wednesday morning you will receive your dog.

Although there will be many other details, the general schedule for weekdays will be:

  • Arise at 5:30 am to feed and park your dog (park time is the name we give to the process of leash relieving your dog)
  • Breakfast at 7 am
  • A half-hour to one-hour lesson in town sometime between 8 am and 11 am
  • Parktime late morning
  • Lunch at 12:10 pm
  • A half-hour to one-hour lesson in town sometime between 1 pm and 4 pm
  • Feed your dog and park at 4:30 pm
  • Suppertime at 5:10 pm
  • Evening discussions between 6:30 and 8pm
  • Last park at 8pm

It is a busy day, but there will be plenty of downtime to read, groom your dog, study, or visit with your classmates. This downtime in the dormitory is just as important as learning to work with your dog in town. Your dog will be lying at your feet learning that you are the new, most important being in its life.

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While the iron is Hot

You would think that the iron and ironing board would be obsolete by now, but there are still some 100% cotton items of clothing around, and sadly, I own a few. I did downsize to a baby ironing board that you just lay on a table, but the steam iron still has its place in my household tools. You might remember reading another of my posts, This is the Way We Iron Our Clothes. You can find it in the archived section on February 22, 2013.

As a blind homemaker, ironing has not been an unpleasant task for me. I rather like the feel of a smooth surface that used to be wrinkled and creased. I like the smell of freshly ironed clothes. When my husband was in the Navy, and we lived in Charleston, SC, I took in ironing to make a little extra money and to give myself something to do while he was on duty. The Navy wives appreciated my knowing exactly where to put the creases in the dress whites, and I enjoyed ironing the sweet little dresses and shirts. $5 a basket was what I charged.

If you have never seen a blind person iron, you might think it would be a dangerous task to perform without sight. I admit, Ive had little burns, but I have a healthy respect for that iron, and Im extremely cautious. You have to have a good sense of body orientation and body memory to reach for the handle of the iron and not accidentally touch the business side. You need to have perfect awareness of how far you can push the iron from the start of the cloth to where your other hand is holding it in place.

Last night, I was ironing a pair of pants, when for some reason, I accidentally set the iron down on the edge of the board, and it fell over onto the carpeted floor. I couldnt just reach down and pick it up, because I couldnt tell if it was upside down, pointing toward me or what. I briefly thought of locating the cord and then following it along with my hand to the back of the iron, but in order to get to the cord, I would have had to step over the iron. Since I couldnt judge the exact location of the iron, I grabbed the pants, folded them into a pot holder type shape, and gingerly approached the iron, much like how I would find something nasty that a dog might leave on the floor. I had to move quickly though, for fear of the scorching of the carpet. Feeling through the loosely formed pot holder, I found the handle and the crisis was over. No schorchd carpet. No burned skin. No problem. Back to work. Only this time, be more careful about where the iron should be placed while rearranging the cloth. Youd think Id know that by now.

On the Spot

Should I tell her she has a spot on her blouse? Should I say anything about the dirt on her coat sleeve? I dont want to offend her, but she might not know its there. If I were blind, would I want someone to tell me that my clothes werent spotless:? Would I be embarrassed? I dont want to embarrass her. What should I do?

Lets say youre having lunch with a friend, and you notice he got a little mustard on his chin. Wouldnt you discretely let him know, so he wouldnt walk around all day with a yellow spot on his face? Wouldnt you want someone to do the same for you?

As a totally blind person, I have to make a conscious effort to have a sighted person go through my clothes periodically to check for spots, frayed seams, or if something is just plain out of date. Buying new clothes constantly would solve that problem, but it would cause another one, with my bank account. Sometimes, theres a shirt or a dress that Ive had for years and just love, but nobody wears that style anymore. I need to be told.

When I was working in an office, back in the days when I was the director of volunteers at the radio reading service, I was extremely grateful to one volunteer who let me know privately that there was a spot on my white shirt. She had been a teacher of blind children, so she was comfortable doing so, but not everybody is. Thats why Im giving you permission to say something like, Oh, it looks like you got a spot on your sleeve. If you have some spot remover, I can treat it for you.

Letting someone know that her hair style, dress, or shoe style is out of date requires a bit more tact. Maybe she doesnt care if her shoes arent stylish. She may prefer comfort over looks. But just in case she really is unaware that people arent wearing these things anymore, you might say, I saw the cutest shoes at the store yesterday. Everybody is wearing them these days. If you said that to me, my ears would perk up, and Id beg you to take me to that store and show me. Most of the blind people I know would agree that its important to know that their clothes and hair look presentable, clean, and attractive. Even if we cant see them ourselves, we still want to make a good appearance. In fact, its even more important to us, because we dont want people thinking we dont care, because were blind. We like to wear colors that go well together, lipstick that is the right shade, socks that match, or a tie that doesnt have yesterdays lunch on it. If you can tell him, or her, before she leaves the house, she can change into something clean, but if you notice it while youre out together, tell her as soon as you notice it. She might be able to hide it with her purse or use a little packaged wipe, just for such occasions. You may feel awkward, but believe me, shell be grateful for your honesty.

Buffet

When you think of a buffet, do you imagine an amazing array of tempting foods? Eat all you want? Try new dishes? All this may be true, if you can see. What it means to a blind person is being dependent on a companion to describe the foods, dish up your portions, not mention what you might have wanted, or fill your plate with the first 3 items so theres no room for a much more desirable dish down the line. Heres some green stuff, he might say. I dont know what it is. Want some of that? Last Friday, when I learned that there was to be a Mothers day brunch at my mothers assisted living home, my heart sank. Here was yet another hurdle I had to jump. A brunch for the families of the residents sounds like a very nice thing to do, but for the residents families who cant attend, its not only a dreary reminder of their loneliness, but for visually impaired residents, like my mother, its a nightmare. Trying to make it to the dining room through a crowd of people in line at the buffet table is the first obstacle. Then trying to get service from an already overworked staff, because of the buffet, is hopeless. I went through that nightmare last summer, when they had a Hawaiian themed buffet. Never again. Since then, I arranged to hire help to assist my mother and me. If I hadnt, she would have taken one look at the chaos down the hall in front of her and turned around to have cheese and crackers in her room. Thats exactly what she did the one time I couldnt get there.

Yesterday, I enlisted the help of my friend Judy. We greeted my mom in her room, left Pippen to stay with her, and then filled 3 plates at the buffet. Fortunately, my mother likes pretty much everything, so making choices for her wasnt a problem, but it would have been nicer if she could have made her own. But helping her navigate through the crowd and find a table, all with a piano playing to further mask her already faulty hearing would have been frustrating at best. So we took dinner to her, and we all enjoyed the food in the quiet of her room. But what if Judy hadnt been able to come? Being a blind daughter who wants to help her mother get through the indignities and inconvenience of being old, I am helpless when it comes to things like this. Its one of the few times that blindness stops me in my tracks. I have never enjoyed buffets. I always decline when someone asks me if they can just get a plate full of food for me while I wait at the table. Would they like it if somebody else picked out what they were going to eat? Then the food gets all mixed together, unknown bites of salad mixed with green bean casserole in the same forkful. Then I might stick my fork into what I think is a potato and find that Ive stabbed a deviled egg. At least when I make my own choices, I have some notion of what I might be about to put in my mouth. I think there ought to be a practice of putting a little sign on each casserole that is not obviously identified saying what the heck it is. Green stuff just doesnt do it for me. Jell-O? Broccoli? Spinach? It makes a difference to me. And now at this assisted living home, I not only had to face that for myself but also for my mother.

But what annoyed me the most was that the food was spectacularly delicious. Why does this bother me? Its obvious to me that this spread was intended to showcase the quality of food prepared daily for the residents. The truth is that what the residents get on a daily basis is like hog slop compared with what we had yesterday. They might argue that it was meant as a treat for the residents too, but how much of that buffet table made it to the plates of the residents who didnt have family there to see to it? It makes me sad to think of it.

Kentucky Derby

Its on my bucket list, to go to the Kentucky Derby. And yet, I forgot to watch it yesterday. If I had, Id have been reminded of Sea Biscuit, one of my favorite horse-racing stories. Id also have been reminded of those wonderful summer afternoons when my mother took me to River Downs, near Cincinnati, when I was a little girl. Certainly, I was too young to bet, but my mother and I would each choose a horse, mostly based on their names or how they pranced as they paraded by before the race, and then wed each put a nickel on the top of the fence. Whoevers horse won was the winner of 10 cents. But it wasnt winning nickels that intrigued me. It was being able to see those beautiful and powerful horses walk by, maybe 6 feet away. That was my favorite part of going to the race track. Back then, I had enough vision to see them up close like that, but when it came time for the race itself, we stayed down by the fence, so I could hear the pounding of their hooves as they took off from the start or passed by us on the longer races. It was thrilling, and obviously made quite an impression on me.

About 11 years ago, my friend Kathy and I joined a group of women for lunch at the race track here. It was on Derby Day, and we had mint juleps and wore hats. The hats were red because the group of women were the Red Hat society. Recalling how much I had enjoyed standing by the fence and watching the horses parade by, I suggested to Kathy that for the next race, after we placed our bets, we should leave the clubhouse dining room and go stand by the fence. I wouldnt be able to see the horses now, but I would love to hear them gallop by. After we put our $2 on a horse to place, we walked outside and waited by the fence. Nothing was happening. No parading horses. No other people outside. Then the announcer said, And theyre off! What? But where? It was then that we realized that we had just placed a bet on a horse that was racing in some other part of the country, and everybody else was watching it on those TV monitors. So there we were, a couple of clueless middle-aged ladies in red hats, standing out there by ourselves, waiting for something to happen. Who knew? Not us.