When My Blind Son Turned 16 But Couldn’t Get a Driver’s License

Two of my three kids, my boys, are blind. They read Braille and use white canes. My oldest son, Michael, just turned 16 and all of his friends are turning 16 as well… and all of their birthday celebrations include trips to the DMV for their learner’s permits and eventually — cue the dramatic celebratory music — the driver’s license.

But not Michael. Although this isn’t the first time his blindness has interfered with something other kids get do, it is the first time I can’t find a way to adapt the situation. I can’t find a creative solution to get him (safely) behind the wheel. I can’t tap into my arsenal of resources I have gathered in the 16 years I have been a parent of blind children that would connect him to driving. Nope, I cannot change the fact that his sixteenth birthday will not include posting a picture on Facebook of him with a big smile sitting in the driver’s seat. And I can’t change the fact that he is really bummed about it.

However, what I can do is create a lasting memory of his sixteenth birthday that will be so epic, so very meaningful to Michael, that he’ll hopefully forget all about this birthday’s connection to driving. And that’s just what I did — with quite a bit of help.

My son is a musician — the kind of musician who cannot go a day without banging out a few tunes on the keyboard and can’t walk past a piano without tickling the ivories. He is the keyboardist for his band, Casual Friday, and he mentors younger kids on performing rock music. If there is a piano in a building, Michael will find it, and when he starts playing, people are drawn to him. Lucky for me, Michael’s favorite music genre is classic rock (it’s my favorite, too!), and while he loves to play and sing his favorite tunes, he really loves experiencing live music performed by his favorite bands. He loves going to different concert venues and performance halls. He loves to take in the sound and feel the energy of the crowd, and sometimes he can even see some of the light shows the bands put on if the seats are just right.

One of Michael’s all-time favorite artists is Billy Joel. Back in November, I found out that Madison Square Garden was adding a Billy Joel show in February (New York City is easily accessible from our home). When I heard that, I immediately wrote to a wonderful foundation I learned about when I attended the National Organization for Rare Disorders summit back in the fall. This organization, Do It For The Love Foundation (DIFTL), connects kids living with challenges to their dream concert experiences, so I applied to have them connect Michael to Billy Joel. A few weeks ago, I got the great news: DIFTL was sending Michael to the concert — and they had backstage passes for him as well!

No sooner was that dream experience confirmed, another favorite artist of Michael’s, Bruce Springsteen, announced that he was adding a Philadelphia show to his tour. The Springsteen concert was at the Wells Fargo Center on the Friday night before Billy Joel. Wait, there’s more. Another one of Michael’s favorite artists is Bryan Adams — and he was performing at a new venue in Philly, The Fillmore, on Monday right after the Billy Joel date! In a four-day stretch, all three would be in or near our hometown. To top it all off, that weekend was also a four-day weekend for our school district, so Michael was off school on Friday and Monday.

three boys under giant balloons
Michael (center) showing off his birthday gift.

The epic plan: Take Michael to all three concerts! Instead of shopping for cars and comparing auto insurance plans, my husband and I worked out the logistics of getting him to three different venues in four days’ time. It wasn’t easy, but it was so worth it — you can imagine how overwhelmingly excited he was to find out the great news on the eve of his sixteenth birthday. He was blasting all three artists’ albums for days with a nonstop, ear-to-ear smile.

Michael still cannot get his driver’s license. However, instead of focusing on the lack of opportunity for him to drive or fixating on how blindness just sucks sometimes, I did what I have learned to do, what being Michael’s mom has taught me to do: Find a different way to make something memorable and meaningful for him. Music is a huge part of what makes Michael Michael. His heart beats in tempo with his positive, fun-natured attitude. He might not be able to have a license to drive, but he certainly has a license to rock — and rock is what he will do!

Follow this journey at Eye Believe in Miracles.

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