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7 Truths About Blind Parenting, Courtesy of 'Bird Box'

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Spoilers ahead, obviously.

Sandra Bullock’s “Bird Box” landed on Netflix this holiday season, scaring the beejeezus out of approximately 45 million subscribers, myself included. The movie begins by introducing the audience to Malorie (Bullock), seen sternly warning her two young children (oddly named “Boy” and “Girl”) to never remove their blindfolds or “they won’t make it.”

Set in a post-apocalyptic world, this blindfolded trio then enters a rowboat headed downriver (rapids included). Malorie is following a rogue radio transmission which has promised a safe haven for her family. The film reveals they are running from unidentified “creatures” that, if you look at them, will manifest themselves into your deepest fears and then make you kill yourself. The group’s peril to survive is interwoven with flashbacks of how this family unit came to be and how they have survived over the past five years. Along for this “anything but” pleasure cruise are three rescued canaries, packed safely into a box on a bed of leaves. The birds appear to be the most reliable alert system for Malorie, uncontrollably chirping when the “creatures” are approaching.

It doesn’t take very long for Netflix viewers to realize the only way to stay safe in “Bird Box” is to not see anything at all. Nothing. What makes the movie so intensively gut wrenching is Malorie’s task of parenting two small children in this high stress, extremely dangerous situation. Very seldom do you come across a film, even a horror flick, where you witness children in mortal danger as a key ingredient to the plot.

For parents like myself, it absolutely strikes a nerve as we try to imagine what we might do in Malorie’s situation. Would I have the physical strength to go on? Could I keep it together mentally? And how about… Would my kids respect me enough to keep those damned blindfolds on?

Logically, we know “creatures” who induce mass suicide are probably not a parenting concern that needs to be on our radar. However, “Bird Box” presents a good point on behalf of the disabled community – one that speaks to thousands of blind and visually impaired parents raising families. Parenting without sight is possible. Here are seven truths about blind parenting courtesy of Netflix’s “Bird Box.”

1. Blind people can parent more than one child.

Boy? Girl? Two boys? Three girls? Guess what? We got this. Sadly, people often assume adults living with vision loss can only handle “one” child and society often frowns upon those who deviate from this perceived norm. Blind and visually impaired people are perfectly capable of having a Duggar-sized posse. Seriously, we can handle it. It’s our sole discretion to decide how many children we want to raise within our families. Bullock’s “Malorie” beautifully exemplifies this. She was one strong momma who was absolutely capable of keeping both of her kids safe and in check while parenting without sight in their post-apocalyptic world.

2. Despite popular belief, our kids don’t take care of us.

If I had a nickel for every time a total stranger said to my daughters (ages 5 and 4), “Oh, isn’t it so wonderful that you take care of Mommy!” Don’t get it twisted folks, I am the parent. My kids don’t “take care” of me. I take care of them. Why, you ask? Because I am their mother. Despite the trio of characters all being blindfolded in “Bird Box,” you never once see Malorie lose her position as Chief Momma Bear. Even without sight, her children respected her, listened to her (well I am not going to give the entire film away), and perhaps even had a healthy dose of fear when it came to her authoritative parenting style. “Bird Box” proves the hierarchy is clear when it comes to blind parenting — parents get the top spot.

3. Our adaptive methods become routine for our kids.

While both “Boy” and “Girl” are sighted children, Malorie immerses them in a blind world, practicing many skills that closely mimic orientation and mobility training used when teaching blind. She hones in on her other four senses to teach her children how to accomplish tasks when outdoors. She utilizes the sounds of two rocks clicking together to teach them how to distinguish the proximity of distance. She also uses twine and reels of fishing line to create a trail for her various daily routes. This was the “norm” for her children. It’s all they knew because they were raised in an environment where these methodologies were an everyday occurrence. The children of blind parents are quite comfortable with our adaptive routines, whether it’s watching us wield a cane, riding paratransit, or hearing audible assistive technology during their bedtime stories. Simply put, our children adapt to our adaptations.

4. We need to be stern about safety.

Let’s face it, kids don’t always have the ability to make good decisions — especially when they’re very young. When it comes to safety, blind parents know there is no wiggle room. To keep her children both safe and alive, Bullock laid down the gauntlet, telling her kids “You have to do every single thing I say.” While the dramatics of her monologue emphasize the urgency of their circumstances, I could not help but find her tone relatable.

As a blind mom who has children the same age as “Boy” and “Girl,” family outings always begin with a stern talk about safety. My daughters know: Keep book bags with tethers on. Do not touch the bells on your shoes. Hold onto my hand. Don’t run ahead. Answer me when I call you. For the most part, they listen. They understand their mom doesn’t have the luxury of watching them roam freely around a crowded store – at least not at the age they are currently. Just as in “Bird Box,” blind parents rely mainly on our senses of hearing and touch to keep out children safe.

5. Each individual blind parent knows what works for them.

Bullock’s Malorie character did a fantastic job of improvising techniques she could make work for her. She even attached old bicycle bells to her children’s coats, creating a makeshift warning system to help alert if they were in danger. Brilliant! The sighted community needs to remember that every blind parent has their own way of doing things. Trial and error combined with evolving technology is what helps us raise our families. You don’t have to “get it”. You don’t have to understand it. You do, however, have to respect it. Only “we” know what’s best for our children’s safety, growth and development.

6. The presence of an animal can benefit the entire family.

If “Bird Box” showed us anything, it’s that animals have the uncanny ability to help mankind. After all, who would have thought three little canaries could be capable of saving humans from invisible creatures? Much like Bullock’s connection to her feathered friends, guide dogs have been assisting blind people with raising their families for decades. By providing a greater sense of independence and companionship to their human handlers, guide dogs are an integral part of the lives of many blind parents – my own included.

7. Blind parents are survivors.

Who was left standing when the world went to hell in a handbasket? The blind! Why, you ask? Some might say, “Blind people were impenetrable to the creatures because they couldn’t see them.” But is it really that simple? Personally, I don’t think it is. Malorie stayed alive and kept her children safe because of her innate ability to improvise, adapt and overcome every circumstance she encountered — despite her acquired blindness. She stayed focused, kept her cool, took advantage of all her resources and faithfully practiced her skills. Moreover, Malorie never gave up fighting for her children. They were always her main priority and every decision she made was done so with “Boy” and “Girl” in mind.

Blind parents often experience negative societal stereotypes, social injustice, misplaced fear and inequality. We understand we live in a world primarily geared towards a sighted population. However, when you’re blind and have kids, you learn to embrace your inner bulldozer. When it comes to our children, we get the job done by whatever means necessary. You can accept us as equals on the parenting playing field or you can get the hell out of our way. We survive because we improvise, adapt and overcome on the daily — 24/7, 365.

While reviews for “Bird Box” and Bullock’s performance are mixed, her portrayal of the strength and adaptability of parents without sight should not go unnoticed. Netflix did an amazing job of accurately showing the struggle of vision loss, even demonstrating the initial fear felt by many individuals who suddenly lose sight. Acquired blindness, through injury, disease, or in this case post-apocalyptic monsters by way of a blindfold, takes some getting used to. However, with patience, adaptability and training many blind adults go on to have families that include multiple happy, healthy children. As for those canaries, this blind mother prefers to stick with her guide dog.

Originally published: January 8, 2019
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