The Blog Factor - time to celebrate!

Congratulations to Emily Woodhams-Beazeley who is the winner of December’s Blog Factor competition with her celebratory post! 

My daughter Poppy is eleven and has the eye conditions retinal dystrophy and nystagmus, along with only half a heart.

I made tough choices when I was pregnant with her – choices she may well question one day – but for now, she’s the happiest and most nonchalant child I could ask for. Nothing is a deal breaker for her.

Poppy smiling in front of a rock monument

The older Poppy gets, the more I find that I need to learn how to trust; I am too comfortable with being the only person who understands her needs. For her to truly fulfil her potential and her dreams, I need to trust her and trust others alongside her. It’s time for her to grow her wings.

Poppy uses an intriguing mix of memory and her other senses to mask how poor her sight is, to the extent that strangers and even friends are often unaware how little she is using visual clues. She also has a terrific sense of humour when her powers of deduction fail her; she proudly piped up ‘that’s not the real Santa’ as she watched me scrolling through a website. Indeed, it was not. It was a fluffy, red and white cockerel. ‘That’s not the real Santa’ is now our own private joke for anything red and white, from flags to flowers to football kits!

A year ago, I enrolled Poppy in our local Scout group. My family were understandably critical; why was I giving her somewhere else to stand out like a sore thumb when she was already the odd one out at school? I hastily and guiltily volunteered to be a Scout leader, expecting all my time to be consumed by making adaptations for my own child. It’s extraordinary to look back now at the journey we’ve been on together.

It feels like every week, I’ve taken another step further back from Poppy as the other Scouts and leaders have got to know her. She’s earned a dozen badges, with experiences from helming a canal boat to caving to fossil hunting to sleeping under a tarp in the woods with her friends. Perhaps I should not feel so surprised, but the Scout badge criteria are open-ended for differences in ability. We have scope to adapt and celebrate Poppy’s achievements as an individual. Some badges are easier to change than others – aeroplane spotter is not on our priority list! But with nearly 100 badges in total, there’s more than enough to keep Poppy busy and feeling successful.

It’s been a steep, but glorious, learning curve for both of us. I now spend 80% of my time with other kids. Poppy’s friends can guide her and describe for her instinctively. They know she has no night vision. They compete to take turns pushing her wheelchair on expeditions. They find roles for her in their energetic games. They eagerly problem solve challenges such as navigating if you can’t see the map or shooting if you can’t see the target. Poppy is always included and valued.

She’s also quick to minimise any fuss or praise. When a Scout leader cajoled the troop on a high ropes course with the words, ‘Come on, if Poppy’s not scared, none of the rest of you should be!’ she grinned and replied, ‘why would I be scared when I can’t see how far I could fall?’

School is a similar story – so far! I have to trust that the provision will continue. Poppy recently came home with a shiny Librarian badge on her blazer. I have no idea how school has adapted the role for the only kid who can’t really see the books, but I don’t need to question them. My Kindleworm loves stories and I can picture her enthusiasm being infectious.

My job when she was little was to fight for her. Now, more and more, I find that my job is to give her space – to watch and wait. And when I do, what a privilege to see her succeed and see other people providing what she needs to be part of the action. My celebration is silent but overwhelming. She is flying.

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