Two of my three kids, my boys, are blind. Like, Braille reading and white cane using blind. My oldest son, Michael, just turned sixteen and all of his friends are turning sixteen 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. Blindness is keeping him out of this milestone. Although this isn’t the first time his blindness has left him out of something other kids get do, it is the first time that 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 that I have gathered in the sixteen 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 forget all about this birthday’s connection to driving, or in his case, not driving. And that’s just what I’m doing… with quite a bit of help.
My son is a musician… the kind of musician that 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 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 of 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 experience, so I applied to have them connect Michael to Billy Joel. A few weeks ago I got the great news: DIFTL is sending Michael to the concert – and they have back stage 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 Philly show to his “The River Tour”. The Springsteen concert is 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 is performing at a new venue in Philly, The Fillmore, on Monday right after the Billy Joel date! In a four day stretch, all three will be in or near our hometown. To top it all off: that weekend is also a four day weekend for our school district, so Michael is off from school on Friday and Monday.
The epic plan: Take Michael to all three concerts! Instead of shopping for cars and comparing auto insurance plans, my husband and I have been working out logistics of getting him to three different venues in four days’ time. It wasn’t easy, but it is so worth it – you can imagine how overwhelmingly excited he was to find out this great news on the eve of his sixteenth birthday… and he has been blaring all three artists’ albums for days, with a non stop, ear to ear smile the whole time!
Michael still cannot get his driver’s license. This isn’t the first and it’s certainly not the last time he’ll be left out of an experience we sighted people tend to take for granted. 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!
Stay tuned to my Eye Believe In Miracles blog for postings about each concert. You can also follow me on Twitter @KristinSmedley to see the weekend as it unfolds! And get to know Michael and his music at his website www.mikesmedleymusic.com
VIDEO: A montage of Michael Smedley covering Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run during some of his 2015 performances.