I didn’t know my son Sebastian until he was fifteen. That was the year we had our first real Mother’s Day celebration. We lived in the same house together for fifteen years, so don’t misunderstand. I gave birth to him. I changed his diapers and taught him to ride a bicycle.
I was a stay-at-home mom, and he was my only child, but I didn’t know him. We spent hours together every day playing and doing crafts together. He painted the most extraordinary pictures even as a toddler. His existence filled my imagination from the moment that I looked at the faint blue positive mark on the pregnancy test, but I still didn’t know him until he was a sophomore in high school.
Now Sebastian is eighteen, and every time he hugs me, I can still feel the shell of his tiny newborn ear against my lips and his infant body in the nook of my shoulder where his chest meets mine. I always inhale, trying to recapture that baby smell and the tickle of almost invisible hair on my lips. His hair is now thick and smooth, not the dandelion fuzz of pale blond.
He still hugs me every night before I go up to bed. Even after everything, especially after everything, Sebastian tells me that he loves me. Now taller than me, when his long arms reach around my shoulders and he leans in for the hug, I can still feel his little sneakers banging my hips and his little toddler arms hugging my neck. I smell the ghost of Cheerios-past every time. I hear his child’s voice whispering,”You are the best mom in the world.”
In the car when we talk about the things we’ve been through together, about how I finally came to know him when he was fifteen, I reach my hand out to him. Sebastian’s cool, long-fingered artist’s hand lands in mine, squeezing. In his gentle adult grasp I feel the ghostly hand of a child in mine, much smaller.
I cherished every sweet moment with him. Every hug, every smile, every game of hide and seek. I rocked him to sleep each night when he was little. We read aloud together until he was twelve. He still hates Les Miserables. Tolkein was more his thing, with the dragons, wizards and the magic ring that makes you invisible but also drains your soul.
What magic ring did Sebastian have that cast its spell so thoroughly over him, that it silently saved him while killing his soul? Surely it was not the cloak of invisibility that he wore all through his childhood as he zoomed through my house waving his wand. He was Darry, King of the Fairies and Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts. He cast his charm all over so thoroughly that I didn’t see him. I couldn’t see him.
Nobody saw him. You see, Sebastian is the only person in the world known to see with words like a dolphin sees with sound. His blindness is an invisible disability. He has always slipped through our sighted world with what appeared to be the same ease as a spinner dolphin flying through the air.
I remember his eyes, so bright blue and filled with pain as we both sobbed on the kitchen floor. It was January of 2017 and we had just discovered that fifteen-year old Sebastian couldn’t recognize his own face and had taught himself to navigate our own home by counting his steps and turns. I had to tell him that he’d been born blind, not understanding how it was possible myself.
Now I am privileged to see the man who walks through this world with dignity and grace. His dry, laconic humor cracks me up, and his striking art inspires me. With his help and support, I am fighting to end the discrimination against the millions of people who have cerebral/cortical visual impairment. CVI was identified as the number one cause of visual impairment in the developed world more than ten years ago and still doesn’t have a diagnostic code. On Sunday, May 10, 2020, I will celebrate my fourth real Mother’s Day as Sebastian Duesing’s mom. I was always his mom. I just didn’t see him.
About the Author
Stephanie Duesing is the author of Eyeless Mind: A Memoir About Seeing and Being Seen, a true story about the discovery of her son Sebastian’s almost total blindness at the age of fifteen.
Stephanie is devoted to raising awareness of Cerebral/Cortical-Visual Impairment (CVI) and advocating for patients with this prevalent but largely unacknowledged cause of visual impairment. A music educator, Stephanie has taught elementary and middle school music and chorus, as well as private voice and piano. She also opened her own Musikgarten studio, where she taught classes for families with babies, toddlers and preschoolers. She’s a graduate of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and lives in the western suburbs of Chicago.