Questions from the kids: our first school presentation of 2016

January 13, 2016 • Posted in blindness, Braille, careers/jobs for people who are blind, questions kids ask, Seeing Eye dogs, technology for people who are blind, Uncategorized, visiting schools, Whitney by
A full house at Lincoln Elementary.

A full house at Lincoln Elementary.

My Seeing Eye dog Whitney and I started our new year of elementary school visits in a big way: we took a commuter train to Elmhurst (The Chicago suburb where I grew up) and gave a presentation to 250 kindergartners, first-graders, and second-graders. All. At. Once.

Whitney usually leads me to the train station in downtown Chicago on her own, but when my gem of a husband, Mike Knezovich, said he’d accompany us yesterday morning, I had five reasons to swallow my pride and accept his generous offer.

  1. Freezing temperatures — if Whitney and I found ourselves lost or turned around for just a few minutes, we might have ended up with frostbite!
  2. Snowy slippery sidewalks
  3. Salt (Mike can spot it on the roads and help us avoid those areas so it doesn’t end up in Whit’s paws)
  4. The train we needed to catch left at 7:40 a.m., which meant we’d be approaching the train station precisely when commuters were getting off trains and rushing to work
  5. And oh, yeah. I still have a cast on my broken left hand.

My sister Cheryl lives in Elmhurst. She greeted Whitney and me with hot coffee at the train station there, brought an extra-large-sized pair of mittens in the car to fit over my cast, drove us to Lincoln Elementary School, took pictures at the assembly, and then drove us all the way back to my doorstep in Chicago afterwards. Cheryl has always had a way of boosting my confidence, and we have fun whenever we’re together. I grew up the youngest of seven children. Cheryl is fourth in line, and this explanation of middle child syndrome describes her perfectly:

Many times they go in the opposite direction of their oldest sibling to carve out their own place of achievement and relish in the satisfaction of being capable of doing it on their own. They are sensitive to injustices and much less self-centered than their siblings (first born and last born), which allows them to maintain successful relationships. They are put in the position to learn social skills that are extremely useful, not only within their household, but within their social community.

The kids at Lincoln School were sweet, polite, and very curious. The Q & A part of the presentation was entertaining, as always. A sampling of their questions:

  • What does your dog like to chase?
  • How can you tie your shoes if you can’t see them?
  • How long did it take you to learn to read and write Braille??
  • How do you write if you can’t see?
  • Do you shop by yourself?
  • Can you write cursive?
  • Does Whitney ever slip on the ice?
  • Does your dog keep you safe from other things?
  • Do you always have to say your dogs name before you tell her what to do?
Whitney demonstrating her best Seeing Eye manners.

Whitney demonstrating her best Seeing Eye manners.

For that last question, I picked up Whitney’s harness and told the kids that when you’re training at the Seeing Eye school they teach you to always say your dog’s name before giving them a command. “If I just say the word ‘right’ like I just did there, Whitney doesn’t even notice, but if I say, ‘Whitney, right’…”. I had to stop talking right there, mid-sentence. Whitney had immediately flipped right and was guiding us toward the hallway! “I guess the Seeing Eye knows what they’re doing,” I said with a laugh. The kids laughed right along. Whitney was a big hit.

The most thoughtful question yesterday was this one: “What is your biggest challenge of the day?” My days have been particularly challenging lately with this cast on my hand, but Mike and Cheryl made my day yesterday far less challenging than it would have been otherwise. Huge thanks to them both, and also to all my other friends and family who have boosted my spirits, many of them by taking me for walks while the cast was preventing me from grasping Whitney’s harness.

Broken hand update: my friend Colleen drove me to a medical appointment Monday and helped me convince the hand experts to shorten the cast a bit to expose the tips of my fingers. It’s a ton easier to hold the harness now. Whitney and I take a train to another suburban school tomorrow morning, and if the weather warms up enough by then to melt some of the snow and ice, we may be able to get to the train station on our own. I have my Fingers crossed — the ones in my right hand, at least.

Penny Wong-Matzelle On January 13, 2016 at 8:51 am

Oh Beth! How is it that your posts always have me enrapt? (Favorite line in this one was the one about keeping your fingers crossed….or at least the ones on your right hand.)

Always delightful to read your stuff and your visit with this elementary school brought back memories of when you had visited with our students at Saints Cyril and Methodius School in Deer Park, NY….although, Whitney was fairly new to you back then and she seems to have really matured into her role with you, such a big girl!

If you ever find yourself heading toward the Long Island / NY area, please definitely give me a shout. I’m sure that the students and staff would be thrilled to see you and Whitney again!

bethfinke On January 13, 2016 at 11:23 am

Oh, Penny, I would love to come back to your school on Long Island. We really had fun there, and you wrote such a great piece about us. Thank you for that. And yes, Whitney is growing up. She is six years old now, but still can get a little silly…

Sent from my iPhone, aren’t you impressed?


Sheila A. Donovan On January 13, 2016 at 10:57 am

Did your sister borrow the mittens from Shaquille O’Neal?

bethfinke On January 13, 2016 at 11:27 am

Even better: they were handmade by a friend of Cheryl’s who lives in Washington state.

Sent from my iPhone, aren’t you impressed?


Sue Doyle On January 13, 2016 at 11:42 am

Beth…That was very enjoyable & fun to read…Excellent job. Beers when you finally get that damn cast off! Be safe…

bethfinke On January 13, 2016 at 5:35 pm

Whaaaaaat? I have to wait until this #()$! thing is off before we have beers together?!??


Cheryl On January 13, 2016 at 12:34 pm

I was the youngest in the family for seven years. Thank goodness you, Marilee, and Beverle came after me so I could learn some social skills. I enjoyed our morning with the young students at Lincoln School in Elmhurst learning about PAWS…..Practicing kindness, Acting responsibly, Welcoming challenges and Showing respect. You certainly showed how successful you are with the challenges you face every day.

bethfinke On January 13, 2016 at 5:37 pm

And gee, maybe if Flo had birthed a couple of kids after me, I wouldn’t be so self-centerred…?!


bethfinke On January 13, 2016 at 5:38 pm

PS: Very impressive that you rememberred what the letters in PAWS stands for.


Robert Ringwald On January 13, 2016 at 2:08 pm

Beth, eat your heart out. We are on Bonaire. The temp is 82F.


bethfinke On January 13, 2016 at 5:31 pm

, The jazz cruise. Give my brother doug my regards. And Shelley, too, if she’s there, hope the music is as great as the weather, you lucky guys.

Sent from my iPhone, aren’t you impressed?


syril Beskin On January 13, 2016 at 3:58 pm

You are an amazing woman. I enjoy yours and Mikes blogs.

Syril Beskin

bethfinke On January 13, 2016 at 5:41 pm

Takes one to know one, Syril. You are an amazing woman yourself. I’m impressed you figured out how to leave a comment here, *thanks* for doing so, and, especially, for reading our blog posts. . You make us feel good!


Lauren Specht On January 14, 2016 at 9:40 am

Beth- Thank you for visiting Lincoln School. The feedback from students and teachers has been fantastic. You are a testament on how to welcome challenges with grace and humor.

bethfinke On January 17, 2016 at 10:58 am

Oh, Lauren, you are sweet. Whit & I (and Cheryl, too!) had a ball at your school. Thanks for your compliments about my grace & humor,but I will admit that has been hard to come by with this recent hand-break of mine. What really helps is having people like Cheryl and Mike and other friends & family around, and especiallly having new experiences — like meeting you & those wonderful kids at Lincoln.


glivingston On January 14, 2016 at 4:29 pm

Aside from hearing about your family Christmas gift exchange, I always like to hear the reports from the school appearances. Good luck with your wrist. Brings back memories of Clara’s 2 broken wrists caused by a fall from her bike.

bethfinke On January 15, 2016 at 10:43 am



Emily Clott On January 16, 2016 at 6:59 pm

Loved this post, Beth! Adding winter weather and a broken hand to the challenges you and Whitney face getting around would be just too daunting for most people. You are indeed an intrepid soul! Kudos to Mike and Cheryl for being so supportive. Hello from the Big Apple, Emily

bethfinke On January 17, 2016 at 10:59 am

Thanks for the kudos, & hope you are enjoying NYC. Talk about intrepid…!


taraisarockstar On January 18, 2016 at 3:21 pm

So sorry to hear about the cast. 2015 was filled with challenges on our end but this year I’m trying to learn how to accept help from others when needed…it’s just so hard when I’m used to being so independent!! Thinking of you and hope everything else is going well. All the best in the new year!

bethfinke On January 18, 2016 at 6:04 pm

Oh, I hope you are all right. I will send you a personal message via email.

Sent from my iPhone, aren’t you impressed?


Questions about the color black | Safe & Sound blog On January 20, 2016 at 8:56 am

[…] week was chock-full of school presentations for my Seeing Eye dog and me. I already wrote here about our Tuesday trip to Elmhurst. Two days later, Whitney and I got on another commuter train in Chicago to visit two […]

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