CHICAGO - Love is blind inside the two-story brick house on Mulligan Avenue. And that is why the microwave buttons are marked with braille. The clocks in the home all announce the time. And at 7:15 a.m., everyone is listening carefully for the school bus.
Rupa, 10, is the first to hear it. "Oh, the bus is here!" she calls. Her mother rushes to the front window, listening for confirmation before calling out: "That's it!"
Rupa grabs her white cane. Aihua, 6, reaches down and, guided by touch alone, pulls on a pair of rubber rain boots. Then Paula Sprecher hustles them outside. With each step of this hectic school-day morning, the 49-year-old mother of two helps her daughters find their way in a world that neither she nor they can see.
Sprecher and her husband, Alan, have been legally blind since birth. And though Alan had some doubts about fatherhood - would they have enough to offer a child? - the couple took a leap of faith in 2008 and adopted Rupa from India. In January, they brought Aihua from China.
Neither of the girls can see. And that is just fine with the Sprechers, who describe each of their daughters as "a gift."
"My husband and I, we grew up without sight," Paula explains. "This is so normal to us. We knew there were children out there who were probably given up [because they were blind], and we wanted to provide a home for someone like us, for someone we thought we could help."
Helping the girls, the Sprechers know, means pushing them into the world. So they teach their daughters how to ride the CTA bus (listen carefully for each stop, they say), how to identify coins by their size and weight ("This is a dime!" says Aihua, correctly), how to sort the laundry (pin your socks together before you put them in the wash).
The Sprechers have come to realize that, in the long arc of life, success rests on a foundation of a thousand little lessons. And so, day by day, lessons about dimes and socks become lessons about confidence and independence. Though she is still learning English, Aihua declares with perfect pronunciation: "I can do it!" It's a phrase that makes her parents smile.
At Farnsworth Elementary School, both girls are enrolled in regular classes and receive help from a classroom aide and instruction in braille. Paula Sprecher is a teacher who works with the blind at the school, so she is never far away.
After school, as she leads the girls toward the CTA bus stop, she pauses to ask Rupa: "What street is this?" When they reach a larger intersection, Sprecher reminds the girls to listen for the cars.
Rupa has taken judo, sailing, and ceramics. She goes to sleepaway camp every summer and participates in Girl Scouts. Aihua will explore whatever hobbies she chooses because, as Alan says, "If they're physically able to do things, why shouldn't they?"
After the Sprechers met and married, they hesitated to have children. A chance encounter with a pair of nuns collecting money for overseas orphanages led them to learn about Rupa, an orphan in Bangalore, India.
Through Catholic Charities, paperwork was filed and home visits were completed. Within a whirlwind 18 months, the Sprechers brought home the dark-haired girl who loved dolls, frilly dresses, and bangle bracelets. A year later came Aihua, a tomboy who gravitates toward blocks and puzzles.
"We're so lucky to have found these girls," Paula says.