Almost two years ago I decided to take my son A to the eye doctor. We had received a note from his Kindergarten eye and ear screening that something was up with his left eye, and I finally got around to making the appointment. I hadn’t rushed to make it, because at the time I was sceptical about their assessment. I had observed no squinting at the TV, no struggling in school, no complaints of headaches, etc. But mother’s guilt worked it’s magic on me after a while, and so we went, just to “make sure.” And that was when I learned that my son has something called “Anisometropic Amblyopia,” which is just a fancy way of saying “feel guilty, mom, because you should have gotten your child’s eyes checked when he was 6 weeks old.” Actually, Anisometropic Amblyopia is an insidious form of the lazy eye. It is a lazy eye that never acted like a lazy eye, so we would never have known had we not gotten him checked. As a parent, don’t you love hearing about invisible things that your children could potentially have that could ruin their lives without you ever finding out? Me neither.
The optometrist, who was obviously NOT a mother (her hair and clothes were too perfect and unstained for that to be a possibility), looked at me, a very disheveled and exhausted (in contrast) looking person who was also busy wrestling a two-year-old, and said, “It’s bad, mom. It’s bad.” You know, the kind of words that make your heart drop into your stomach, and make the voice inside go: “You have failed as a mother. And while I’m at it, you look terrible.” In retrospect, she COULD have started with the good news, which was that there was a good chance for him to recover with immediate treatment. Also, she could have worn something a little baggier and her hair could have been a touch messier, to make me feel better. But I digress. She informed me, basically, that A’s left eye was so bad that his brain was depending on his right eye for vision, and discontinuing the use of his left eye, rendering the left eye legally blind. She also informed me that we just barely caught this early enough, because by age seven, vision is set, and there would be nothing further we could do to correct it.
And so we learned that we would need to get glasses for him, like, yesterday. Also we would need to begin a series of specialist appointments and a patching program, which would patch his good eye for three hours a day to try to teach his brain to use his left eye again.
And so we launched into all of it, my heart still in my stomach, that inner voice still ringing in my ears: “Good job, mom. You’ve ruined your child’s vision. And while I’m at it, you look terrible.”
Through this nearly two-year-long process, I have learned several things, not just about the process of recovery for A’s eye, but also about myself. I had to quickly get used to the idea of having a kid with glasses, and it brought up all of the insecurities I had when I was a kid with glasses. The biggest thing that I worried about, initially, was how much having glasses had suddenly defined me. All of a sudden I was “that girl with brown hair and glasses”. Now I feared that my son would be “that kid with glasses,” instead of that boy with the big, brown eyes, dimples, thoughtful eyebrows, charming smile and great sense of humour. I also knew that people would be commenting a lot on the fact that my kid has glasses, because it’s not that common to see a kid so young wearing glasses. Not to mention that for three hours of his life, every day, he would be wearing an eyepatch! I wasn’t even sure how to prepare him for this, but I did my best. I went to his school and discussed this with his class, teaching them that the patch was there so his left eye would learn to “wake up” and start working. I figured that the biggest potential for teasing would be at school, since that is where I experienced most of my teasing, as a kid with glasses.
And yet, to my surprise and delight, the kids turned out to be great. They have often been curious, but never unkind. The most awkward and unkind responses have come from adults, actually. When we were out and about and he was wearing his eyepatch, adults would often come up to us and say, LOUDLY, “What’s wrong with his EYE!?” Or, even worse, they would make a joke at him about him being a pirate, and nudge each other. This made me furious. I had several choice words in my head that I would have liked to share with these people, but because A was right there I’d force myself to respond politely and informatively, so that he could learn how to deal politely yet firmly with ignorance and plain old rudeness. But he was a champ, through all of that. He recovered much quicker than I did from those incidents, to my delight and surprise. He rolled with it all, and even better, he embraced the patch, the glasses, all of it. One of his best friends ended up getting glasses, too, and the two of them started referring to themselves as “the glasses guys,” prompting another friend to come to school wearing sunglasses, so he could also be one of the “glasses guys.” During my speech to his classmates, A came up to proudly show off his glasses and patch, telling the kids that the doctor had told him that he got to play “LOTS of video games” during his patch time, to train his eye. The kids responded with envious oohs and ahhs, while he beamed with joy.
All this made me realize that I, like many other adults from my generation and older, have been unnecessarily clinging to the archaic notion that glasses will envelop your identity and make you a nerd—pimples and a pocket protector sold separately. Clearly, my son’s identity as a boy with big, brown eyes, dimples, thoughtful eyebrows, a charming smile, a great sense of humour and glasses is just fine by him.
After a year and a half of patching, the doctor finally took him off the patch. His left eye, which started out legally blind, is now at a 20/20 with his glasses on. It’s just a perfect, fully activated and hard-working eye. I cried the first time he saw a 3-D image popping out at him, and his face lit up with joy. Because he has helped me see that this was always about him, and how he sees the world, not about how I see it through the tint of my own experience. And he is seeing the world better than ever now—bright and clear, bigger and more beautiful, all through his perfect brown eyes and his cool blue glasses.