My daughter told me the other day that she wishes she didn't have to wear glasses. Only two kids in her kindergarten class wear glasses, and she wishes that she could be more like the rest of the class. I put on my brave face (screaming inside, angry and sad, 5 years old and she can already see difference, and it already equals wrong or bad) and try to frame my words with care. "Your glasses are a part of who you are! They make you special, and besides, you NEED them to see." I am equal parts cheerleader and pragmatist.
She says, "But when can I wear contacts?" She means, when can I blend in? This whole conversation hurts.
My husband is legally blind. He has extreme myopia. He wears contacts, and no one would know how strong his prescription is unless they saw his glasses. Then they would know. When Abby was a baby, she held every book right in front of her eyes. She stood an inch away from the television screen. When her teachers read to her in daycare, she insisted on sitting on their laps so that she could be closest to the book. They asked us to get her eyesight tested and we did. The pediatrician did the eye test they do for all of the little ones. She passed. We smiled, but knew they were wrong. Later, when daycare asked again about her vision, we took her to an ophthalmologist. He went through lens after lens. He was horrified. She was 2 1/2 and she, too, was legally blind. I will never forget the doctor's response when I asked how we could expect an active 2-year-old to keep track of, and not break, her $600 glasses. He looked me squarely in the eyes, and said, "If you were outside in -5 degree temperatures, and someone handed you a coat, would you lose it?" I couldn't speak. I had left my daughter out in the cold without a coat for 2 1/2 years. I hugged her close. My husband cried when I told him the news.
Now, I know that glasses are not a big deal in this day and age. I also understand that there are many situations much worse than hers. I have not lost all perspective, believe me. However, as a mother, any time limitations are placed on your child, your heart breaks just a bit. My husband suffered differently. Her diagnosis placed him immediately back in elementary school, peering at the world through "coke-bottle" lenses, getting into fights and suffering the way kids do. And then there was the guilt of passing down this trait. I could tell him that the glasses were different now (which he knew), that they were cute and pink and the edges of the lenses could be shaved down to almost nothing. I could tell him other children wore glasses at this age too. She wouldn't be alone. I could tell him that this would change her world. All of this he knew, but needed to hear anyways. I couldn't take away the guilt, though. That is every parent's burden.
The eye doctor was right, of course. She has had her glasses for 2 1/2 years and has never lost them or broken them. But I have been waiting for this moment. The moment when she would recognize her difference and the wall we have built around her would begin to weaken. Just the tiniest crack, but a foreshadowing of future fissures. I had hoped it would come later, of course. I had hoped she would be older and I would have had more time to help her build up her defenses. I had hoped for stronger mortar between the bricks. But she is 5 and she has already realized that in this world, it is easier to look the same. I teach high school girls. I know high school girls. For God's sake, I was a high school girl. Insecurity is a rite of passage. We are taught in so many ways, by so many people that we must be beautiful in the "right" way, and whether she can verbalize it or not, at the age of 5, she already believes that she is not. That her beauty is somehow "wrong."
Someday, she will wear contact lenses. And then the differences will be harder to see from the outside. I can't know now what those differences may be, but they are there in all of us. We each look through our own lenses and see the world in a different way. I didn't cherish my own perspective until I went to college. Perhaps if her insecurities have come earlier, then her security will as well. I can only hope that each time my daughter realizes that what she sees is not what others see, for whatever reason, that she will take the time to show them her world. Because that would be invaluable.