My sweet youngest child was cross-eyed from birth. I took him to the doctor many times when he was young to make sure nothing was wrong. The doctors all said it was normal and that eventually his eye would straighten out.
My husband had the same issue as a child, so I believed his wayward eye was a normal, hereditary event. As he grew, he never seemed to squint or struggle to see, and that was all the proof I needed to validate my assumption that he was growing and developing normally. Eventually, as the doctor’s promised, his side-eye straightened out, and I never thought twice about the matter.
Then, when he was in first grade, I found a letter from the nurse in his after-school folder informing me my son had failed his vision pre-screening test and that he was required to follow up with an optometrist within 30 days.
The letter felt accusatory and slightly threatening. “Take your child to the eye doctor, or you’ll be in parent jail!” OK, it didn’t actually say that, but it was the first time as a parent I’d been bossed around by the school. Was I worried? No. I was with my son every day and knew, without a doubt, he had perfectly fine vision. Still, to avoid capture by the school police, I made the perfunctory appointment for my son’s vision to be tested.
“It’s really important you don’t lie during the test,” I warned my son. “They need you to tell the truth so that they can find out if you actually need glasses.”
My son nodded, giggled and smiled. During the test, he seemed to misidentify every damn letter on the chart. I immediately thought he was pretending to be blind. He had always been the household jester, doing everything he could to elicit a laugh from us.
“Stop playing around,” I told him. The optometrist said nothing. She must know he’s faking, I figured. There were a few more tests, of which I had zero understanding, and in the end, she said my son definitely needed glasses, all day long.
I might have rolled my eyes and silently called “bullshit,” but in the end, I bought him the nearly $200 glasses and left with a copy of his exam to give to the school.
That night I told my husband the results were “obviously fake” and that our son should consider a career as an actor because he had the doctor convinced he was practically blind. I was exaggerating. He wasn’t practically blind — but his vision test showed his impairment was enough to make sight without glasses extremely difficult.
I was in denial. I didn’t consider that my son actually needed glasses. I'm his mom. I would have known if my son couldn't see three feet in front of him, right?
I so thoroughly believed that my son was joking the entire time that it never dawned on me that maybe he wasn't. So when he forgot to wear those expensive new glasses, I didn’t remind him to put them on. In fact, I soon forgot about them, too.
When we moved the next year and my son complained about having headaches, I decided to make another appointment with a new optometrist. Once again, I warned my son to be honest and once again, he giggled his way through the exam where he managed call out all the wrong shapes, letters and numbers. Like the last time, he had his eyes dilated and the doctor performed additional tests that I didn't understand other than they were "necessary."
The new doctor gave my son another prescription. This one was stronger than the last. For some reason, my head was so far up my butt that I still didn’t believe he needed glasses. After scolding my son during the exam, I tried to debate the results with the optometrist.
“I really think he’s faking it,” I said.
“Well, that would be pretty hard to do, since we also did a retinoscopy exam, which can’t be faked.”
As the doctor explained the test in further detail and how he knew that my son did indeed need glasses, I realized, like a total jerk-face, that I had been wrong about my son for the past year.
He hadn’t been faking. He wasn't pulling our legs to get a laugh. He just thought the tests were funny. Hell, maybe having his upset mom standing nearby giving him a sour look made him feel nervous. I felt like such an asshole.
All along, my son really needed those glasses. Because I didn’t understand this, he spent the first seven years of his life struggling to see.
Before long, we were seeing the optometrist every six months (sometimes even more frequently than that), and for a few years, my son’s vision continually worsened. Now, at 16 years old, he wears stronger prescription lenses than even his grandfather does.
The moral of my story is simple: Don’t fail your child the way I did, and not believe them (or the doctors) when something might be wrong. I was convinced I knew my son so well that the only possibility was that he was pretending to need glasses when he wasn't.
Yes, we should always trust our guts — but sometimes we have to own that we don’t always know what the heck we’re doing.
By the way, those early vision screenings they do at the school are awesome, even if I didn't think so in the beginning. Most states require them by law and obviously, even for dumb parents like me, they really do make a difference.
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