I’m not sure what I was expecting my mother to say when she saw my child for the first time, but it’s pretty safe to say that “ew, she’s cross-eyed” wasn’t it. By that point in my life, I was more than used to hearing her unsolicited and often downright cruel comments about my own appearance, intellect and existence, but apparently she had a new target: my daughter, not even 3 hours old.
The stapled-shut wound in my abdomen and a great deal of high-quality hospital drugs made it really hard to do what I wanted to do, which was snatch back my perfect child and shove my crepe bootie up my mother’s ass. Instead, while my soon-to-be in-laws and a nearby nurse gaped and exchanged “oh my God, did she really just say what I think she just said?” looks, I made a silent promise to my kid. I’d never found a way to shield myself from my mother’s nastiness, but she wouldn’t have to put up with this shit.
Later, I’d stare into her eyes, looking for what my mother saw. When all I could find were her gorgeous baby blues, clear and bright and alert, looking back at me, I decided my mother’s snarky comment was just that: snark. It was meant to sting, and it had found its mark, and my best bet would be to put it — and her — out of my mind. So that’s exactly what I did.
Maybe that’s why it took three years for anyone to notice that her eyes were wacked up in a big way, and by that time, it was officially A Problem.
I don’t know how it slipped past my me, my husband, his parents and two pediatricians, but my child’s bilateral esotropia strabismus — schmancy talk for “both eyes turning toward the inside” — was immediately apparent to her new doctor when we moved across the country.
“So, have her eyes always crossed like this?”
I don’t even really know how to describe my face when I had to answer that question. Surprise enema? Accidental sour milk ingestion? Incredulity smothered in indignation wrapped in embarrassment? Probably somewhere on that spectrum, I’d imagine. The doctor went on to explain that because one of my daughter’s eyes crossed more than the other, her brain might eventually start ignoring the signals from it and really jack with her depth perception. Not to mention that children are even jerkier than bitter middle-aged women can be. She also explained that if it had been caught a year or two earlier, we could have used lenses, patching or exercise to straighten those puppies out.
Now, we’d have to do surgery.
My husband and I spent the evening after that little gem of news sifting through picture after picture of our kid’s face. Were her eyes crossing in this one? How about this one? As a baby? At her second birthday? Her third? Maybe. OK, yes. Definitely yes. How the hell did we miss it?
It sucks to say it, but I’m pretty sure I was blind to it because I wanted to be. It was presented to me in such a nasty, hurtful way. Who looks at their grandchild for the first time and says “ew”? Maybe along the way I had seen evidence of the strabismus but steamrolled over it because I thought I was letting my mother get to me the same way I always had. Gaslighting: It takes patience and work, but it turns out that it’s super effective long term.
Because I’d refused to believe that the first person to notice that my child’s eyes were malfunctioning would have a motive other than douchery for doing so, my daughter ended up having to get her eyes operated on. Fortunately, we reasoned, it was about as minor as a surgery gets, and at 4, she wouldn’t have clear memories of the event.
Years later, after surgery followed by glasses, bifocals, trifocals and tons of eye patches, we got another fun surprise. The original surgeon did something that’s not all that uncommon: He overcorrected. Now those bad boys turn outward, and my kid can’t see in 3-D. Eyes, man. They’re complex little things.
In fact, as I’m typing this in one window, the list of preoperative requirements is open in another. So much for distant memories. My kid will be drifting off to anesthesia-induced sleep so a new surgeon can slice up her eye muscles tomorrow, just a few months short of birthday No. 10.
What’s the moral here? Honestly, I’m not sure. Maybe if I weren’t so conditioned to see every piece of criticism my mom leveled at me as needlessly and inaccurately hurtful, I would have taken her more seriously. I might have gotten a second opinion when her first pediatrician told me I had nothing to worry about. But that’s kind of a cop-out, isn’t it? Our first instinct is always to protect our kids, and in those first few moments after birth, Glinda the Good Witch could have sung me a gentle song about crossy eyes and anesthesia-induced postoperative vomiting, and I still might have told her to fuck off.
So I guess the moral here is this: Don’t throw the medical observation out with the dickhead. Or something.