When I was a kid, I wore glasses – and I hated them. They fogged up every time I walked outside in the winter, they got sweaty and slippery in the summer, and they were always breaking. I can't tell you how many times a game of pond hockey would have to come to a halt because my glasses had just gone flying across the rink. And I hated the way the frames cut off my peripheral vision. My father used to make all kinds of repairs to the glasses when they broke on weekends, one time even drilling holes on either side of a broken nose piece and wiring them together. The people who worked at the eye doctor’s took my glasses and passed them all around the office, marveling at how ridiculous they looked.
When I turned sixteen and could get a job, the very first thing I saved my money for was a pair of contact lenses. These were the old rigid contacts that took weeks to get used to, but I loved them from the start. It seemed like magic to be able to run and swim and do all kinds of activities – and be able to see clearly the whole time.
Last winter, With-a-Why's eyes went from slightly near-sighted to very near-sighted, just like mine. He continued to leave his glasses off for sports like snowboarding, but I could see that he was squinting and struggling to see the whole time. I told him that when summer came and he had the leisure to practice putting them in, we'd get him some contact lenses.
When school ended this week, we headed straight for the eye doctor's. The nice young woman there told me he would have to take a class from her -- and put them in and take them out and put them in again before he could take them home. I wondered how my very shy child would do with learning from a stranger, but the policy made sense to me.
On Wednesday we went back for the class and With-a-Why tried for an entire hour to put the contact lens in his eye. He focused intently the whole time, following Contact Woman’s directions exactly, but never got a lens into his eye. He just kept flinching when his finger got near the eye. And then his long black eyelashes would catch the lens. "I think you are thinking too much," Contact Woman said. By the end of the hour, his eyes were both sore from pulling his lids up and down continually.
"Do you think it’s making you nervous that we are watching?" I asked, wondering if he would do better in an empty room.
"The problem is not that you’re watching," he said. "The problem is that I am trying to stick something in my eye."
I used to be grateful that my kids were the cautious types not likely to stick strange objects into body orifices. This desirable quality saved us many trips to the emergency room. But now that same strong instinct was preventing With-a-Why from getting the contact lens into his eye.
At home that night, I made sure he watched while I took my contacts out and put them in again. He practiced in front of the mirror, opening his eye wide with his fingers. With-a-Why is a smart, intense kid who is used to being able to do everything right the first time, so I could tell that this was bothering him.
"What happens when I finally get one in?" he asked. "If getting them out is just as hard, I could end up with a contact lens in my eye for eternity."
Yesterday, we went back to the eye doctor's. Again, he tried for a whole hour, focusing intently the whole time. Contact Woman and I cheered him on. He was clearly getting much closer. He knew how to open the eye wide; he just didn’t like sticking anything in the eye. Again, we left without the contact lenses.
This morning we went back to the eye doctor's for the fourth time this week. I tied With-a-Why's longish hair back with a red bandana so that he would not have to worry about the hair in his eyes. He looked like a pirate. An intent, serious pirate. By this time, everyone in the office knew us, and they all smiled encouragingly at him.
Again, he sat down at the white table, following the instructions exactly, patiently trying again and again. And this time – success! He got a lens into his left eye! Contact Woman and I cheered. He smiled his shy smile. And then he got the lens into his right eye! He’d made the breakthrough of sticking something into his eye.
For the first time, he looked around and could see the world clearly without glasses. Excitedly, he read the signs on the walls. He stood shyly near the register while I filled out the paperwork to order him a supply of contacts. He kept glancing up now and then with his big dark eyes. I remember that feeling of being able to see without glasses for the first time – it's like magic.
Then he took off the bandana, shook the hair back into his eyes, and we drove home.