Last Monday, my daughter and I went to the eye doctor. She came out with a new prescription, meant to correct the vision in each eye separately, so the stronger eye won’t improve so quickly that the weaker eye becomes lazy, unnecessary, or obsolete, putting an end to her depth perception.
During the exam, I watch my daughter’s pediatric ophthalmologist try lens after lens, asking my seven-year-old to read the letters on the screen, reducing their size until she starts making them up – calls a “Z” an “O,” calls a “B” a “Y.” We tell her it’s okay to just say she can’t read it anymore – she can’t see it – this is what the doctor needs to know, to figure out the best glasses for her eyes. My daughter has been in the chair for thirty minutes, stilling her body, holding her questions, responding to the doctor’s commands – and mine – in the dark, with pin pricks of light shone into her pupils over and over again. We’ve been here nearly three hours, in and out of the chair, the waiting room, the dark. Happily, the appointment is nearly done.
How do you determine the right lens, I wonder, or the right combination of lenses for her two eyes, to strengthen the sight in one, to maintain the sight in the other, to synch both eyes’ rates of growth, to preserve depth perception? I didn’t go to school for this. I don’t know. But I trust this doctor. I called three different eye clinics in our neighborhood for recommendations, and she was at the top of the list each time even though her office is in Elmhurst, twenty minutes from where we live.
Once we leave the clinic, my daughter and I go out for treats – one treat for each stinging eye drop. Usually it’s a small bar of chocolate, larger if there were multiple drops, multiple shots, if it was particularly hard. Today it’s lunch at Culver’s and a trip to Hole in the Wall for ice cream. As we get out of the car, she says to me, “Mami, I don’t get it. Why doesn’t the song stop?”
“What do you mean?” I ask. I have no idea what she’s talking about, but recently, she started asking for B96 radio in the car. (Just like she skipped crawling, she also skipped Radio Disney. Don’t ask me what she’ll skip as a teenager. I’d rather not imagine.)
“I mean – when we get back in the car, it’ll be a different song.”
Right. Until last week, we listened only to CDs. For seven years, I avoided radio commercials and the frequently R-themed banter of radio announcers on stations which play the music our family likes best. “It’s like live TV,” I say to her. “Do you ever watch live TV?”
“No,” she says. She watches recorded shows, or turns to onDemand. Well, at least she knows what live TV is! Score One for Mami. But I’ll need to do better than this.
“Okay,” I go on. “The radio is the same for everyone, right?” I’ve explained this before. She nods. “So for each station, there’s someone who decides what songs to play. And they play songs all the time. The music keeps going. When we turn off the car and get out, it’s like we left the room while the music was playing, and when we turn the car back on, it’s like we came back into the room and there’s another song on.”
“Ohhhh,” she nods. “Now I get it.” I realize she’s spent the past week trying to puzzle that out. It’s gratifying to help her connect the dots.
But there is a nagging at the back of my mind as I start to celebrate this small success – about her need to be “normal” – about the dots we haven’t yet connected – about the teasing she gets because we don’t let her watch the newest Harry Potter movies – about her aversion to hipsters with tattoos up and down their arms in the Chicago neighborhoods we visit – about her whispering with a friend as a young girl with Down’s Syndrome approaches the pair at the pool one afternoon. My responsibility as her parent is to help her develop depth perception, and this will need to take her further than eyesight alone will go. I wonder if I have enough schooling for all of this.
I try having a conversation with her and the friend. We don’t get very far. I take her into Chicago again. And again. We don’t see a single tattoo – although one morning this week, I saw a man on my way to work holding a black umbrella overhead in the scorching heat. He smiled at me in my wide-brimmed straw hat. I smiled, too, and nodded. I remembered the older gentleman a few years ago riding a bicycle on Wacker Drive with a full coffee mug in his left hand.
She’s not the only seven-year-old who isn’t yet allowed to watch every Harry Potter movie. I know this for a fact. I spoke to another parent of a seven-year-old just the other night. (Defensive, am I?)
Still, I am grateful for the connection we made today: The car radio is for everyone and we all come in and out of listening.
This is a celebration. One connection means more will come. We’ll keep walking, keep talking, and try a new lens when things get out of whack. Testing and re-testing in the real life lab – it’s how we learn. Right?