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Through the Looking-Glass: The Day My Son Got Glasses

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I could tell Jack felt awkward, self-conscious maybe, as he balanced the heavy plastic frames across his small face. Behind the thick glass, his eyes—magnified into giant saucers—beamed wide excited for what would come next. With his new glasses perched on his tiny nose, Jack saw the world for the very first time. Like Alice in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass, Jack entered a fantastical new world that only moments before was unreachable. Unlike Alice, however, he never pondered what the world would be like on the other side of those glasses. He didn't know the possibilities—or the freedom—that existed just beyond two millimeters of an aspherical lens.

Before that day, it never occurred to me that Jack had poor eyesight. He seemed to get along like any other toddler. We’d read books together. I’d point out shapes and colors and he’d giggle in agreement. With our fingertips, we’d trace the constellations in the night sky. At the park, we’d find bugs and pull them from the ground. I saw him see. I watched as he saw the world.

At a regular checkup, I was in disbelief when the doctor told me she was referring Jack to an optometrist. An eye exam revealed his vision was somewhere around 20/80. I shrugged it off. After all, I knew he could see. Several appointments, and two professional opinions later, our perfect baby boy had a prescription for some heavy duty glasses. His vision was far worse than we’d originally thought. “Severely impaired,” is what the doctor called it.

I couldn’t understand. How had I missed this? All this time, had he been merely existing in a blurry, grayscale world? Were his experiences up until this point a collection of disappointments and constant frustrations? I felt like a failure for not noticing. Worst yet, I felt like I failed my own son. On the day he was born, I promised Jack only one thing: I’d never let him down. And for the four years that followed, I had done just that. The doctor assured me that Jack was born with poor vision; he didn’t know any different. But still, it was personal. After all, every mom knows her child best. As it turned out, it seemed I didn’t know him at all.

The day Jack’s new glasses arrived was magical. He climbed atop the highest point in our backyard where a small palm tree hangs its fronds. Glasses sliding down his nose, he took a ragged frond tip into his little hand. He stared at it with wonder. His large, brown eyes danced and sparkled. I imagined that moment for him was like a black and white movie scene that suddenly turns to color. He seemed to be intoxicated by its color, enchanted by details that were once unknown to him. He looked back at me and smiled, pausing for an extra second or two before examining a nearby rock. I swear he was seeing my face for the very first time. The rest of Jack’s day was spent fascinated by ordinary objects: a pile of grapes, pictures in a storybook, his shoe laces, a world map, the house across the way. I could only imagine that these simple items seemed larger than life at that moment. By coincidence, we watched Alice in Wonderland that evening. It wasn’t lost on me that, like Alice, he had fallen through a rabbit hole and left to discover a new world of endless possibilities. My Jack was finally free.

Like Alice said, “It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” So he is.

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