“I don’t want to wear glasses!” my six-year old said anxiously from the back seat of the car. We were on our way to see a Pediatric Ophthalmologist at the University of Minnesota, after our oldest son unexpectedly developed a lazy eye in November.
My husband and I shared an uneasy glance before shifting our attention to the bundle of nerves in the backseat.
“Why don’t you want to get glasses?” we gently pressed him.
I wasn’t quite sure what his reply would be. How does a kindergartener feel about such things? I figured he would be a little nervous about his appointment. Most kids aren’t a huge fan of waiting rooms and doctor visits. And I was very aware of the fact that getting glasses would be a BIG adjustment for our little guy if he ended up needing them.
But I wasn’t prepared for the response he gave us.
“I’m afraid everyone at school will laugh at me. I’ll be a misfit.”
I’m pretty sure he gleaned the word misfit from his recent exposure to the old Christmas classic “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” I just didn’t expect him to use the terminology on himself, and at such a young age.
I mean, honestly, kindergartner’s shouldn’t have to worry about fitting in! Should they?
Well, apparently mine does. His fear was very real and it broke this mama’s heart.
My husband, wise man that he is, suggested that we talk more about these feelings. So for the remainder of the car ride we brainstormed all of the people we knew who wore glasses, and then we came up with some positive responses our son could use if anyone did make fun of him at school.
Thankfully, this exercise seemed to alleviate the anxiety he had been feeling and he perked up almost instantly. He ended up breezing through his two-hour appointment, taking the news that he would actually need glasses like a champ, and was surprisingly patient as we stopped at a couple different stores to fill his new prescription.
The glasses arrived that weekend and he put them on without complaint while proudly posing for pictures, which we promptly sent to the grandparents and published on Facebook for all to see. It seemed as if he was taking everything in stride…
Until Monday morning came. As we rushed to get everything together for school, I saw that familiar fearful expression darken my son’s face.
“I don’t want to go to school, mom!” He said, with panic rising in his voice.
My son typically loves school. What he really meant was that he was terrified to face his peers while wearing his new specs.
And I guess I couldn’t blame him. His self-consciousness brought to memory some of my own painful child-hood experiences. As a scrawny, freckle-faced redheaded runt, I was no stranger to cruel jokes and playground taunts. Once, I even had a slimy wet worm thrown into my unruly carrot-top. The tangled-up invertebrate was hastily removed, but my tears and the humiliation that I felt lingered on for a long time. Kids can be vicious.
As my past collided with his present, I began to understand the overwhelming and conflicting feelings he was experiencing. Part of me wanted to protect him from whatever unpleasant events might be in store, but the sensible part of me knew this was something he would inevitably have to face.
Helpless to intervene, I did the only thing I could really do in the moment. I wrapped him up in a mama-bear hug, and said, in the most encouraging voice I could muster, “You’re going to have a great day! You look SO cool in your glasses!”
He nodded, but didn’t look too convinced. So right before he headed out the door we said an earnest prayer for the day ahead. I flashed him a reassuring smile as I called out the door, “Have fun Buddy!” But as I watched him slowly walk away, I found myself pleading to the heavens, “Lord PLEASE let it be a good day!”
Time flew by as I attended to the needs and activities of my younger two kiddos. I didn’t really have much time to worry or dwell on things throughout the day. However, as the afternoon was winding down, I started to glance at the clock more frequently. I knew that our oldest would be bursting through the front door at any moment.
Curiosity about how his day had gone began to consume my thoughts, as I waited eagerly for the sound of squeaky school bus brakes.
I found myself wondering, “Is the bus running late?” (Obviously, patience is NOT one of my virtues!)
Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait much longer for my curiosity to be quelled. My son’s beaming smile, stretching from one rosy-winter-kissed cheek to the other, told me everything I needed to know.
“Guess what?!” He said excitedly, as he peeled off winter layers in our front entryway. “I got to stand in the front of the class today and EVERYONE said something they liked about my glasses!”
Gratitude swept over me. Our hasty morning prayers were answered in the form of a wonderfully sensitive teacher who understood the fragile significance of this unexpected transition in my six-year-olds life.
What could have been a socially awkward and maybe even distressing day, instead, became a confidence-building experience for my son. His still budding self-esteem got a major boost because of a teacher who cared enough to positively acknowledge his new circumstances and encourage her students to do the same.
Unfortunately, it seems as of late, the only teachers in the headlines are the ones who make terribly poor decisions. We hear about illicit affairs between teachers and their pupils, educators who altered test scores to receive more funding for their schools, and even about student abuse occurring right inside the classroom. It doesn’t matter that this is the very rare exception to the rule. These are the stories that make it into the public eye.
But I think there is another tale worth telling! My son’s experience is just one account in a sea of stories that will probably never make the news. There are so many amazing teachers who go above and beyond the call to just “educate” their students. These are the men and women who take the time to notice, encourage, and invest in each individual child. They are the instructors who see past the imperfections and “difficult behaviors” that are sometimes displayed. Instead, they look for, and foster, the potential that is present in each student. By taking the time to do so, young people are positively influenced, and sometimes life trajectories are forever changed.
So for what it’s worth, this is my public THANK YOU! Thank you to a wonderful teacher whose actions helped to turn my little boy’s dreary morning into a beautiful bright day.
While I’m at it, I want to acknowledge the countless other teachers who go the extra mile. You may not grace the cover of a magazine or be highlighted on tonight’s evening news, but your upright example makes an enduring difference! And in my opinion, THAT is something worth talking about!
photo credit: clipartlord.com