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When my vision-challenged daughter was three years old, and I was pregnant with my second child, we got her glasses. It was a long process involving many different opticians over the course of a year, because of my daughter’s overwhelming desire to scream and pitch a fit any time we tried to have her eyes examined. The fourth optometrist we tried was amazing – and while my daughter didn’t co-operate, the optometrist performed various miracles and managed what she called a “best guess” at her prescription (+3.50, for those in the glasses know).
“Start with this,” she said. “When she realizes she can see better, bring her back and we can try for something more accurate.”
I didn’t want to shell out $300 for glasses that might be replaced in a month’s time, so my husband and I decided to bring her straight to a Walmart optical. My daughter said she wanted purple glasses, and she happily picked out a child-size pair of purple frames. Things were going well, until the optician needed to take an additional measurement, which would involve holding a ruler up to her eyes and measuring the distance between the outer corner of one eye and the inner corner of the other. I winced.
“Are you sure you need the measurement?" I asked. "She’s really not co-operative when it comes to the eye testing stuff.”
“We definitely need to have it, we can’t fill her prescription without it,” the optician said.
But my daughter would not let the optician anywhere near her face with the small plastic ruler. She shrieked, “Nooo!” and started getting really worked up with yelling and crying, and we took her off to the side and talked to her about how we were going to get ice cream afterward if she let the nice lady hold the ruler near her nose, and look at this super fun soccer ball we brought with us! Then she’d calm down enough so we could go back over to the optician, and then the whole thing would happen all over again. The optician gave us the ruler, thinking we would have an easier time, but by then my daughter knew how badly we needed to hold the ruler near her face, which in toddler logic meant it was a life-or-death situation that she prevent us from getting anywhere near her.
After much wailing and trying to corral her, my husband and I agreed that one of us would have to hold her down and the other would take the measurement. I don’t normally think this is a great way to go about things, but my daughter’s stubborn streak extends far beyond just a few hours or even one day; now that she knew we needed to do the ruler thing, she would never let it happen. Not today, and not tomorrow, and not a week from now.
So we held her down while she struggled and screamed like a banshee and I sat on the floor trying to hold her head still while we tried to get an accurate reading on that stupid ruler. Finally, we got it, and my husband went off with the ruler to talk to the optician. My daughter stopped crying three seconds later and went back to playing with her soccer ball as if nothing had happened.
There is no version of this story where I feel comfortable using physical force on my child, even if it was for her own good. I felt awful – wondering if I were a better parent, I’d magically know what to say to elicit her full co-operation. The weeks spent with a special pop-up book about wearing glasses, telling her over and over again how great glasses were ... it all seemed to be a waste of time in the harsh glare of the last three hours, where every moment felt as if it was a struggle to do the right thing. What was the right thing, anyway?
I could feel tears welling up and I thought, “I can’t cry. I’m sitting on the floor of a Walmart optical centre. I can’t cry here.”
And there it was – the final thing I could not bear. It was only noon, and the day had already reduced me to sitting on the floor of a Walmart optical physically holding my screaming toddler down to press a ruler against her face and do it for the packed Saturday audience of all the Walmart checkout counters.
I cried. Big, shoulder-shaking sobs. Sitting right there on the floor of a Walmart, behind the optical counter.
Snivelling, I rummaged around in my purse for tissues, but I didn’t have any. The closest thing I had was a pair of clean toddler socks. I, a grown woman, had to wipe my face with toddler socks. Because I was crying so hard. On the floor of a Walmart.
Five days later, the Walmart optical centre called. They said my daughter’s glasses were ready for pick up and I should schedule an appointment with the optician so that we can have them properly fitted. I said I’d be picking up the glasses alone and we would do the fitting another day. She insisted that the fitting was crucial, to which I replied, “I don’t know if you were working last Saturday, but my daughter is really not co-operating on this whole glasses thing. I’d prefer to just pick them up.”
Silence. Then she said, “I was there last Saturday, I remember you. Absolutely, you can pick them up anytime.”
Julie Crawford lives in Toronto.