He squints. One eye, mostly. The left one to be exact. I never thought any more of it than a quirk of personality hailing all the way back to the cradle.
His sister had oddities of her own when she was a baby. Like how she'd toddle around saying 'No' with an English accent; or how one side of her lip drew up into a tiny sneer whenever she parted the air inside her diaper.
She probably wouldn't want me to mention that the effects of infant effluvium made her grimace like a teacup-sized Elvis pretending to be a Beatle, but she's not speaking to me these days. It's not as if I'd understand her anyway. Sheeesh!
But while the girl's rock idol looks have shifted away from the coincidental to the deliberate as she matures, the boy has hung on to his concentrated wink as if it were his nature.
Which is probably why I felt stunned when his pediatrician suggested he see an eye doctor after his last physical.
“It's slight, but I think he has a correctable problem with his vision,” she offered and disappeared into the maze that is her office to find a list of referrals.
“Glasses,?” he asked in shock.
I nodded. “Maybe. … we'll see ...”
I tried to be non-committal as my own sense of shock trickled into guilt and dread.
Was this why his reading was lagging? How could I miss that he was as blind as a bat? Because, of course, this is where the mom-mind goes in the waiting room between preliminary diagnosis and specialist appointments: straight to wondering how the seeing-eye dog would get along with the family pooch.
His half-eyed squint turned into a gaze of tiny, flying daggers. He wanted answers, not shoulder shrugs and altered universes.
“I don't want glasses. I don't even need glasses. I see just fine.”
To which I just sighed and reminded my son that I'm not exactly the boss of him in this instance. That title would have to be transferred to the lady wearing the stethoscope necklace, who also gave him the clearance to pick out a few stickers.
“How does she know what I see?”
Honestly, I don't know how doctors can tell what a kid sees.
There he stood, heels against the wall, looking at a mirror reflection of the eye chart and holding one hand over his non-squinty eye. He was bouncing around from foot to foot as she asked him to read from the poster.
“Well, the words don't make any sense even if I could read them,” said my boy, without a smidgeon of self-doubt.
“Well, let's just try calling out the letters, then shall we?”
“Well, some of them look like numbers, so I'm not sure if I'm seeing the same chart.”
“Do your best.”
“E, P, F, T, O, Z, L ... L … M, N, O, P”
The alphabet song was a dead giveaway that he'd turned over his paper and handed back the test once the letters got to be slightly smaller than poster-sized.
“I just wanted to sing,” he noted by way of explanation.
So, we got to do it all again a few weeks later, this time with a specialist, in a darkened room, with the kid wearing a halo and space-age goggles.
“How's this?” asked the doctor as he spun lens after lens into place. With each click, he'd ask my son to tell him if the letters looked better or worse.
"I guess better. Although I think that S is a 5, which seems pretty tricky."
"Better or worse?"
"Definitely worse. It's all blurred out."
“Better or worse?”
“Better but also a little worser. Mom says worser isn't a word, but I think it should be.”
“Better or worse?”
“Oh, that's just terrible. I think you turned the S into a 5 just to trick people. And that O looks like a D now, too.”
“Better or worse?”
“Hey. That's pretty good. Better. Clearer, too.”
And so … you can imagine it came as an even bigger surprise when the doctor switched on the light and declared his eyesight … “Not that bad. I doubt he'll even notice the difference if I give him a prescription.”
Before I could clear my throat, the boy was making the decision.
“Oh, I DEFINITELY need glasses. My eyes are wide open, now.”