The First Pair of Glasses: A Geek Rite of Passage

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A typical Snellen chart. Originally developed ...A typical Snellen chart. Originally developed ...
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Something that many geeks have in common is vision correction. Whether you choose to sport stylishly geeky frames or to wear contact lenses, it’s a pretty common thing to not have 20/20 vision. Personally, I was eight years old when I got my first pair of glasses. We discovered that I needed them when I couldn’t read the filmstrip captions projected on the screen at school. Rather than singling me out, my very sweet second grade teacher, Miss May, started having everyone in the class walk up to the front of the room to read the captions. It’s been almost 30 years and I’m sure she’s no longer with us, but I thank her just the same.

My daughter recently turned nine, so I’ve been on the lookout for signs of myopia. She’s been lucky. She passed the vision screening at the doctor’s office, and can see things at a distance very well. Perhaps she’s taking after the minute percentage of family members who have good vision.

My son, who turned six last spring, also has never complained about having trouble seeing things. Somehow, I had it in my mind that if my kids needed glasses, it wouldn’t be until the middle of elementary school at the earliest. But at his recent annual pediatrician checkup, he had his first vision screening. Now, my son is quite precocious, teaching himself to read when many kids are still learning their capital letters. So I assured the nurses that he knew all his letters and would have no problem identifying anything on the eye chart. The nurse asked him to read a line, and he just kind of stood there. She tried another line, and he guessed a few of the letters. The nurse had moved near the top of the chart before he could reliably read anything. Perhaps the nurses thought I had lied! They decided to bring a machine into the exam room and check him out further. My son thought the machine was pretty neat, and was a great sport about the whole thing. But he did just as poorly with this second test.

Browline Glasses. These would be sufficiently geeky. Image: Public Domain.

It was obvious to everyone that a real eye exam from an actual eye doctor would be required. Since just about everyone that my son knows wears glasses at least some of the time, he was fine with the idea. We talked in a very positive way about getting glasses, and he even has a few friends his age that wear glasses. A couple of days before the eye doctor visit, my son told me that he was excited for the appointment to see how well he would do. He kept talking about how he’d pick out cool glasses to wear.

At the eye doctor’s office, the appointment began with the initial tests. First was the glaucoma test. You know, the one where they blow a puff of air into your eye. I didn’t think they did this test until you got much older, so I was surprised that they gave it to a six year old. Perhaps that is standard operating procedure now. I personally hate this test. It takes every ounce of my being to allow them to do this to me. My eyes water and it’s so hard to keep them open, and I blink furiously. My son sat there, completely still. We figured it would be easy for the technician to get the first eye, since our son had no idea what was coming, but that the second eye would be impossible.

Here Nemo models my son's new glasses. Photo: Jenny Williams

Hold still, here we go, and *PUFF*. Quiet. No crying or screaming whatsoever. I was floored when our son just sat there and giggled. He said that it tickled, and then got ready for the second eye. The technician did that eye without difficulty either, and then my son said, “Can I do it again?” I wish that he could take this test in my stead! I should have known that he’d do well, since this experience was very similar to the recent immunization at his annual doctor visit. For that, he said, “Ow ow ow,” and that was it. He was happy and cheerful immediately thereafter. This boy is a wonder. He certainly doesn’t get this stoicism from me.

For the next vision test, he had to stare into a machine at an image of a blurry house, while holding completely still. It was hard for him to keep his head from moving, even with us holding his head in place.

We eventually got into the regular exam room and saw the eye doctor herself. I told her about the vision screening experience. I had been very surprised that he had done so poorly in the screening because he hadn’t complained about not being able to see things. But then again, we homeschool and he rarely has to read things that are far away. There’s no chalkboard across the room. No filmstrip captions to read. I had asked him if anything far away was blurry, and he said no, that they were just too far away. We later learned from the eye doctor that this was a perfect way to describe being nearsighted for a six year old. “Blurry” had no meaning for him.

The doctor started the exam. First she checked his eye movement, trying to get him to move his eyes without moving his head. Next was the color blindness test, which he passed with flying colors (ha ha). Then, with the light off, he read letters on the wall, unaided, one eye at a time. He was supposed to hold a shield over his face that covered one eye, but he kept peeking. He didn’t do well with this test. At this point it was pretty obvious that he was at least somewhat nearsighted.

The doctor then put the big device over his face that everyone associates with going to the eye doctor. She set it up with some correction numbers that the blurry house machine spit out, and my son was easily able to read tiny letters on the wall. He still kept peeking, though. She did one eye, then the other, and then both together. He thought the machine was cool. The doctor said that he is “a little bit nearsighted,” in the -1 range. She then shined a bright light into his eyes and said that yes, he would need glasses.

We were all excited to pick out some frames! My son didn’t really have any opinions, so the rest of us got to pick them out. With every frame we’d put on him, he’d say, “I’m doctor professor!” and pose for the mirror. Then when we took them off, he’d say, “I’m not doctor professor!” (If anyone knows of some great improv classes for kids in the Northern Arizona area, please let me know!)

We wanted to get frames with spring-loaded arms and also not a color of the rainbow. So we avoided the pink, purple, blue and other non-earth-tones, and tried on all the metallic, black and brown frames. We tried all the possible frames on him that matched those criteria, and narrowed it down in stages. After at least 20 minutes, we were finally down to one pair of frames. We showed the technician. He immediately said that the frames were too small for my son’s head. I wasn’t surprised, but was disappointed because we really liked the frames we picked. Plus, we had used up all of my son’s patience with the frame selection process.

Ah well, we had to buck up and go over to the slightly-larger-frame box that was hidden away in a cabinet. After a similar but shorter process, we finally found some frames that we liked, had bend-back arms and that didn’t make him look like he was playing dress up. The arms were much too long for him, but we were told that the ends could be bent during the glasses fitting. These frames would be big enough for him to wear for years, unlike the first pair we chose.

It took two and a half weeks to finally get the glasses, but when we picked them up, and my son put them on his face for the first time, the glasses looked like they belonged there, almost as if they’d always been there. The arms were still too long, so the frame fitter person heated and bent the ends to curl farther around my son’s ears, which will give the added benefit of helping the glasses to stay on better. My son ended up wearing his new glasses for about an hour and a half, then decided that he was done wearing them for a while. Since they’re only for distance, he won’t need to wear them all the time. But now my son joins the ranks of glasses-wearing geeks, having gone through a major geek rite of passage!

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