Volume 18 • Issue 38 | February 3 - 9, 2006


Image is everything for a child

By Jane Flanagan

Heading out the door the other morning, I was schlepping the usual load — purse, laptop and a kid’s backpack. My son, Rusty, 7, never wants to carry his pack. Being a battle-weary mom, I long since decided that this was one skirmish I was not going to pick. Besides, a block from school he always makes the same request anyway, “Mom can I have my backpack?”

He’s in first grade now and it’s is all about image.

As luck would have it, this is also the year he needed to get glasses. Not having worn them myself as a kid, I was unprepared for the significant trauma ahead.

I’ll never forget sitting in the ophthalmologist’s office when he got the news. Rusty hung his head low and didn’t hear another word the guy said. As soon as we walked out the door he started to cry.

Since we had to wait for his pupils to dilate, we were encouraged to use the time to try on eyeglass frames. A smiling, cheerful young woman showed him a variety of stylish pairs. But after she said, “How about this one?” for the sixth time, and for the sixth time he shook his head “No,” I said, “I think we better wait till another day.” She responded with a perplexed look. But while I knew he needed glasses, I also knew there was no point forcing the issue because then there would be no way in hell he would ever wear them.

I ushered Rusty out to the waiting room “to think it over.” He thought it over alright. He sobbed even harder. “I don’t want to wear glasses. I don’t want to!” he said. Suddenly, another boy just his age and wearing glasses came over accompanied by his mother. She explained that Tucker got them only a few months ago and had also been very upset. With that, Tucker patted Rusty on the back and said, “Don’t worry. The kids aren’t going to make fun of you.” Rusty stopped crying.

Even if I had the presence of mind to realize that this is what was bothering him, nothing I could have said would have been as effective as that boy’s testimonial. Later, down at school, another kid would come to my rescue.

I still remember that first Monday morning Rusty had the glasses. He refused to wear them out of the house. He promised he would put them on in class but since at that moment he was stuffing the eyeglass case to the bottom of his pack, I had my doubts.

So that afternoon when he came home and said that the teacher complimented him on how well he wore them, I was astonished. And curious. Why the turnaround? Then the next afternoon he actually came home with a hint of a smile.

Eventually, I got to the bottom of it.

“Guess what?” he said with a smirk. “Jesse has the same glasses as me.” Jesse is his best friend in class and has been wearing glasses since we’ve known him. This was a major plus in my favor and still I had failed to focus on its relevance.

Since then Rusty’s been wearing the glasses without argument in class and at home. But he still doesn’t want to wear them on playdates, birthday parties or God forbid in the schoolyard. And if he runs into someone he hasn’t seen in awhile he retreats. One morning, while buying muffins at a bakery, we ran into his friend Noah, whom he hadn’t seen for a couple of months. Rusty hid behind me the whole time, something he hasn’t done since he was a toddler.

But, considering the stakes, I guess we’re doing pretty well. I recalled a recent walk to school. He was ice skating that afternoon and so his pack was unusually heavy with the skates and helmet. Nevertheless, a block from school he made his usual request and slipped the cumbersome pack on. Once we got indoors, however, I glanced at the long staircase to his classroom and queried whether he wanted me to carry it up.

“No!” he said, in a voice loud enough for any lurking 6- or 7-year-olds to hear. “What do you think I am? A baby or something?”


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