To help her young son feel good about wearing glasses, Jill Margaret Shulman brings her parenting skills into sharp focus.

woman and child eating ice cream
Credit: Illustration by Josie Portillo

My son, Ethan, returned home from kindergarten one day, unloaded his backpack, and handed me a pink slip with the results of his compulsory school eye test.

"This can't be right," I said.

The pink slip said that Ethan had 20/30 eyesight through his right eye and 20/100 through his left. But there had been no previous indicators that our little guy needed glasses. Or had there?

I thought back to the time his preschool teacher mentioned to my husband, Mat, and me that Ethan would blink hard a couple of times and wait before he answered a question about the calendar in the front of the room. And he was a tad clumsy.

The pediatrician's vision test and a screening at a specialist's office confirmed that Ethan needed to wear glasses. His left eye was underperforming, and his right eye overcompensating. If he refused to wear glasses -- as many 5-year-olds do, the doctor warned -- he would need to wear a patch to regain his left eye's function.

That's when I started to worry. If you've ever tried to coax a willful 5-year-old into doing something he'd rather not, you'll understand why. What if Ethan refused to wear them? Or worse, what if other kids made fun of him? No one else in his class wore glasses. And with all the children his teachers had to watch, who'd make sure Ethan wore his glasses when I wasn't around?

I pictured scenarios in which my child would end up abandoning, losing, or breaking his glasses, and his eyesight would get worse instead of better. I felt helpless. Then I had an idea. I couldn't head off every problem, but I could get things off to a good start. While Mat had worn glasses for years, I'd always enjoyed 20/20 vision. But now I'd get glasses, even if they just had clear lenses. Our picking out specs together might turn something dreaded into something fun. Sure, "misery loves company," but happy experiences are also better when they're shared.

So off we went to the optical shop. My eyes were tested, and to my surprise, I learned that my vision had veered away from 20/20. The optometrist suggested that a bit of magnification would help with reading. I'd be getting real glasses after all.

Then Ethan and I tried on frames. Since we were doing it together, it was a bonding experience instead of a glum, obligatory shopping trip.

Ethan giggled when I tried on cat-eye frames that completely transformed my face and giant ones that looked silly balanced on my smallish nose. He chose a pair of russet-and-yellow frames that made him look like a rock star, but when I saw the exorbitant price tag, I diverted his attention to some reasonably priced wire rims with clip-on sunglasses and stems that seemed unbreakable, as demonstrated by the salesman who bent them back unnaturally. We were sold.

I'll never know if it was my solidarity or Ethan's ability to see better that made the process go so smoothly. I do know that joining him in this new stage of his development sure made me a lot happier. A situation that seemed rather negative and out of my control ended up bringing us closer together. And as a bonus, I found that the stylish red-framed glasses I bought that day came in very handy a few years later, when the words on the pages of the telephone book started to look just a little bit blurry.

The Shulman-Lebowitz family

The Shulman-Lebowitz family of Amherst, MA

Originally published in the August 2015 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

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