“No glasses! I don’t NEED GLASSES!” Jack screamed from the back seat of the van. I turned in my seat and saw him start to beat his head with his hands and kick his bright blue sneakers in the air.
We were on our way home from a very long afternoon at Children’s Hospital, where they’d tested every facet of Jack’s deep-set blue eyes; from depth perception (he has none) to distance (he can’t see far) to something called amblyopia (his very lazy, I-want-to-sit-on-the-couch-all-day-and-eat-potato-chips left eye). As we neared town, Joe suggested we stop at the optometrist and have Jack pick out his new glasses.
“NO! No STOPPING!”
Quietly, Joe and I agreed to let it go for the night, to just let Jack relax and process the idea of eyewear.
And boy, did he process. Once we got home he raged and stormed and cried about the injustice of glasses for, oh, I don’t know, maybe a thousand hours. We tried to explain this was not his fault, he just needed a little help so he could see better out of both eyes. Frantic, he stomped around the kitchen and snatched books off of the counter to show us “I can SO read with both eyes! LOOK!”
Joe and I exchanged panicked whispers in the kitchen while Jack threw himself on the floor and rolled around in a frenzy. “Maybe we can tell him he won’t have to go to summer school if he wears his glasses,” Joe suggested furtively.
Bribery was my tactic. “No, I think maybe we should let him get a new Wii game or something.”
We enlisted ten-year old Joey—a newcomer to the world of glasses himself—to show Jack how great it was to see clearly. “Jack, Jack you will love it. You will see better,” Joey told his hysterical brother, using the shortened speech pattern he learned long ago to get his point across. No luck.
“I do not CARE! I do not NEED THEM!”
Exhausted, he finally started to wind down around 8:00. On the way to bed he made one last heartbreaking plea. “I just want to be normal,” he whimpered, drawing his weighted blanket up to his ears.
I wandered back downstairs, feeling despondent and hopeless like I always do after one of Jack’s marathon tantrums. I e-mailed his teacher to update her on the appointment and explained his resistance to glasses.
Anxious and restless, I hopped on Facebook to tool around, and I saw this message she posted, minutes after reading my e-mail:
“Riddle Brook friends……please wear glasses tomorrow if you don’t regularly do so. It is a for a great kiddo who might need some encouragement as he faces a new zig in his zag:)”
And my heart soared.
By 6:15 the next morning, Jack was standing over my bed chanting, “No glasses. No glasses. I will not wear GLASSES!”
As he munched his Cheerios I told him I thought the teachers had something funny planned, something to cheer him up, but he just griped, “I am not going to school today EITHER.” Grumpily, he trundled to the bus and stomped up the stairs without a look back.
All day, as I ran to Hannaford’s and picked up dry cleaning and bought stamps, I thought about Jack, worried he was lost to his inner world of anguish over eyewear. But just as the bus pulled up, I checked e-mail on my phone and saw this picture from his teacher:
Jack got off the bus and slumped the backseat of the van. “Okay, okay, okay,” he said, holding his tattered red backpack on his lap, “I will try my best. With these glasses.” And off we went to the optometrist’s, where he picked out an electric blue pair of spectacles without any prompting at all.
In the end, we didn’t have to resort to bribes and Wii games and summer school.
In the end, it took a group of teachers dusting off their glasses to help Jack zig and zag his way through unexpected change, to show him they understand him, they embrace him, they accept him and his autism. And for just a short time, they made my unusual son feel as though he belonged, as though he was normal.
This is the power of community.