Last week it was Charlie’s turn.
As luck would have it, on the morning of his appointment, all the kids talked me out of going to camp and none of my college-age sitters were available, flocked as they were to Bed, Bath and Beyond to buy extra-long twin sheets and plastic beer mugs and whatever it is freshmen bring to campus these days.
No big deal, I thought to myself. I’ll just take them all to the appointment and then we’ll head to the pool for some lunch and swimming. Awesome mom strikes again!
Around 10:30 I started the process of gathering my offspring. I compare this process to something called herding cats. As in trying to get them all to move obediently in one direction while they dart and scoot to the darkest recesses of the house.
(Note: I rarely say that phrase out loud because the few times I have, the person I was talking to thought I said hurting cats but I didn’t. I said herding cats. They did not herd me correctly. I would never hurt a cat. In fact, I would like to have a cat. But I can’t. Because Joe is allergic.)
Enough! Enough about cats! Sheesh, you people really know how to derail a good blog post.
Anyway, after much calling and corralling, I finally herded my children into the Red Hot Chili Pepper and off we went to the eye doctor.
We waited for a few minutes in the reception area full of tantalizing glass lenses and tall cases showcasing eyewear. After ten minutes of my whisper-screaming—and every mom knows what I mean by that phrase—things like stop touching the sunglasses and we will not go to the pool and you are not allowed to try those on, the nurse called Charlie’s name and lead us back to the exam room.
Let me set the stage for you. The room was longer than it was wide, with a large grey recliner about two-thirds of the way towards the back, facing a screen. There was a chair immediately to the left of the door, where I sat.
Wearing a Batman shirt, fifty-five pound four-year old Henry launched himself on my lap, producing an audible “ooof” when he landed. (The “ooof” came from me.)
Jack retreated to the corner opposite me, directly in the way of the opening door, so he could shriek and fuss and cover his ears whenever someone walked in or out.
Joey stood next to my seat, hovering over my left shoulder with a concerned expression on his face.
And Charlie—my middle child, my nervous-nellie, my anxious hypochondriac—sat in the leather exam chair, hands folded on his lap, legs crossed at the skinny ankles. He’d forgotten to put on socks.
Rose crouched in the corner behind Charlie, next to some white cabinetry and important-looking eye tools. She had somehow pilfered my cell phone from my purse and was hunched over the lit screen. I had no idea what she was looking at, but every few minutes she’d glance up long enough to offer a sympathetic, “Aww, poor Char-Char”.
Charlie started to read the letters on the eye chart while five other sets of eyes—mine included—watched intently.
Joey sucked in his breath when his dark-haired brother missed a letter. He leaned over and whispered in my ear, “He missed that one, that’s not good.”
From way in the back, Rose suggested in her patient teacher-voice, “Go slowly, Char-Char. Take your time!”
Then Jack added his part, ala Arnold Schwarzenegger: “I hope you don’t have to wear a patch. When were glasses invented.”
And throughout the entire chart-reading, Henry boomed, “That was the WETTER ‘B’, CHAWLIE! What WRONG wif you? B!”
As the buzzing noise of their disconnected chatter grew louder, my stomach began to tense in irritation.
The nurse left the room with an enthusiastic, “The doctor will be in shortly!” and I started to straighten up, to tighten my hold on Henry, to snap my fingers and shush their little voices. But a wave of fatigue washed over me, and instead I settled back in my chair, leaned my head against the wall, and closed my eyes. I was tired. Tired of shushing them and directing them and herding them.
I sat for a moment, listening to the cacophony of my children in the small exam room. It sounded like this:
“Mom he missed a letter I think his right side is a lazy eye patches are the worst I hope I need glasses ‘boy’ starts wif B Charlie you did a good job I can barely see out of my one eye I think I need glasses today it will be hot in Cupertino Charlie try to read it again maybe you’ll get it this time I want a snack sometimes my eye is blurry do they have cookies here Charlie you will be handsome in glasses SNACK I think I am going blind what is Daddy’s phone number”
With my arms clasped across Henry’s soft tummy, it occurred to me that although their dialogue seemed disconnected and unrelated, it was in fact quite meaningful. And sitting in the darkened room, all the brightly colored pieces of our family jigsaw puzzle began to fall into place, to make sense.
And I thought to myself: this is us, in a nutshell. Brotherly concern and tenderness and anxiety and hypochondria and family. All wrapped up at the eye doctor’s office.
Just then the doctor bustled in, looked over a few notes the nurse had made on the chart, and declared that Charlie’s vision was fine, just fine, and he would see us next year. I looked over at my seven-year old and saw his crestfallen expression, the disappointment on his face.
And then I herded them out.
On the walk to the car Charlie looked up to me and said, “Really, one of my eyes is blurry. I think I have a lazy eye.”
“Nope!” I told him cheerfully, taking his hand and swinging it. “You just have lazy legs.”
“Really?” He said worriedly, his brow furrowing. “Do you think we should go to a leg specialist?”
Oh, and later that night, I was sitting on the couch after the kids were asleep, and I looked at my cell phone and found these texts. Rose, in a nutshell.