Last week my younger daughter and I had appointments with our optometrist. As we’d anticipated, she was very ready for glasses, and my prescription had changed. One thing I’d not anticipated was our doctor’s offer to put me in soft contacts. Two years ago, my twenty year run of wearing hard and rigid gas permeable contacts was brought to an abrupt end when we discovered damage to my corneas: a nasty little network of rapidly encroaching blood vessels that shouldn’t have been there, as well as some scarring. At the time, he expressed doubt that I’d ever wear contacts again. However, two years of healing seems to have brought my eyes to the point of tolerating soft contacts, although I’m told the scar tissue is likely permanent and will make my preferred rigid choice uncomfortable at best. So I’m pondering my options while wearing a “trial” pair of softies for a week or two to see how it goes.
New prescriptions mean new glasses, so after the appointment the girls and I headed to an optical shop. Here our eleven year-old was struck with pangs of unwelcome change as she watched her little sister and mom try on frames. At first she heartily approved her sister’s choice of pale metallic pink frames, but as we wandered around the store (the younger one wearing her frames “just to“see how they feel”), the older grew increasingly dissatisfied with the way the younger looked and began making comments: “I just don’t think they look like you.” “They just don’t look right.” “I don’t think I like them after all.” When I asked her opinion about a pair I tried on, she shook her head sadly. “You just don’t look like you, Mom,” she said. When pressed, she finally explained, “You look like a movie star or a teenager.” I resisted simultaneous urges to burst into laughter and to assault my own child (if you have children and a sense of humor, you understand perfectly; if you have children and no sense of humor, you are likely the sole caseload for one of your local social workers). After much gentle encouragement, she was finally able to say unhappily, “You just look more Mom-ish in your own glasses, and I like you to look Mom-ish. I don’t want you or [her sister] to change.”
I tried to reassure her, but I know how ineffective anything I had to say must have been. On the hour-long drive home, while the girls catnapped in the backseat, phrases from Gerard Manley Hopkins poem “Spring and Fall” ran through my head.
Spring and Fall
to a young child
Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, no spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
Some of us don’t deal as well with change as others. Change to us, whether it be new glasses or the changing of seasons or even new clothes (I used to hate shopping for new school clothes as a child; I wanted to wear my old ones forever!) reminds us that there is an end to the comfortable things we love. I understand that all endings are actually beginnings of new things ahead and as such should be celebrated. I think, though, that sometimes in our almost rabid pursuit of happiness, we don’t give ourselves and each other permission to mourn the little things, to acknowledge their importance to us, and express our grief, however transitory, before turning with a spirit scrubbed clean to face the beginning we’re now prepared to face, the past decisively behind us. The time needed, I suspect, will differ for each person.
I didn’t scold my daughter for making a fuss about nothing. I told her I understood, that I hate change, too. I told her it was ok to be sad. I told her that regardless of what her sister or I look like throughout our lives, her sister will always be her sister, I will always be her mother, and we will both always love her very much, even if she, herself, changes. These things, I assured her, are constants. Unwavering. Forever.
She’s seemed to be coming around, although each morning when I put in the contacts and lay aside the glasses, she lets me know which she prefers. Her tone has become matter-of-fact, though, not laced with longing. A good sign