I have no memory of ever being without glasses. Spectacles are as much a part of me as my ears, nose and throat.
I was one of those kids who looked real cute and precocious at four years old, tooling around with glasses bigger than my face; was kind of nerdy in seventh grade, with glasses large enough to double as welding goggles; and bore a striking resemblance in college to a Russian revolutionary, as I wore the round specs that were all the rage back then.
Glasses were what I knew. I learned early in life how to put on a turtleneck sweater without bending them; play basketball without breaking them; and where to put them when I slept on the upper deck of a bunk bed in the army so that they were well within arm’s length at a millisecond’s notice. In later years, much to my kids’ chagrin and occasional embarrassment, I even learned how to swim with them (notice, only older folks swim with glasses).
I was never interested in contact lenses for a number of reasons. They were too expensive; I was always afraid of sticking a finger on my eyeball; I was pretty active in my youth and worried they would constantly pop out of my eyes, making the whole package even more expensive.
So I just stuck it out with the specs. Plus, I really liked how they left that red mark on the bridge of my nose.
And now, as I’m getting on in years, the need to slide the glasses down the nose to read, and then peer out over the top when addressed by someone, clothes me – at least in my mind – with an air of dignity. It’s my answer to a pipe.
I HAD, therefore, no patience or understanding whatsoever for my eldest son when – about 10 years ago – he came to The Wife and me and gently broached the idea of laser surgery on his eyes. This was a decade ago, when the whole procedure using laser technology to reshape the cornea and do away with glasses and contacts was in its infancy, and it all sounded crazy and futuristic. Braces were one thing, but zapping the eye to improve vision was something different altogether.
“You want to reshape your cornea using a laser?” I said to the lad. “You’ve watched too much Star Trek. Why don’t you just stare into the sun? What if it doesn’t work? What if you screw up your eyes? You only have two eyes, you know, you don’t want to mess around with them,” I said, sounding distinctly like my father.
And that was that.
The lad already had contact lenses, which for me was a great concession, because I saw even those as rather pointless and a sign of vanity.
I deemed it completely unnecessary, therefore, to spend thousands of shekels for a procedure I had never heard of; upon which few long-term studies had been conducted; and which I suspected he wanted partly because of the hope that this would help him get into a better (read: elite combat) unit in the army – something that was definitely not what I dreamed of for him.
Did I really want to do something that could help place my son more squarely in harm’s way? This, by the way, is a distinctly Israeli parental dilemma. Do you hope that one of your kid’s minor physical ailments keeps him away from the possibility of getting into an elite combat unit, something that will settle your nerves, but break his heart? Or do you hope the army answers his prayers, accepts his appeal to the medical board and raises his medical profile, making him eligible to try out for one of those units? The question – whether parents want what is good for themselves, or for their children – is a universal quandary, by no means a uniquely Israeli one. Folks in America have to deal with this all the time: in considering, for instance, whether they want their kids to take dream jobs in cities far away, or stay in less satisfying positions closer to home. But the dilemma seems so much weightier here, by virtue of the army being part of the equation.
“I don’t know whether to cry for joy for him or sorrow for us because he got what he wanted,” The Wife remarked recently, after the appeals of one of our boys to the medical board was accepted and his profile was raised.
WHEN THAT same youngster broached the idea of laser surgery a few months back, his request fell on more fertile ears than when my first child asked.
It’s not that his poetic description of being able to open his eyes in the morning and see, without fumbling around for glasses on a nightstand, had any real impact on me. Nor was I moved by his kvetching about the difficulty of seeing at the beach, or that he simply does not find glasses comfortable. If I managed to overcome all those hurdles without complaining, then so can he.
No, The Wife and I were more receptive this time because, first of all, we’ve mellowed regarding the medical profile issue in the army, realizing that if the boys get into the desired units they want, they will be happier, which will be better for them, the army and – ultimately – for us as well.
Secondly, he offered to pay for it – or at least for most of it.
And finally, the laser procedure has now been around long enough for there to be a positive track record. You don’t hear about people suddenly and inexplicably losing their eyesight as a result. This is not some rare and uncommon procedure. Rather, the office where I took the boy to get this done was like a factory. During the 15 minutes he was in the doctor’s chair getting his eyesight fixed, I – bespectacled – was in the waiting room counting the patients to figure out how much this guy was raking in.
That the Wife and I often succumb and are more liberal in parenting with our two younger kids than we ever were with the two older ones is the nature of child rearing. For instance, our oldest child was never allowed to drink Coke as a toddler; we were much more permissive when our youngest kid wanted some. Child No. 1 had an 11 p.m. curfew; the youngest son has to be back home no later than 2 a.m. Our oldest kids are both still busy putting contact lenses in their eyes; child No. 3 is now glasses-free.
With the first kid your instinct is to be super cautious, very protective. By the later ones, you inevitably loosen up. “It’s just the luck of the order,” I told our eldest child, who complained the other day that we did not allow him do half of what we let his younger siblings do.
He’s right, of course. But there is a limit. We ain’t lettin’ nobody get a motorcycle.
■ A collection of the writer’s Out There columns will be published in the spring.