Blind Spot

Ella Portrait 2009When my oldest daughter was around 14 months, she could “read” picture books. She’d hold the book out in front of her, turn the pages and recite the story word for word. So bright, we thought. By two and a half, she was extremely verbal and very smiley but didn’t seem able to hold eye contact for long. Typical for the age, we thought. At three she often came home from preschool with bumps and bruises. “She’s a little clumsy,” said the teacher. “Misses the chair when she goes to sit down.” Overly energetic, we thought.

Somewhere in the back of my brain, these little facts joined hands and circled up, but with a nine-month-old on my hip, I convinced myself there was really nothing much to worry about with my older one. I’d like to think that if it had been something more important, more drastic, I would have noticed it sooner. But I cannot guarantee that is the truth.

When I first held my firstborn, the ties that bind quietly threaded us together forever. I wept, conquered by an intoxicating mixture of relief and bliss and fear. How would I survive this life of overwhelming love and all the worry that comes with it? I tended toward the anxious, but I didn’t want to be that overbearing mother, the kind that frowned at every scratch and fretted over the timing of every milestone, the mom who hovered over homework and five daily servings of fruits and veggies. Whenever I felt that “what if?” twinge, I quietly calmed it away. After all, my daughter was right on course, a little ahead on some things even. She was fine – more than fine.

Wasn’t she?

At my younger daughter’s nine-month checkup, I asked the doctor to check my older girl too. She listened to her heart and her lungs, engaged her in chitchat, examined her ears and eyes. “Looks good,” she said. I took the doctor at her word. Choosing to believe her was like letting out a long slow breath I’d been holding for years.

But a few months later, I noticed my girl squinting – a lot. She’d always been light sensitive so her squinting wasn’t a new thing, but now I noticed it all the time. She squinted at the television. She squinted in search of me when I called her name. She squinted when we read books. I took her back to the doctor. “I think it’s her eyes,” I said. The doctor did a quick check and pronounced her “just fine.” This time, I didn’t believe her. I came back a few weeks later and insisted on a proper eye exam, the kind with a chart.

“We don’t usually do that until their five-year check up,” said the doctor.

“Okay, but can you do it anyway?” I asked.

Because my daughter couldn’t yet identify all the letters in the alphabet, they used a chart with symbols: a house, a star, a heart. She stood a few yards away from the chart, waiting, wondering. When the doctor pointed at the house, my girl squinted hard, then looked at me “Tree?” she asked hopefully. The doctor pointed at a different symbol. My daughter hesitated. “A shoe?” By the fifth try, it was clear that for my daughter, the world was a blur.

I was furious and devastated and heartbroken. Why hadn’t I seen it earlier? Why hadn’t I pressed the doctor sooner, trusted my instincts? In my determination to be a reasonable, rational mother, I’d pushed away the possibility of harm and hurt and less-than. Because my love could not bear that worry, I’d created my own blind spot.

The truth is, there is nothing rational about love. It cannot exist without the worry, the possibility of loss, yet we crave it anyway. This is what parenting asks of us: to dive into the deep blue sea of love, hold our breaths and go under, trusting we’ll make it to the surface and swim to shore.

A few weeks later, my daughter tried on her first pair of glasses. She looked at herself in the mirror, open-mouthed, wide-eyed, thrilled. It was the first time she’d ever seen herself clearly. Then she turned to me, searching my face with her big, blue eyes.

“Mama, you have freckles on your nose!”

From the moment they first come into the world, our children wrap themselves around our hearts squeezing equal amounts of love and worry out into our souls. We cannot know one without the other. Seeing my girl see me, my heart bloomed with that familiar maternal mix of relief and love, but this time without the fear. I blinked back my tears, ready to handle whatever worry this love would bring.

This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post. This week’s sentence is “When I think Epic Fail, I think…”

Your hosts: Kristi Campbell (Finding Ninee) and April Grant (Finding Favor). This week’s sentence thinker upper is Allie Smith (The LatchKey Mom).

26 thoughts on “Blind Spot

  1. This is a insightful story. My own mother had to speak up and push to get me the care I needed as a young child. It’s because of her that I was able to put on my glasses and see everything so much more clearly. Sounds like you are just as strong an advocate as your daughter’s mother as mine for me. A good mother realizes she can’t always be there to save her child from obstacles in the path. So that arming them to face those obstacles is the best thing a mother can do.

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    1. It’s good to know I’m not alone in missing the signs sometimes. Motherhood is such a big job, that it’s hard to keep track of it all, especially with multiple children. I’m always calling my three by different names and sometimes by the dog’s name!

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  2. Oh this is beautifully written. I ached for you and could so relate. Yes – we want to not be that mother who fusses over everything plus life gets in the mix. We do the best we can and when we come up short (in our eyes – sorry, no pun intended) it is gobsmacking. How did we miss it? Take heart. You are NOT alone. Your daughter is so blessed to have you as her mom. May she enjoy your freckles for decades to come.

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    1. Thanks so much Kelly. We think we have to be perfect, to know everything and be able to make all the obstacles disappear, but we can’t. Even though I know that rationally, it’s still hard to be forgiving. Your sweet words are very comforting.

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  3. What lovely writing. And your daughter is adorable. I’m sure she’ll always remember the day “she could see” — I don’t say that to make you feel bad. I just remember the day I wore my contacts to school the first time. I was like holy cow, the world is a place of defined shapes and distinct color. A mom of a friend of my oldest had her son’s eyes tested in grade school. His eyes were so poor she felt awful. She said the only way he must have been able to hit the ball in rec ball was that he timed it from when he heard it leaving the pitching machine. And it certainly didn’t hurt him. He went on to be Valedictorian of his class and give the commencement speech.

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    1. I will definitely always remember that day. It really was miraculous — for both of us. I did feel awful for a long time and still feel that twinge of guilt once in a while, but I know my girl is doing just great, glasses and all. Definitely a learning lesson. Thanks so much for stopping by Jamie.

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  4. Lisa: my little guy wound up needing glasses at a young age as well (also an early ready, not sure if that is related?). I drove him around town right after he put on the glasses for the first time and he was amazed at the transformation of the world around him. And yes, as parents we need to be effective advocates for our children. Doctors, teachers, counselors — they all have great ideas but they are not experts on our children. That’s our job, and it is an extremely important one. I’d so glad that you learned to trust yourself more as an expert on your kids!

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    1. It’s so amazing when they’re really seeing the world for the first time. It totally made me so happy and so sad at the same time. I still have to give myself the “you know what you’re doing” pep talk sometimes, but yes, I do trust myself to know what my kids needs. Thanks for reading Anna!

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  5. Yes, all of this.

    In my own little history, I will never forget my first day with glasses. The world was SO MUCH MORE AMAZING. The colors. The tree outside our house. The chalkboard – who knew?

    And from the momma standpoint. Yeah, sometimes we have to ask again, eh?

    Lovely.

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    1. I’m so glad I pressed and finally figured out what was going on. I often think “oh my poor first born” because they’re really our test runs for motherhood. Thanks so much for reading 🙂

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  6. Lisa this was so beautifully written and I could relate on many levels (I have a son with special needs). This line says it all, “The truth is, there is nothing rational about love.” You didn’t fail, the system failed you – but your mommy gut wouldn’t let it go. That’s a win!

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  7. Remember this so well Lisa… you’ve written about it so beautifully. And glasses always suited Ella… always loved her frames :). Love and hugs to all xxx

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    1. Thanks so much Dianne 🙂 Writing about it brought me right back to that time, like it was yesterday. Then I look at Ella, now with contacts! and wonder where that little girl has gone. Hugs to you too!

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  8. This was a beautifully written story. It brought tears to my eyes that she saw freckles on your nose. Awww! I hate to hear stories about doctors being dismissive. I’m glad you persisted on that eye exam.

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    1. Thanks Kenya. The whole experience really taught me to be a better advocate for my kids and to trust myself more, even though accepting the worry that comes with that trust can be overwhelming for me at times.

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  9. This is beautiful and so well written. I, too, believed the doctors when they told me that my son’s lack of language was okay. I waited and I hoped and I was wrong to do so because I was right all along – his language was NOT where it needed to be. He was developing slowly but because he was meeting other milestones, I didn’t see what was in front of me. Thank you so much for sharing such a heartfelt story with Finish the Sentence!!! I’m so glad that you joined and that I read this tonight.

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    1. Kristi, I was SO thinking of you when I wrote this, wondering what your experience with Tucker was like. There are those moments in motherhood when we just know we need to ask more questions, be advocates for our kids, but something — the belief that we’re no expert? — holds us back, tells us not to worry. But we ARE the experts, we DO know when it comes to our kids. We shouldn’t blow off the worry, but believe that our love will give us a voice to meet that worry with strength. Thanks so much for reading. xx

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      1. I had to come back and read this. It feels so long ago that you wrote it but also like yesterday. Time’s funny that way, huh? And yeah, I do think all parents want to believe that their children are fine and work to believe what we don’t want to know, you know? xoxo

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  10. I vividly remember that conversation about E’s eyesight. Gosh. Was that really 9 years ago? She’s the same and totally different all at the same time. My fave (girl) tween ever! And um, you have freckles on your nose? Will have to closely examine ;).
    Nothing rational about love – you know it. It’s awesome. Love you both xoxo

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    1. I read that piece Kim and loved it. Actually, I think it was reading your piece that brought up the old feelings around my daughter’s eyesight. It took me nine years to write about it so thanks for the inspiration!

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