When my son Miles was 5 he failed the vision test at his annual check-up. A trip to the pediatric ophthalmologist confirmed he had a lazy eye and 20/70 vision. This means what most people could see from 70 feet away, he needed to be 20 feet away from to be able to decipher. When we got home from the doctor that day, I explained he’d have to wear a patch over his right eye so that his left eye would get stronger.
“That’s because my left eye is my bad eye,” he said. “My right eye can see real good.”
My heart sank and swelled. My poor boy knew all along. Mom was playing catch-up.
He started wearing the eye patch shortly before the first day of kindergarten. For five hours a day he submitted to some level of torture. He couldn’t see the TV. He couldn’t play a video game or build with his beloved Legos without being overwhelmed with frustration. Every day when I picked him up from school, as soon as he got in his carseat I pulled out a new patch. He would start to cry. “No, I don’t want to. Please. Don’t make me.” And then we’d talk, he’d take a deep breath, and with courage that moved and inspired me he’d let me gently place the patch on his eye. His head often hung low. His lip sometimes quivered. But he acquiesced. After a while, I’d come with the patch and he’d groan but ask, “Can I put it on myself?” He did this every night through the madness that was rebuilding our lives after Hurricane Sandy. Considering how worn I was emotionally, he could have fought me on it and won. But I somehow found the strength to keep insisting, and he found the strength to keep doing.
This spring, my 9-year-old daughter Mira decided she wanted to start playing softball. I panicked. I knew that most girls around here start playing t-ball when they are barely out of diapers. She would be years behind her teammates. But she was only 9, and she should be able to try new things. And she shouldn’t have her mother’s anxiety, borne from my years of being the last person picked in gym class, of never playing a team sport myself, stop her. So I took her to practice and watched as she struggled with anxiety, shame and the frustration that she just couldn’t figure out how to hit that damn ball. I held her as she cried because the other girls were so much better than she was and they all knew each other so well. “I just feel so different,” she’d say. I always expected her to add, “I don’t want to play anymore.” She never did. Instead, she became more determined than ever to learn to field, to catch, to throw and, hopefully soon, to send that ball soaring into the outfield.
Today, nearly two years after first hearing of my son’s poor vision, his ophthalmologist delivered great news: His vision is now 20/25. And since it’s been a year since he’s had to wear a patch, that means his risk of regression is practically zero.
“Did you hear that?” I told Miles, translating for him what the doctor had just said. “It means all your hard work to make your eye stronger worked. All those days you wore that eye patch, every time you put it on when you didn’t want to, it helped your eyes get better.”
He smiled that bashful smirk that holds the pride that a 7-year-old boy now feels he needs to keep under wraps. I hugged him anyway and he hugged me back, tightly, his strong clutch the emotional substitute for the unbridled joy I know he felt.
Tonight my daughter’s team heads to the division softball playoffs. Her coach gently let me know that Mira will not be on the roster. As the weakest member of the team, she’ll be sitting on the bench during this important game. I asked Mira how she felt about that. She was sad about the prospect of being the only girl not on the field. But then I showed her this part of her coach’s message:
She has come so far from day one so I don’t want her to think I’m not proud of her determination! Love that kid!
Mira read that and started bouncing on her toes. Her eyes became misty and she hugged me. You’d think she’d just scored a winning run. But no — what she discovered might have been better. She learned that her hard work has been noticed. That sticking with something is worthwhile. She’s heading to the game tonight knowing she has one very important job: To cheer her team on.
“I have to yell and cheer as loud as I can Mom,” she said. And I couldn’t help but want to burst with joy and pride.
You read books about courageous people who have done amazing things, role models and icons who give you much to aspire to. But I’ve discovered, time and time again, that my real inspiration comes from the courage my kids summon in their journey toward adulthood. Every milestone comes with its own level of risk, from taking those first steps to stepping up to the mound and hoping, please, that this will be the time she hits that ball. Every achievement comes from putting in the effort, from learning to read to training a lazy eye to see clearly.
I’ve learned that my kids are my true heroes. As they continue their journey, I know the inspiration will only grow. That makes me so excited for the future — theirs as adults and mine as the parent who gets to watch it happen.
Epilogue: Mira did get to play two innings. At her first at-bat, she headed to the mound with bases loaded. My heart moved into my throat. Her stance was perfect. She was waiting for her pitch. It never came. Ball, ball, strike, ball, strike, ball… And she walked. In doing so, she brought a runner in. It was the only run scored by her team. When the game was over and the team was reeling from a devastating loss, I explained to her what she did. Her eyes brightened. “I can’t wait until next year,” she said. “I want to play the infield. I want to learn to pitch. I think I could be good at that.” I have no doubt she could. My lesson here? Grab onto that small thread of success and use it to propel you to the next challenge. Confidence is a muscle; it only grows with practice.