I have a bad feeling on the way to the optometrist’s office and I am right. The Squirrel suffers from an eye condition that many premature babies get and after 3 months of glasses, nothing has changed. Aggressive patching. That’s the next step for treatment. We cover her right eye with a patch to give the left eye some “quality time.” This means 4 hours a day with little to no vision. I picture her bumping into furniture, her tears of frustration and even worse…that the patches won’t help and we’ll see a specialist who could diagnose eye disease, recommend surgery, etc. Luckily, a dear friend stated the obvious- “You and Lynn HAVE to get patches, too.” And just like that, all my fears were channeled into costume design and dramatic play. As it should be.
I dig through our Go Girls! costume bin and come up with enough eye patches, hooks, head scarves, and jewelry for the whole family. I run to the store for pirate treasure (i.e- a Frozen hair brush and Doc McStuffins tattoos) and draw a treasure map. I ask Lynn if she’s available to be a pirate from 2-3:00 and she clears her schedule. When the Squirrel comes home from school and sees the costume on her bed, she screams with excitement. We all get ready and within moments our living room is a pirate ship and we are adding “Matey!” to the end of every sentence.
I hold the Squirrel in my lap while Lynn reads The Patch. It’s about a little girl who also needs a patch and how she plays her way through it. I remind the Squirrel of what the doctor said the day before about helping her eye grow stronger. I show her the treasure map I made and how she can add one sticker to it for every hour she wears her patch. I show her the treasure chest of prizes and how she can choose one every time she gets 25 stickers. “I want to wear my patch now!” she says happily. I take a breath and slowly press her real, adhesive patch over her right eye.
The next few minutes break my heart. She is screaming and crying…”I can’t see! I can’t see!” She’s struggling to rip the patch off. She is terrified and sobbing. My wife and I just stare at each other wondering how the hell we are going to do this every single day for 4 hours.
Lynn is a genius. “We’re right here with you,” she says. “You are facing a challenge right now and you’ll get through it.” Our friend and colleague, Christine Carter, writes in her new book, The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work, about how our brains respond to the idea of “facing a challenge.” The language activates a courageous response and can interrupt the temptation to be overwhelmed by fear.
Within moments, the Squirrel is calm. We encourage her to notice the colors and shapes around her…to feel her toys and see if she can figure out which ones they are. We take the patch off for a while to hug and kiss and cheer her on. She gets to put a sticker on the treasure map.
Half an hour later, it’s time to try again. I expect a protest. Certainly, I would protest needing to wear a patch all day- just this fake pirate one is starting to make me nauseous. But my kid has a Ph.D. in resiliency. My kid is fierce. My kid has not given up in her life yet and this patch is just a patch. She literally screams in my face…”I AM READY FOR THIS CHALLENGE, MATEY!!!!!” and puts the patch on herself. We play pirates all afternoon.
Something tells me this kid is going to teach me a lot more about courage than I’m going to teach her.