Awhile back, I shared the story of discovering that our daughter Isla has a magic eye — one that turns inward whenever she’s not wearing her glasses. The medical term for it is Strabismus — as defined by medical professionals, it’s the term used for eyes that are not straight. When you have it, your eyes don’t focus on the same objects and the eye will either turn in, or turn out. The culprit is usually a muscle that’s not working properly, thus affecting the eye’s ability to focus correctly. Binocular vision allows the brain to receive images from both eyes, and puts them together to form one image; if the brain starts receiving a blurry (or different) image from one eye, then eventually the brain will stop paying attention to the blurry image and just use the good one. Brains are smart that way. Why choose fuzzy over clear? The bummer is that eventually this favouritism of the good eye over the bad may lead to the eye getting even weaker. Over time, this leads to issues with depth perception and left untreated, can even result in blindness in the weak eye. (Please note that I’m not an optometrist… I’m a mere mortal attempting to summarize what I’ve learned over the past few months.)
Since receiving Isla’s diagnosis almost two years ago, we’ve attempted a few things. She wears glasses to correct her vision — as soon as her glasses go on, both eyes are straight. As soon as those glasses get knocked off, the one eye turns inward almost immediately and she goes cross-eyed (Exhibit A). This is usually when she excitedly proclaims, “I see two Mommies!” which causes my heart to break in two. Lord knows seeing one of me is traumatic enough. To strengthen the weaker eye, we patch the good eye for two hours every day in an attempt to force the weaker eye to focus and gain strength. This pirate routine doesn’t always go down well. We usually try to do it when she’s here at home to avoid other kids teasing her about it. I don’t think anyone means any harm by shouting, “Hey, what’s that thing on your face?” however, it does make her feel self-conscious. I keep telling myself it’s not a big deal. And it isn’t. It’s just the thought of her getting teased about it “breaks my heart into infinity pieces.” (My six-year-old son’s new saying when he doesn’t get his way.) I get that kids will get teased… we all got teased for something, didn’t we? To a certain extent, it can result in good things; being the target on the playground forces you to develop other weaponry, such as a strong sense of humour. That, or really selective hearing. It also leads to choosing your friends wisely early on in life — real friends — the ones who deserve you.
We recently took her to see an eye specialist; after almost two years of patching, we have yet to see any marked improvements in her one eye. Our hopes were that they could do surgery on the eye muscle to straighten it as this is often the course of action that’s taken when the eye refuses to co-operate. On the way there, Isla asked me, “Mommy, can I stop wearing glasses after I see the doctor?” I responded, “I don’t know, honey. I do know that you’re pretty darn perfect either way.” I’m not going to lie… I walked into that appointment fully expecting that they would agree to fix her eye. I was not expecting to walk out in tears, attempting to swallow a mouthful of disappointment, frustration and fear. The specialist informed us that she did not recommend operating on Isla’s eye because her problem is due to an inner eye muscle, and that’s harder to correct. If they go in and alter the eye muscle, and it’s not done correctly, then the eye may overcompensate in the other direction. She added that eye muscle surgery does not correct the underlying problem, which is that the brain is not receiving proper images from both eyes. I then argued that a lot of people have had surgery on the eye and that it’s worked, so why wouldn’t she do it for Isla? She answered, “I don’t recommend it for her eye. If you keep patching for the next four years, then I think there’s a very good chance it should get better by the time she’s eight years old.” Sensing my imminent fall from grace, she went on to say, “This is the eye she’s been given. She’ll be fine.” As we shuffled out of her office, tears started pouring down my face. I slipped on my sunglasses, but not quite fast enough for my little detective. Isla turned her face up towards mine, scrunched up her wee nose to keep her glasses from falling down and said, “Why are you sad, Mommy? Are you sad because you miss Grandma? I miss Grandma, too.” God bless her. God. Bless. Her. In that moment when my faith should have been the strongest, I was at my weakest. I needed her to say that… I needed to know that she had already moved on. I needed her faith when mine wasn’t there. I needed her reminder of the blessings I already had, standing right there in front of me, when my only focus was on what I couldn’t make happen.
After the appointment, we headed back to Manitoba to resume our vacation out at the farm. As a special treat for Isla, my sister and my nieces got Isla’s favourite horse from the pasture so she could go for a ride. Seeing her with this massive beast, my palms got sweaty and my heart was beating wildly as I obsessed over her falling or getting kicked in the face. But her? She was in heaven (Exhibit B). Once again, my little four-year-old reminded me to grab hold of this life and squeeze every drop of good from it while we’re here. (Including hiding her glasses from Mommy.) She’s fearless — full of faith, power and a lust for life. Me? I’m more of a Doubting Thomas. Perhaps not the best example for my children, but I’m working on it. I have faith, although I often question and doubt outcomes that can’t be classified in black and white. I don’t do well in the land of should be and very good chance. This is how I’m wired. It’s also likely why I’ve already booked an appointment to see another specialist; he may very well tell me the exact same thing, but maybe by then I’ll be ready to believe it. In the meantime, I’m doing my best to let my faith carry me through while chanting, “This is the eye she’s been given. She’ll be fine.”
This Thanksgiving, rather than focusing on what we don’t have, let’s be grateful for what we do. Most importantly, cut yourself some slack when you fall on your face from time to time… if God had expected perfection, He would have sent us all out the chute with a cape. Instead, through His grace, let’s do the best with what we’ve been given. And we’ll be fine. †