“He has your eyes,” the nurse said, smiling admiringly as she placed my freshly bundled newborn son back into my arms, his skin pinking in the light. I beamed, pride swelling within me. I had secretly hoped he would.
My eyes have always been my favorite physical feature. Growing up, I did not escape the common body insecurities that often plague young women, but I always felt proud of my eyes. I loved that I shared them with my dad, blue and kind.
As I watched my baby grow, I marveled at the way his eyes sparkled blue, the way they disappeared and formed tiny crescents when he smiled.
Strangers in the grocery store checkout line often commented on our resemblance. “He has your eyes,” they would say. And once again, my heart would swell. After several miscarriages and months of infertility, I had often wondered if I would ever get to experience what it feels like to see parts of myself reflected in a tiny human that I’d be blessed enough to love.
But there he was. And he had my eyes.
Six months into his fresh new life, we sat in the doctor’s office, waiting for his scheduled check-up. It was news to me that a routine eye exam would be part of this appointment. I tried to remain calm, but I found it difficult to relax as James stared at a screen with probes on his head. I tried to read encouragement on the technician’s face but I could only sense she was hoping to see something different.
“It might be nothing … but it appears that one eye is working harder than the other. He failed his vision test,” she said.
I stared at her as shame washed over me and my heart went double-time with fear.
He has my eyes.
You see, while I have always loved the way my eyes look, I have struggled to accept the way they function. I’ve had extremely poor vision ever since I can remember. But it was not until I tried to learn to read that others became aware of my condition. I knew how to read and recognized the words when my eyes were fresh to the task. But as I grew weary and my ability to focus waned, the words became unrecognizable—a source of frustration for both my five-year-old self and those who tried to teach me.
I did everything I could to avoid having to wear glasses. During routine eye exams, I would quickly memorize the vision chart in order to get the answers correct. For better and for worse, my mind remained much sharper than my vision.
My first grade teacher was the first one to suggest glasses. Squinting at the blackboard from my seat in the front row gave me away. As if being the new girl at my school wasn’t enough to draw attention to myself, I now had to wear enormous magnifying glasses that never seemed to stay in the right spot on the bridge of my nose.
I hated wearing glasses. Before the “Clark Kent” look was cool and before glasses were a fashionable accessory, I wore thick, round-rimmed spectacles that consumed half my face and made me look like an owl (to put it generously).
How was it possible that an accessory designed to help me see, made it difficult for people to see me?
How was it possible that glasses made me feel invisible and exposed at the same time?
At age six, my poor vision and the glasses that followed became my particular symbol of rejection, shame, and a lack of belonging.
While I knew vision problems were minor in comparison to other hardships many children and parents endure, I desperately wanted to protect my son from the feelings I experienced as a result of my own vision impairment. It wasn’t his vision or even the possibility of having to wear glasses that I was afraid of. At the heart of my pain was the fear that my son would struggle to see himself the way I see him—to love himself the way I do.
As I held him in the doctor’s office, his squishy body relaxing into my own, I reminded myself there was no piece of news the doctors could give me that would change the eyes and heart I had for my son, and that part of the honor of being his mama is teaching him to see and love himself in the same way. As a human being, he will be no stranger to disappointment, heartache, and rejection. Perhaps my job is not to do the impossible in protecting him from life, but in preparing him for life by helping him to know his value in any circumstance.
I was thrilled when his eyes looked like mine. I was worried when we learned his eyes probably function like mine. But now I find myself praying my son would have eyes to see himself the way I see him: lovable, worthy, unique.
My hope for my son extends beyond his external vision. I want him to be able to see what’s in front of him, and I also want him to see value inside himself.
He has my eyes. And I pray he shares the eyes I will forever and always have for him.
Guest post written by Nicole Zasowski. Nicole is a writer, speaker, and licensed marriage and family therapist in Connecticut where she lives with her husband, Jimmy and her son, James. As a writer, she enjoys weaving her professional expertise with her personal experience to talk about the pain and joy in life and everything in between. Her first book will hit shelves in January 2020! Connect with Nicole on her website or on Instagram.
Photo by Lottie Caiella.