Yesterday, David and I were at the mall with Briana, and we went to the food court to get something to eat. The very kind family that ran the restaurant we decided on said “Oh, your daughter is so cute. But, oooooh. What happened to her eye, poor thing?”
Briana was wearing her eye patch.
This isn’t the first time someone has asked us why Briana is wearing the patch, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. David or I just explains she’s not hurt (which is what people are assuming), but she has a slight wandering eye and that we are using the patch to try to correct it without any other intervention.
David explained, and the kind woman behind the counter said, “Oh, I’m so sorry.” David moved right on past the whole thing and ordered our food. But I stepped away with Briana and went in search of a table. I wasn’t sure why, but the exchange had bothered me, and I was trying to step back from the situation and figure out why I had reacted the way I was reacting.
I found myself wanting to take Briana’s patch off, even though she’d only had it on for about 20 minutes, and she’s supposed to wear it for an hour a day. I even mentioned taking it off early when David came to the table. David said, “Nah, keep it on for another 20 minutes at least.”
Briana isn’t bothered by her eye patch at all. In fact, a couple of days ago, she found the box of eye patches in the kitchen and started trying to open it. She grew upset when I took the box and said “you already had your patch today, honey.” She wanted me to put another patch on her.
It took me until right before we got into bed that night to finally put my feelings into words and share them with David. “It makes me feel defensive. I hate that people think that there’s something wrong with her, and I hate that they feel sorry for her. And I really hate that even after we explain it’s nothing major, they say ‘oh, I’m so sorry.’ Like Briana is defective.”
David is a pretty straightforward sort of guy, so his response to my thoughts was pretty much “Who cares what anyone else thinks?”
And he’s right. I shouldn’t care. And I even told David that he was right. But I had more to say. “I’m more worried about my reaction to them than their reaction to her. I don’t want Briana to see me acting uncomfortable and think I’m embarrassed by her patch. I’m not embarrassed by her patch. I’m angry about people’s reaction to it. But I’m afraid she’ll pick up on my reaction and start not wanting to wear the patch when we leave the apartment.”
He understood that part better. He agreed we wouldn’t want that to happen. But he still couldn’t understand why it made me angry. He pointed out that if they don’t know how to react, “I’m sorry” is a generally acceptable social response. And again, he’s right. But it still makes me bristle.
My child is gorgeous. Plain and simple. There should never be a qualifier. “Oh, your baby is so cute. But what’s wrong with her eye?” She’s so pretty, but… That’s what I latch onto. As if she can’t be pretty because she’s wearing an eye patch. It may not be how they meant it at all, but that’s how it’s coming into my head and being processed. And it makes my heart ache, and it makes me want to take her patch off so that they can see there is no “but.” She’s simply beautiful.
I don’t know how I want people to react. I know they’re going to be curious. And I don’t mind explaining, I guess. I just want people to know that regardless of her need for an eyepatch, my daughter doesn’t need anyone’s sympathy. She’s a beautiful, smart, inquisitive, friendly, happy, amazing little girl. She shines, and I don’t want anyone to take her shine away, simply because of an eye patch.
So, if you ever run into someone who has a child with an eyepatch, or who is in a wheelchair, or who has a feeding tube, or is autistic, or who just looks a little different, just say “Oh, your child is beautiful.” Leave off the “but.” Leave off the question at all. You don’t need to satisfy your curiosity, and they don’t need your sympathy. They’re just like any other family – they want you to see their child shine.
Proud Mama of a Shining Little Girl