Joco Diversions

Oh, say can I see? The eyeglasses journey, from youth to middle age

Seeing things clearly doesn’t always happen, even with the right prescription.
Seeing things clearly doesn’t always happen, even with the right prescription. Special to The Star

I wanted them so very badly.

I would look at kids who had them and think, “If I had those, I would be special, unique…noticed.”

Between the age of 9 through high school I really wanted to wear glasses. I thought they’d make my otherwise bland and ordinary face interesting. I wanted to whip them off to make a point; I wanted to dramatically push them up the bridge of my nose, I wanted them to make me look smarter than I was, but mostly I wanted to look in the mirror and not see my plain face.

I gave the wrong answers on vision tests; I squinted when my mother was in the room and I was reading, and I falsely claimed that I had headaches after looking at the classroom blackboard. These attempts faded as I went through college because, shocker! I started to like myself more and dared to think that I was cute as I was.

I did look at friends who wore glasses and revisited my childhood opinion. “Those look cool,” I thought. “I’d like some facial accessories.” But when post-college jobs didn’t offer vision insurance, I turned my attention, and finances, to more necessary matters.

Then I hit 33. My arms got shorter, print got smaller, and vision insurance does make a difference: I made an optometrist appointment.

I didn’t try to fake it like I had as a kid; truthfully, a competitive force made me strain to see the very bottom lines on the exam. The whole thing made me bit uncomfortable — did he really have to have his face so close to mine? How many lenses do I have to look through and remember if they were better or worse than the previous one?

Ultimately, he prescribed me glasses.

“Yes!” thought my inner 10-year-old. I get to fancy up my face. Even though hearing him suggest a bifocal hit my ego (am I really that old?) it didn’t dampen my excitement.

That’s when I realized I would rather shop for anything other than glasses. Tires? Sure, lemme get my handbag. Go through all the bolt bins at the hardware store to match one up? I’m on it. Follow my fishing obsessed kid into a tackle shop? Let’s go.

I tried on every pair I could, and none made my face fancy. Was my nose always that big? Was my face always this round? How many times do I have to ask the women around me “do these look good?” when I knew they didn’t? I may have walked in feeling cute and excited, but I walked out feeling ugly and disappointed.

Fast forward many years: I have fulfilled my childhood scheme for a wardrobe of glasses but that’s about the only cool thing that’s happened. I’ve sat on them and crushed them beyond repair; I’ve broken hinges and lost nosepads on vacations, and I’ve had to get special ones to use just when I’m on the computer.

The other day I washed a pair with cleaner and tissues three times before I realized that, no, the room isn’t foggy: There’s lotion in that there tissue.

10-year-old me coveting her friends’ glasses could never have predicted the truth of her eyeglass journey. Never believed that the only time she would have to push them up her nose is because they were slipping. In decades of wear I’ve only whipped them off because something splashed on the lenses or I had to fix my mascara.

Young Susan never would have realized that she is smart, special, unique and noticed not for what she wears but for who she is. I wish I could have given her magical glasses to see that.

Susan is a Kansas City based writer and podcaster. To listen to the women’s history podcasts that she co-hosts, or to read more of her work visit thehistorychicks.com or susanvollenweider.com.

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