This past fall, my mom and my sister both visited our home and individually shared that they had noticed that our 5-year-old son, Henry, was crossing his eyes. Yet I knew my kid better than anyone on this planet and looked at him countless times a day. How could I not have noticed if he was crossing his eyes?
Sure enough, I started to see it when he was at the dinner table, usually when he was deep in thought about something or tired after a long day.
I researched local pediatric ophthalmologists and finally got an appointment at Northwest Eye Clinic… for a few months out.
Long story short, we found out that he has alternating strabismus. Both eyes tend to cross on occasion and don’t focus properly in stereo. We first started by patching (covering one eye to force the other to regain strength). He recently got glasses to help him to focus easier, and we are praying daily over his eyesight. In his case, surgery for both eyes is what has now been recommended. (Which is another scary adventure yet to come).
The whole experience has not been easy for Henry. While the actual eye appointments weren’t that hard, having a five-year-old be responsible for keeping one eye covered for hours each day was a challenge. He’s not a fan of how it feels on his eye (whether the adhesive patches or the ones with straps). On his first day, he maturely lamented, “I know that I need to wear it, but I don’t want to!” Thankfully, he was still diligent in making sure that he meets the time constraints: “I want to take it off now, but are you sure that it’s time yet, Mom?”
We were completely unfamiliar with patching so the first few days were tough. But we soon reached out to others for ideas on how to make it as successful as possible moving forward. His auntie sent pictures and links to online communities of kids that wear eye patches in order to show him examples of others. She also reached out on Twitter and received overwhelming support for him from strangers across the U.S – all of which was read to him.
We learned of a kid who patched for years, and his parents suggested going in to talk with Henry’s classmates. I made an appointment and chatted with Henry’s teacher in advance of him going into school that next week. We decided that I would go in with him on his first day of wearing the patch to help him field any questions from his friends. Beforehand, we decided to role-play with some of the things that other kids might say. He really surprised us with how well he responded to the scenarios.
When it was time to visit his class, I didn’t have to say much of anything as he answered his classmates pretty well by himself. Hooray! And his sweet teacher had purchased an eye patch for every kid in the class so they could wear it that day and get a feel for what he was experiencing. She even found a book called Jacob’s Eye Patch and read it to the class at circle time. Parents of the other kids reached out to me later and said that their own kiddos got in the car that day and excitedly told them why they were wearing eye patches – “to support our friend!!” It makes me tear up thinking about it.
We have tried to make his experience as fun as we can. The adhesive eye patches come in a variety of really cool designs like a safari theme, camouflage, pirate ships, etc. For example, he could pretend that he was a soldier when he was wearing the camouflage. He also got to pick out whatever design and color of glasses that he wanted. His thoughtful dad bought him a bunch of doubloons and a spyglass from Amazon so he could complete the look of a pirate.
One of the silver linings of this whole experience is that it has given our son the opportunity to learn how to successfully be different. He has learned how to be confident in his differences. We would go out to the grocery store with his eye patch on and he would ask why the other kids (and adults!) were staring at him. So we talked about how they were probably just curious and what he could say to them to help inform them and break the awkwardness.
Henry also has learned about empathy for others who may have something “different” about them. We asked how he felt when people stared, and what he could do when he saw another friend with something unique in the future. I believe that wearing a patch (and glasses, too) is helping him to develop a lifelong understanding of others’ feelings and situations. He knows what it feels like to be the odd man out. While I wish he didn’t have to go through this right now, we are choosing to be grateful for both the character and compassion that it is helping to build in our strong son!
From what I understand, around 5% of kids will need to wear an eye patch at one point. Hopefully, our story is helpful to another family who patches someday!
Leah is a mom to three beautiful children (ages 5, 3, and 1), a wife to a great man, a seeker of Jesus, and a Minnesota transplant of 10+ years. Her favorite things include photography, adventuring, a good book in front of a fireplace, dates with her husband, and dancing parties with her kids. She and her husband make hosting and hospitality a priority, and she believes strongly in building community with others to survive the ups and downs of life together. She enjoys writing about all things marriage, parenting, faith, and friendship in her blog: dancingpartyfamily.com.