Friday, December 30, 2011

The Pirate Outing

I was so surprised and touched by all the thoughtful and encouraging responses to my last post that I went back and read it again. And as I was reading, I realized I did know why I cared so much what people thought of Milo and his pirate eyes. Somehow, I still think Milo and I are the same person. Is this true of all mothers? You give birth to your baby, but a crucial part of them remains a crucial part of you? Or am I just romanticizing? I did not want to be the mother who misplaced her own life goals and ambitions onto her children, but I see in some ways I already am that mother, so entangled is my identity with Milo's. This might not be so bad if I were not also a perfectionist. Not the useful type either. I am the type desperate to be seen as utterly competent in every way. I need to exceed expectations and be showered with validating compliments. I cling to a reputation I've created for myself in my head. I have the strongest work ethic. I am the most reliable. I can juggle 14 balls at once, and keep a clean house as well. While sometimes true, these are all illusions of the most damaging kind. Remember that line I quoted in yesterday's post: "save your loved ones from the cruelty of your own impossible standards and your hard-hearted disappointment."

Right. So the thing I realized as I was re-reading yesterday's post was this: I am totally making this about me. Ew. But true. I can make a compelling argument that I simply don't want Milo to have the negative experiences that came from growing up with this eye condition. And this is certainly true, but not the whole story.  I can also explain that I have yet to take him out in public wearing an eye patch because I don't want to subject him to the uncomfortable stares and comments, but who am I kidding? As another line in this book gently reminds me, "At this age, your child doesn't have the kind of ruminating, obsessive mind that you have (pg 71)... We live fiercely fortified by the illusion of inalienable rights, among them the right to perfection...[we divide the world into] the good and bad, the better and worse...the perfect and imperfect...the flower and the weed...the you and me.  The world, of course, does not really divide that way, only our egocentric views do. By good, we mean good for me. By wrong, we mean wrong to me. Ask your child to distinguish between a daisy and a dandelion to see that there is no distinction at all." (pg 76)

While it is true that I want the best for Milo, it is also true that I desperately want Milo to be the best, smartest, most perfect and admired baby of all babies. Because, you know, that would say a lot about me.

Meanwhile, Milo, right now, is fine. He is more than fine. He is the happiest baby I've known. As far as I can tell, he is utterly unfazed by this eye condition he may or may not have. He does not notice the looks people give him when his eyes are askew. In fact, I'm not even sure that people do give him such looks, or even notice that his eyes are askew. What I do know is that I watch people as we walk by and Milo causes a ripple effect. I'm not kidding. He's that cute. He leaves a wake of people who turn and look at him as they walk by. They ooh and ahh and come to see and touch and fawn. They call over their colleagues to come and look. Not one has noticed or asked about his turned-in eye. Even his glasses have elicited only high-pitched compliments of cuteness.

This is what I know for sure: Milo is not the least bit worried that kids are going to make fun of him in kindergarten. He will never remember wearing a pirate patch, except in the memories we re-tell to him in the story of his life. He dislikes having the patch and glasses put on, but he is willing to move past that. He is sitting in front of me, waiting for me to mimic his smacking lips. That is all.

I am the one who is obsessing, creating the "problems" from the "trouble." I am keeping us indoors during patch hours. I am worried that he won't like reading and thus won't like school and won't be successful and holy shit. My kid's only six months old and I've already decided his whole life is doomed. Which will clearly reflect poorly on me as a parent.

It's absolutely still true that I only want what's best for him. I just need to learn to stop pretending that I know how every tomorrow will unfold as a result of today and focus on what's best for him right now. In this moment.

Which is clearly some tongue-clucking and lip-smacking. That's all. I just need to be here with him. That's really all he needs and wants from me. And it's so simple to give to him. And so selfish not to.

And beyond all this is another truth (from page 100): my child will learn nearly everything by watching, hearing, and imitating me. If I want my child to learn to handle difficult emotions and overcome fears, I'll have to do likewise. If I want Milo to feel comfortable in his own skin, look straight at the camera without squinting his weak eye to activate his "good" eye, and to bravely meet the gazes of curious strangers dead-on...he will learn that from watching me. Well, okay, not yet. Because I don't do that yet. But, like my friend Meryl said...we get the kid we need. I now have all the inspiration and motivation in the world to, at the very least, put on a brave face and fake it. Because the last thing I want is to teach my son to feel less than, to hide from the camera, to stay inside when he's not looking his best.

You know, as I'm typing all of this, I'm realizing this isn't the first time I've had this epiphany. I live in a dorm full of 28 teenage girls. And time and time again, I've had to stop myself from making self-deprecating remarks about my body. I've had to reach for "being healthy" instead of "losing weight." I've forced myself not to fix my hair and put on contacts before opening my door in the morning. I come to dorm meetings in my pajamas. Not because it is comfortable--although it is--but because I want these girls to live with a real woman, one with frizzy hair and all, so that they get a quiet message that they can do the same. If not today, in high school, then one day. They can revel in their messy hair and naked face and mismatched socks and talk about their geeky days with fond affection for their former selves. They can snort when they laugh and laugh until they pee and open themselves up to know and be known.

But none of that has been hard for me, truthfully. Because I was never the popular, pretty girl. I somehow came to terms with that long ago. But my eyes? I can't quite say I've come to terms with them, although we've been on more friendly terms the last few years or so.

Pretty is subjective. Crossed eyes are not.

So yes, I think we get the kids we need. And yes, it seems more important now than ever before to have some perspective and some confidence and some balls. Because that's what I want my son to see and to learn and to mimic.

And so yes, my little Pirate and I ventured out running errands today, patch and all. And would you believe that was the highlight of the day?!

I had gotten a Christmas gift that I wanted to exchange for a different size, and so I patched and bundled Milo up set out on our adventure. On the way downstairs, I ran into my neighbor and her two-year-old son. My neighbor saw Milo wearing his glasses for the first time and exclaimed how cute they were. I don't think she even noticed the patch before she called her son over to admire Milo's glasses and how cute he looked in them. Her son, of course, saw the patch right away, about the same time she did, and asked what it was. She hesitated, and I explained that Milo was wearing a pirate patch to help make his other eye grow stronger. She acted like that was perfectly normal, a pirate patch. Of course. Her son nodded and smiled and checked it out and went back to being a rescue robot, cape a-swirling.

Milo and I went off toward a mall where the store I needed was located. I navigated the traffic and the parking garage. (You know how I feel about parking garages.) I even stopped to use google on my phone to make sure the store was, in fact, in that mall. I unpacked the stroller, the diaper bag, the car seat and baby, the water bottle, and the item I was returning and noted my parking level before heading to the elevator. Upon entering the mall, I could not, for the life of me, find a store directory so I wandered around two different floors before I gave in and asked for help. I went up to a cashier behind a register in one of the stores, and thought fleetingly about pulling the stroller alongside the counter in such a way as to showcase Milo's unpatched eye. But I didn't. The nice woman behind the counter told me apologetically that the store I needed was actually in the mall across the street. Of course. Incidentally, she didn't seem to notice Milo or his pirate patch. So I headed back down the elevator and found myself with several fellow passengers. I was acutely aware of Milo's patch. I felt protective and reached forward to adjust the sunshade a bit. I angled the stroller just so. I caught myself and put it back. I furtively looked to see if anyone was looking at him funny. Maybe one woman was. It was hard to tell. I was so absorbed that I got off on the wrong level. So I got another chance to ride the elevator and check out people checking out Milo. One woman made appreciative noises in his direction. Another looked mildly curious.

I got off on the wrong level again. Bewildered, I looked around. I was sure this one was right. I got back on the elevator and noticed the color coding of the buttons. Thank god for my visual memory at least. I was certain I was parked on the green level, no matter that it was B and not the E I thought it was. Which incidentally didn't exist anyway, since the garage only went to D.

So I got back in the car, drove across the street, got everything out again, and went in the other mall. I finally found the store I was looking for on the second floor (of course) and stopped a saleslady to ask about the item, and she went off to see if she could find it in the store for me. I admired this and that as I wandered around the store. I noticed that although there weren't the usual ripples of Milo adoration, there also weren't a lot of judgmental stares or curious questions. Most importantly, Milo was babbling and smiling as per usual. He smacked his lips at me. I clucked my tongue at him. He was satisfied. I was cautiously optimistic.

Of course, then the saleslady returned to tell me the item was from an outlet store and I'd have to return it to an outlet. But also that without a gift receipt, all they were likely to do was mail a store credit to my home address. Seriously? Even though I just wanted an exchange and even though it's the annual after-Christmas return season? And even though I drove to two malls with a PIRATE and wasted my whole day just to get ONE FREAKING ERRAND CROSSED OFF MY LIST?

But then Milo started rubbing his eyes in that cute way that signals nap time. He'd been wearing the patch IN PUBLIC for two hours.

And we had been together.

Smacking lips and clucking tongues and smiling and babbling.

So I figure today went exactly as it needed to. Maybe I'll just donate that gift.

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