Lorelei needs an eye patch. For just two hours a day, one of her impossibly bright blue eyes will be covered up in an effort to strengthen the other one. This seemingly tiny addition to my day has provided an eruption of lessons in empathy in me, but also in my young Lorelei.
"I'll wear it to camp! I think I'm ready!" she said yesterday as she climbed into my car with a teddy bear eye patch on her face. Along the way, I suggested we role play a bit, so she could practice explaining why she needs to wear an eye patch. She didn't want to. Her normally bold voice steadily decreased until it was just a whimper, and I could sense a trembling chin in my rear view mirror. As we approached her school on that first day of camp, she got a little weepy. "I don't know. I'm scared."
My maternal suggestion: "Take it off! You don't have to wear it right now." Avoidance is, after all, one option I like to employ in my own life...
So she did take it off before being whisked from my car in the unexpectedly short carpool line to her waiting math teacher. The eye patch fell to the bottom of my car, happily finding a place amidst Cheerios and snack bar wrappers and library hold cards.
Some hours later, we had a good discussion about standing out, on being different: The idea of it is so fun! Look at me, I'm different! But then she realized that standing out and being different does come at a price: having a whole lot of attention directed at you. Kids are curious. They will ask questions. You'll have their attention, all right. Ready or not, here it comes… Clearly Lorelei was not ready then. But she looked down at the bottom of the car and saw her teddy bear eye patch right where she had dropped it. She picked it up, finding it still sticky.
"I have to wear it for another hour, right, Mom? I think I'll do it at the library."
This time, she heeded my advice and practiced what she would say when someone would ask her. Just a few sentences, but having them ready in her back pocket gave a little more confidence to deal with her first day of going public with an attention-grabbing eye patch (did I mention sparkles decorated the space surrounding the teddy bears?).
We walked into the very familiar library, a place we go at least twice a week. As a book lover and book blogger they know me and my kids very, very well. After being there for about fifteen minutes, she whispered to me, "No one has said anything." I discreetly asked the head librarian to ask her about it. Daniella pretended to wander around the library until she just happened to arrive at the spot Lorelei was in and moved books around for a minute before looking down at my daughter.
"Lorelei! Hi there! What happened to your eye?"
Lorelei paused. She collected herself as I held my breath. Then she said, "I'm okay. My left eye isn't as strong as my right. I have to wear this eye patch two hours a day on my right eye so my left eye becomes as strong as my right." She responded just as confidently and bravely when another librarian asked about it on the way out (this one was not prompted by me, promise).
We have learned so much in the past few days about standing out, being unique, having empathy for others, having courage, learning to ask about something that's different about someone else, having the words to say before you actually need to say them. I'm humbled by the gratitude I feel for my three kids' health--we've been so amazingly lucky--but also so grateful to have this little opportunity to teach not just Lorelei but also Ben and Kiefer the definition of empathy.
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