Lasses with Glasses

(Lifted from Crazy in Suburbia, January 2006)

Ahh…the joys of being fortysomething. Forty-two plus some, actually.

For some time, I was vaguely aware that whenever I had to read the fine print on anything–pill bottles, contracts, the Visa card–I was squinting desperately, usually resorting to taking off my glasses, and eventually, complaining to all and sundry: why are they making the print smaller? Yes, it actually took me the better part of a year before I figured it out.

Even then, I stalled on achieving actual knowledge. I assumed that, clearly, I needed a new prescription: my current one predates several of my children. As a sleep-deprived mom with an inability to concentrate, my primary reading was newspapers, held at arm’s length in my lap, as I sat at the computer, monitoring my emails. It was some time before I became motivated enough to try an actual book, and discovered that I could only read it comfortably if I held it as far away as I held newspapers. But newspapers are big! I HAD to hold them that far out…to hold little tiny books at arm’s length…there they were all the way out there but, yes, I could in fact read them.

So, off I went to the optometrist’s on Saturday. I don’t know why, and have no interest in analyzing it, but I have a “thing” about optometrist’s. I hate having my eyes tested. Perhaps, it’s residual feelings from the old days when they would put those drops in your eyes and you had to stumble around for hours feeling slightly off from the rest of the world. Perhaps, it was my previous optometrist who was one of the most genuinely rude, abrasive people I have ever met (and I know people in showbusiness!). Perhaps, I’m just crazy. So, there I was, tense, miserable…and full of foreboding.

Apparently, in the time I took “off” from having my eyes checked, they’ve come up with some nifty new machines. I had to look through a hole at a cartoon image of a farm that went out of focus, back in, out again. Then, I had to move over to a machine where the optometrist stared through at my eyes and then–boom!–suddenly the central part popped out at me. With nerves long-gone, I jumped sky-high. Even without my glasses, I could see the look of astonishment the optometrist sent me. But really–you let some plastic object let fly at my eye…surely it makes sense that fight or flight would kick in. I’m just grateful that I didn’t actually scream.

Then, off I went to read the old number and letter charts…the classics never change. And the good news: my current prescription is actually just fine. My distance vision hasn’t changed one iota despite several pregnancies and a lack of eyetests. But the near vision…yes, he said the evil word, “Keiren, it’s time for bifocals.”

Could there be more frightening words? Several friends had pooh-poohed my concerns before I’d headed off for my appointment. Many had said that their own doctors had mentioned the “b” word, but said that they could wait for a few more years…one didn’t need to get them the minute one’s near vision started to falter. Most suggested that the age for getting bifocals was closer to forty-five not forty. Uh huh. Apparently, no one had told my optometrist.

Off I went to the ubiquitous Lenscrafters to see if there was any chance that I could end up with the only sexy bifocals available. After thirty minutes, it seemed that the only attractive frames I’d found were actually intended to be safety glasses: it wasn’t possible to put non-safety lenses in them. This could not be a good sign.

Having first worn glasses in the seventies, I’d been at the forefront of a revolution: when I got my first pair, all my friends were still in their wire John Lennon frames. There was I…in big ol’ plastic frames. Big as in bigger than the old plastic cats-eye frames. At the time, I was somewhat famous: everyone in the school knew the girl “who wears the big glasses”. To see them now, is to see what teeny, tiny little things they were. At the time though, there seemed to be only one possible nickname for me, and I in fact went through several years of being known as “Elton John”. It didn’t help that each time I needed a new pair of glasses, the styles became bigger and I was happy to pick the biggest frame every time. In fact my last pair of regular glasses were oversized Annie Hall’s in bright red. Upon seeing them, one of my co-workers proclaimed, “Poor you! Do you HAVE to wear them?”

I spent many years wearing contact lenses as my primary source of sight, but my glasses were always big. Big and bold. A couple of years ago, when my last pair of contacts split in half, I went to find glasses I could be seen in public in (very conscious of proclaiming co-workers). Every time my hands went near a big frame, the optician would shake his head and explain how I wanted a small, small frame. With eyes as bad as mine, I needed a little tiny frame to keep the curvature on the lenses down to try and eliminate the coke-bottle look.

So, there I was in the present-day, safety glasses frames in hand, stymied by the selection. There were many small, small frames…there were the old-fogey frames, and the “I want to pretend I’m twenty-one” frames. There were even some of the “trying to pretend it’s fashionable to wear these, but have you ever seen a supermodel in glasses?” frames. I could feel all my old vanity fears about glasses resurfacing.

The fears were not helped when I explained to the optician that my aim was something with a vague sense of fun to them…I tried to describe my current glasses (which I had unhelpfully left at home) which someone once described as “sexy librarian”. To me, the thing I love most about my current frames is that they look trendy–but not like I’m trying. When you’re over forty, that’s the aim. (The other aim is to not end up with the same frames as one’s teenaged son. At that point, just pierce your belly button and get a tattoo, because clearly you can’t accept that you’re a grownup). The optician brightened considerably: apparently the world of possible selections had just opened up. “Oh, you don’t mind something bold?” proclaimed she…and promptly handed me a pair of glasses I’m pretty sure Sophia Loren used to wear in the 80’s.

As I tried desperately to find some I liked (not easy when one has eyesight as bad as mine and can’t see what they look like on one’s face), I was eventually informed that I actually needed to look at bigger frames. Alas, more space is needed in which to “gently curve” the different presciptions for bifocals. Now, I was depressed.

But, no, it seemed I could become more so…for as I looked at various frames (eyeing the safety glasses with much longing) the optician confidently told me that I needed to look at quieter colours that would suit my “older skin”. Okay, could it get any worse? Not, it seemed, a good question to ask…for she took a quick glance at my prescription and yelped. “Oh…oh…this is going to be difficult.”

Eventually, to get on a subject I thought I could handle, I asked for a ballpark figure on the final tally. Well, the frames she kept handing me were $150-300, the lenses would be $475…wha-aa?


A lengthy discussion about the validity of Lenscrafters new “Scotchguard coating” which added a hundred dollar to the cost of the old lenses ensued. Sure I could get slightly cheaper lenses…which would have the “bifocal” line in them. But–vanity aside for the moment–I had some concerns as to how that would bother my vision. Things with my eyes make me sick…that sounds a bit odd, but I’m the person who can’t take a blurry spot on her glasses…it will make me queasy. I have to sit in the absolute back of a movie theatre or I’ll be nauseous in minutes. I can’t take spinning camera shots…I’m green instantly. If one of my children pops up suddenly in front of my eyes, my stomach spins. A line in the middle of my lens? Could not be good. And, yes, just knowing that I have a bifocal line in my lens would probably be enough to make me green. I was now beyond crushed. I was blind, old, and I was going to have to wear boring glasses that would cost me more than my mortgage.

I ran for home.

Now, Ty has his moments…and he does try his darndest to be loving and supportive when I have mine. But, truth tell, he does seem to love me as I am, think I’m wonderful as I am…so he is completely blind(sorry!) as to why I would be upset discovering that I’m old, blind and going to be wearing boring glasses. I tried to explain it to him…he tried to understand. But my vanity ran headfirst into his firm belief that I’m his beautiful wife. Damn!

Eventually, I tried a different office to see if I could get contact lenses for distance and reading glasses for near. This seemed a viable and happy option…given that I had temporarily blanked the idea that I would still need glasses for those times when I wasn’t wearing contacts. This happy idea lasted right up until I had to sit in front of more eye-examining machines. It took the optician quite some time to explain to me just how much damage I had done to my eyes the last time I regularly wore contacts. Apparently, if I were to wear contacts again, I would be heading down a road where I would eventually need corneal transplants!

Hmm…this was a pickle. Fear of glasses vs. fear of surgery. Vanity vs. sanity. Pretty much an age old dilemma really.

So, I miserably and unhappily looked at glasses. Boring, miserable, glasses. The optician desperately tried to find me something where I would look the slightest bit approving. Part of the trick was to make sure that I couldn’t see the pricetag. Misery really shouldn’t be so expensive. Eventually, I settled on the least miserable pair. My black mood of despair was slightly lifted on discovering that they were frames that came with clip-on sunglasses. No second pair to purchase! And dark lenses can hide the look of really ugly frames! When I sat miserable and blackly at the cash ready to pay up, she grabbed my hand and told me earnestly, “I really think you’ve made the right decision. Really.”

But I like contact lenses! If it’s a couple of years before I would need surgery…

So, sometime next week, I will pick up my first pair of bifocal glasses. A whole week to learn to deal with this massive disability…to acquire some sense of sangfroid. A whole week in which to learn to deal with the fact that I will never, ever have to worry about people mistaking me for nothing more than a pretty face. Sure it’s never happened…but it could have some day.

But then, no it could not…I have never had to worry about that–after all, I wear glasses, and everyone knows: girls who wear glasses are smart girls. posted by Keiren Smith @ Monday, January 16, 2006


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