(Published on Barista Kids on May 19th)

My older son came home from school a few weeks ago and said he had passed an eye test, given by the school nurse, with flying colors. So it naturally came as a shock to us, and him, to be told by his doctor at a regular medical checkup shortly afterwards, that he might be myopic.


My firstborn, just 10, has lost his perfect vision! Was my immediate reaction. But then I considered how common it is for people to wear glasses, the mind-boggling array of screens, books (avid readers may be more susceptible to near-sightedness), and books on screens, and the fact that my husband and I both had to wear specs as teenagers.

Well, the poor kid didn’t stand a chance.

I cracked my brain to recall my own experience as a teenager. I had my eyes tested, was fitted with a pair of thick, ugly, plastic framed glasses suitable for an ex-Convent girl, and voila! The beginning of clear sight and the end of what had been a promising social life for a 14-year-old with (and despite) a strict Catholic father.

Thereupon followed two years of denial, and hiding of the rotten things, only to come to my senses when I finally put them on and took a good, long look at the self-centered creature I’d picked as a boyfriend. Sense instantly returned, the spectacles took pride of place on the nose bridge, and I moved on, with clarity of vision and thought.

For the near-sighted, things have changed over the past few decades. Eye tests aren’t the simple headclamps-on, lens-in, lens-out read-the-letters tests they used to be. Having had a recent eye test myself, I knew that surprises awaited and my heart ached to see my son’s excitement and enthusiasm leading up to the opthalmologist appointment.

The eye doctor performed the drill of tests, from the one gauging visual acuity and pupil function, to muscle motility, visual fields, and the not-so-pleasant ophthalmoscopy through a dilated pupil. The aim is to enlarge the pupil to enable examination of the retina and the vitreous humor.

She basically had to hold him in a headlock and squeeze some (caustic) eyedrops onto his eyes. I watched helplessly as my light-sensitive offspring bravely bore the shock of the drops and unexpected head embrace. Of course by now his already-massive pupils were as large as his irises, and the poor child had to wait, resembling that cat in the Shrek films, for 15 minutes before his eyes could be examined.

Finally, the tests were done, and a verdict presented: Your child needs glasses, ma’am.

And so we embarked on the more enjoyable Part 2 of his journey to visual enlightenment: The Choosing of the Spectacles.

Having earlier scouted out a few local opticians, I recalled something I had read about one center in Upper Montclair, and made an appointment.

Yet another mini eye test to affirm the prescription, but for the next hour, my son got to try out any frames he liked. Our optical specialist, Sally Fokas, was friendly, patient, extremely engaging with my son, and helpful without being pushy. I was determined that he shouldn’t, like I was, be ashamed of his glasses and avoid wearing them to the detriment of his enjoyment of nature, the school blackboard, or, possibly very soon, girls.

What can I say? The lad has taste. His first picks were all adult glasses and rather spiffy ones (read, extremely expensive). I surreptitiously stashed them back on the shelf while our very lovely optician, Sally, picked out a few frames that would suit his face shape. He tried them on, got his brother and me to rate them on a scale of 10, and narrowed it down to his favorite – a simple, yet stylish pair with gray handles. Light and flexible. After discussions about the type of lens he needs (kids under 12 should preferably wear polycarbonate lenses that don’t shatter and are lightweight, several opticians said) and about antiglare coatings, a decision was made.

Sally, of Testa Opticians in Montclair, said it was important to let the child have a say in picking out the glasses. Having been on the other side of this equation, I concurred.

“If the parent makes a decision about a certain kind of frame and the child doesn’t like it, he or she may not wear them,” she said.

When picking out those frames, you could gently guide your child towards the ones that don’t stick out too much over the sides of their faces, or past the ears, find one that suits their face shape (oval faces take any shape, round may take a bigger frame) and isn’t too heavy. And before leaving the optician’s with a new pair, ensure that they fit comfortably on the bridge of the nose and over the ears.

Other considerations are cost (ask if your optician offers discounts, and shop around), color, weight, metal or plastic frame, flexibility, type of lens, types of lens coatings and a spare pair, just in case. If you’re off to the optician’s for the first time, here’s some helpful reading.

“Some kids come in here and pick out the biggest, darkest plastic frame they can find,” Sally said, while others veer naturally towards a frame that’s more commensurate with their faces.

In my son’s case, he picked a pair that, I’m grateful to say, doesn’t hide those deep, chocolatey pools of gooey sweetness that I fell in love with when he was born.

Is Your Child Near-Sighted? Some Signs to Look Out For:

-sitting too close to the TV
-squinting, leaning head sideways to look at something
-says he/she can’t see the blackboard at school
-can’t read license plates
-holds books too close to their faces
-underperforming at school if vision has been left uncorrected for a while

(Photos show my son age 10, at top, and 1, to the left ;))