Watching my daughter Ivy evolve from a little girl to a precocious tween fills me with mixed emotions. Gifting her old toys to a toddler down the hall brings relief—never again will I search for a missing Barbie high-heel or battle the chaos of the American Girl store. Approving her iPad apps brings anxiety, as I know the complicated world of texting and social media is just around the corner. But for me, one of the biggest adjustments is watching Ivy’s style morph from a pattern and color-loving free spirit to a black-clad rocker.
Ivy’s changing style is more then just tossing out color and cartoon characters—it’s about fitting in instead of standing out, about looking cool instead of looking different. Her schoolyard is a sea of hip young girls, all wearing a similar unspoken uniform of dark leggings and high-tops. I’m sympathetic because I went through it too, exchanging my girly dresses for baggy jeans, but I never thought about how this transformation pertains to children’s eyewear. Until the other night, when Ivy asked me a simple question... “Mom, will I ever need to wear glasses?”
My answer: I said I couldn’t be sure, but if she needed glasses, we would pick out a really cool pair. Or two. Or three. She frowned and said she never wanted to wear glasses—they were nerdy and she wouldn’t look cool, and her best friend Sophia who wears glasses hates them. When I pointed out that Sophia looks adorable in her glasses, Ivy replied, “Mom, we don’t want to look adorable.”
With that, I flashed back to middle school, when I learned that I needed glasses. I cried on the bus, thinking the already difficult road to popularity was now officially blocked for me. My Mom took me for an eye exam and let me choose three (!) different frames—thank goodness my Mom was an early proponent of an eyewear wardrobe. First came my acceptance of glasses; loving them came later.
My younger self and my growing daughter illustrate the challenges in providing children with glasses. The idea that glasses are “nerdy” still exists with tweens and teens, who are anxious about fitting in. For kids wary of anything that sets them apart, a simple change like wearing glasses can cause anxiety. And then there’s the complicated play between how a parent envisions a child versus how a child wants to be seen. Parents often want their children to stay young forever and kids can’t wait to grow up. Looking “adorable” becomes an insult, but what’s “cool” to a kid is ever-changing and hard to define.
The good news is the range of styles available for all ages and tastes has skyrocketed. There are still frames festooned with cartoon characters for the younger patients, but children taking their style cues from older role models have plenty of options too. Inevitably, kids grow and change, but there’s no reason they can’t do it in great glasses.
• Iris Johnson