Life lessons learned from taped-up glasses
I just got new glasses. They’re the biggest glasses I’ve had since the days when I had big glasses.
Back in elementary school, “the bigger the better” was the eyewear trend. While I wasn’t thrilled in the first place about having to wear glasses at age nine, this shy awkward kid discovered a sense of comfort hiding behind large lenses.
My grade four glasses were half the size of my round little face, with beige-ish rims that matched my scraggly blond-ish hair. They shielded me from the world, making me feel safe and smart, maybe even a little bit special. In a nerdy kind of way.
I wore them all the time – at home, to school, to gym class, even during recess. My mom used to tell me to take them off when I was playing, but I never listened. I’d wear them every day, rain or shine, riding bicycles or horses, playing tag or dodge ball. Oh how I loved my glasses!
I don’t recall when or how it happened, but one day, I broke them. Oh how I should have listened to my mother! My nine-year-old heart was as shattered as the broken glass I could no longer see through.
I was worried about telling my mom, because it was probably going to cost money to fix them – and money was something we didn’t have a lot of. To my surprise, she was very understanding. “Don’t worry,” she said, “You can get another pair.” Really? A whole new pair??
That was when I heard for the first time about something called ‘welfare’. Turns out we were so poor that my glasses were paid for by someone else. It wasn’t until years later I understood what the term welfare meant, and came to realize that many people needed it. Including my family.
I didn’t know it back then, but throughout elementary school, welfare was there to give my family a hand-up. They also gave me another pair of new glasses, to replace the broken ones. Except this time, the glasses weren’t nice. The ones I had were no longer available, and since the ‘welfare selection’ was limited, I didn’t have a choice. This time I got a big ugly pair with black rims. Oh how I hated them!
After crying all the way home from the eye doctor, I got a brilliant idea. I’ll break them! After all, I broke the first pair and got new ones. So if I break these ugly ones, maybe next time I’ll get some nicer ones. To a nine-year-old mind, the plan made perfect sense.
A few weeks later, I did the deed. I broke my glasses, this time on purpose. I remember riding home on the school bus happy as a clam, eager to reveal the damage to my mom. I was already thinking about the trip to the big city to pick out a beautiful new pair. Maybe we’d go on a Saturday, and go to Polo Park afterwards. We’d have lunch at Kresge’s, and I’d order a big plate of French fries. Aaahhh, a kid could dream.
What my nine-year-old brain failed to realize was that this time, I only cracked the frame. The lenses were still fine. So what did my mom say?? “That’s okay, we can tape those up.” Tape? Tape??? Yup, that’s exactly what she said.
Next thing I knew, she worked her motherly magic on the cracked frame – and not with nice clear tape either. Nope. She chose black electrical tape, because it would hold better.
There I was, stuck with big ugly black rims sporting a big black wad of electrical tape. Suddenly, my ugly glasses – without tape – didn’t seem so bad. Sadly, I realized that my big ugly glasses had actually been okay. I should have been happy.
I remember wearing those taped-up frames for the rest of the year, until I was able to get a new pair in grade five. Even though my new glasses also had black frames, they no longer had tape – and that was good enough for me.
I must have learned a lesson from that whole experience, because I don’t recall ever breaking my glasses again. From that day forward, I took good care of my glasses. And still do.
Today, in my adult life, I proudly own five pairs of glasses, and none of them are taped up. I’m also proud to say that none are as big as small saucers, or half the size of my face. But what I’m most proud of is the fact I bought and paid for every pair of glasses myself.
The days when my family was dependent upon something called welfare are long gone. Looking back, I’m grateful that welfare was there when we needed it. If it wasn’t, I honestly don’t know where I’d be today.
Canada’s social safety net allowed our single mother to provide for us, and raise us on the right path. Thanks to low-rental housing, when we moved from rural Manitoba to Winnipeg, we were able to live in a ‘good’ neighbourhood. If it wasn’t for the support we got, my siblings and I wouldn’t have had the chance to make something of ourselves one day.
I have a deep appreciation for the social safety net, because it really can give a hand-up to those who need it most.
Even something as simple as providing glasses to a nine-year-old kid can do wonders, just by giving them a clearer outlook on life.
In more ways than one.