$Monday: Grant Her Your Clearness of Sight

If you have a daughter, you may recognize this excerpt from Neil Gaiman's picture book Blueberry Girl

Ladies of grace and ladies of favor and ladies of merciful night,
This is a prayer for a blueberry girl. Grant her your clearness of sight.
Words can be worrisome, people complex, motives and manners unclear,
Grant her the wisdom to choose her path right, free from unkindness and fear. 

This week, I took my daughter to the optometrist for her annual new pair of glasses. Unfortunately, she has inherited my severe myopia. Fortunately, she has access to comprehensive vision care, which has a huge return on investment (ROI) across the lifespan, allowing her to succeed academically. (America, maybe soon we can finally achieve comprehensive health, vision, and dental care for all children!) While I never would have chosen for my daughter to inherit my nearsightedness, there are always unique experiences available to those who perceive the world differently. My daughter receives the awe of clear sight over and over again with each new prescription, so she can never take that clarity for granted. There is something of value in that.

My daughter's myopia is progressing slower than mine did at her age, so obviously screen time isn't the cause of it--she sure gets a lot more of that than I did, back in my day when there were no mobile devices and I never went to months of online school. My childhood screen time consisted of Nickelodeon and Nintendo, presented on a television set a healthy distance away from my face. This year, my daughter's entire education and most of her social life take place on a Chromebook and an iPad. Instead of fussing about all of that during the pandemic of the century, I simply try to maximize her opportunities to play outside, where her eyes can focus on long distances and absorb beneficial amounts of natural sunlight. That seems to be working.

There are also differences, I've noticed, in optometrists' recommendations and treatments since I was a kid. Instead of pressuring us parents to restrict screen time and book reading, which is a complete lost cause at this point, we have been instructed to keep my daughter's old glasses for close-focus activities (computer class, mobile gaming, reading books) and only use her new glasses for when she needs to see things at a distance (going outside, watching a movie on a distant screen, someday returning to a real-life classroom with a teacher and a whiteboard at the front of the room). They tell me that stronger prescription lenses cause greater eye strain when focusing on near objects, so using a lower prescription for those tasks will protect my daughter's vision over time.

 
 
When I was young, I used to have recurring nightmares that I woke up in the morning and opened the drawer where I kept my contact lenses, and instead of seeing the tidily laid-out kit I expected, I found the drawer packed with a mess of contact lens cases. I opened each one and found a variety of different sets--some tinted different colors, some larger or smaller, and even some with different numbers of lenses in each case--just one, or three, or more. In these dreams, I would feel a rising panic about choosing the right set, and I'd wake up with a gasp.
 
So metaphorical!
 
Looking back, I realize that these dreams began at a point in my adolescence when I was becoming more aware of different perspectives and biases. I was starting to question the fundamentalist religious tradition I was raised in, and that was frightening because I had learned that adopting the wrong viewpoint could lead me into sin, shame, ruin, and eternal damnation. Expressing the wrong opinion or even asking the wrong question would be taken as a betrayal of what my family and church communities had told me to see and not see. Keeping my mouth shut wouldn't save me, either. Private doubts and confusions could be seen and judged by God as sin or weakness the moment they crossed my mind.

Boy do I understand cognitive dissonance and the deep need to adhere to a worldview that makes no sense at all. (It makes me fear for America but also gives me hope; if I could figure it out, others can too.)

I am raising my own daughter a lot differently, and I am pleased to witness that not only is her physical myopia less severe than mine was at her age, but she doesn't suffer from the same fears, shames, and confusions about forming her own worldview.

As a teenager, I found my way out of my psychological cloister, and I opened the door for my parents too, who have come such a long way that they have never attempted to indoctrinate my daughter, their only granddaughter, into a blind faith in bad men.

It hasn't been easy for us to let go of that training and those traditions that go back a thousand years or more, but it sure has made my daughter's life easier. And it has made it easier for me to be her mother. I don't ever worry that a demonic force will steal her soul or that her failure to adhere to a rigid set of rules and roles will bring eternal shame upon me. I don't believe in any of that stuff anymore. It has disappeared from my field of vision, making way for me to see the beauty of the complex, living, vibrant world of mystery and nuance. It has made room for me to fill with a true and genuine faith, not in a magical being that will protect my daughter from magical evil beings in exchange for a long list of weird medieval pacts, but in the whole goodness of my daughter's imperfect humanity and her ability to learn things I never could have taught her myself.

Let her go places that we’ve never been, trust and delight in her youth.

It is not my job to shield my daughter from seeing the world as it is. It is my job to provide her with the tools to correct her myopia, both physically and intellectually, and to teach her how to look, how to observe both critically and appreciatively, how to discern, how to read the printed word and how to read between the lines, how to analyze and interpret. How to investigate. How to develop an eye for truth and beauty.

To some, all of the above might sound like a difficult task. And it was for me, to teach myself all of those things, because I had to unlearn all the habits of dimming my own inner vision. But none of that is difficult with a fresh, new child who has never been indoctrinated or manipulated through shame and fear. 

Sometimes my daughter comes to me with questions about friendship or feelings or whether I think a video from TikTok is a hoax. She's never nervous or embarrassed or worried that I will find her question inappropriate or stupid. When I disagree with or correct her about something, she doesn't exhibit any signs of feeling ashamed of herself or defensive of her self-esteem; she appreciates learning from someone she trusts. She trusts me not only to tell her the truth as far as I understand it (or to help her investigate a question I don't know how to answer), she trusts in my unconditional love for her and faith in her learning process. She knows that she is loved and worthy, no matter how many pairs of new glasses she needs or whether she'll need braces or any other kind of correction or assistance, physical or otherwise. And that confidence allows her to love and explore courageously.

Sometimes I read advice column questions from magazines and newspapers out loud to my daughter, who is nine, and I ask her to answer the writer's question before reading the columnist's answer. Almost every time, she responds with advice nearly identical to the professional advice-giver's, in a "duh" voice. It's hilarious. Sometimes her advice is different but also precociously wise. And this wisdom comes effortlessly to her, because she feels loved, loves herself, and loves others with a sharp, interested curiosity. She is neither unkind nor overly polite, neither suspicious nor gullible. It's nice that she is book-smart and academically motivated, but even more importantly to me, she is wise. Nobody pees on her leg and convinces her it's raining. And yet, she is a good listener and compassionate observer of others. She sees herself and others through a lens of empathy that is not censored by blinders of doctrine nor smeared with the petroleum jelly of sentimentality. Her mind's eye notices everything. And that makes her an excellent daughter, student, friend, citizen, and self-advocate.

She learns from me, and I learn from her too. We train each other's gaze to see the world in different ways.

She knows that there is never only one "right" perspective on anything, though there are definitely wrong ones. While vision may need to be corrected, due to myopia or lazy eye or ignorance or delusion, there isn't anything threatening or immoral about observing something through multiple lenses or from different angles. She'd never trust anyone who told her there was. And she'd never have anxiety nightmares about her multiple pairs of glasses. I am proud and grateful for that.

Truth is a thing she must find for herself, precious and rare as a pearl.
Give her all these and a little bit more:
Gifts for a blueberry girl.

 May every American child be so blessed.

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