Is There Anything More Traumatic Than New Glasses When You’re A Kid?

giant nerd 2When I was in fourth grade I was riding in a car with my parents and brother, and pointed at the flat roof of a building that was visible from the road. “Look at all those birds!” I shouted.

Right away I knew I’d committed a tactical error. I didn’t know exactly what was going on, but saw how my parents reacted, and the look of concern they exchanged.

“You think those are birds?” my mother asked.

“They’re not?”

“No, they’re rocks. I think you might need glasses.”

What?! I was thrown into an instant state of panic. Glasses?? The thought of it chilled me to my skeleton. I couldn’t wear glasses to that jackal’s nest known as Dunbar Elementary. I’d be mocked and ridiculed, unmercifully. The mere thought of such a thing nearly caused me to spoil my Towncrafts. There was simply no way; it was outside the realm of possibilities. I’d be eaten alive.

And what the hell was wrong with me, anyway? Commenting on birds?? Who am I, Marlin Perkins? They’re everywhere. Was it really necessary to shout with excitement, because I thought I saw a few more? Am I special needs, and never realized it? “Pretty birdies! Pretty birdies!!”

In short order I was inside Dr. Stewart’s office, having an eye exam. And he gave me the bad news: I needed to start clamping corrective apparatus to my head. My mother looked at me with sympathy, but went ahead and ordered the glasses that would ruin my life, anyway. And I was plunged into darkness. Only two weeks to live… When those horrible things came back from the lab, my life was over.

They were wire-rimmed, and shockingly big. This was the 1970s, remember, when there was no such thing as subtlety.

But when Doc Stewart had me put them on in the office, I couldn’t believe how clear everything looked. I had no idea… The whole world was in sharp focus, and seemed to be brighter. It was amazing.

When I got home, and looked at myself in the mirror though, deep depression took hold. I looked like a goddamn freak. Inside my head I could already hear the cruel laughter. Hell, they might get whipped into a frenzy and stone me to death.

My mother told me I needed to start wearing my new glasses the next day at school. She told me people would probably comment on them for a couple of hours, and it would be over forever. It was no big deal, she assured me. But I knew the truth.

So, I didn’t wear them. I took them to school, but never put them on. I didn’t have the courage.

And somewhere along the line my mother figured it out. I don’t know how, but she knew I was lying about it. She assured me I’d be punished if I didn’t start wearing my glasses immediately. It’s a wonder I didn’t worry myself gray over that crap. It was death row-caliber stress.

And the next day I held a book in front of my face, slipped the glasses on for a split-second, and quickly returned them to their case. Nobody noticed, and I was able to tell my mom — without lying — that I’d worn my glasses at school. She bought it, and I repeated this ritual daily.

Then baseball season rolled around… My parents wanted me to wear my glasses while playing, but I wouldn’t do it. They didn’t understand, since everyone was surely used to them by now. What was the big deal?

Of course months had passed, and not a single person outside our house had actually seen me wearing those stupid-looking WWII Japanese soldier specs. I was in a bind.

There was yelling, and probably some crying, but I wouldn’t budge. There was no way I was wearing glasses while playing baseball. I was told I’d either wear them, or quit the team. I said fine, I’d turn in my uniform, and my mother flew off the handle. She’d had enough, and I was officially out of options.

Usually I rode my bike to practice, but she accompanied me on this day. And she sat there watching… enforcing. I had no choice but to take the field in my ridiculous Elton Johns. It felt like I was walking onstage at Carnegie Hall, under a bright spotlight, in front of an audience coiled and ready to mock. I was sincerely concerned I might pass out.

And nobody gave a shit. The end.

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  1. Jazzbone Swirly says

    I think I was prescribed glasses at around fourth grade as well. I didn’t start occasionally wearing them – and only while driving or playing golf – until I was about 21 or so. I started wearing glasses regularly at about the age of 26. I am merely near-sighted though. I don’t think I could ever use contacts. Seems like those would drive me a little crazy.

  2. Erica in Charlotte says

    I guffawed aloud at the ending of this story. (As opposed to silently guffawing?) Setting the scene for such a cruel and intense payoff – and surprise! Loved it.

    I’m approximately young middle-aged and just got my first pair of glasses. I had the same epiphany you did in the doctor’s office when they figured out the correct set of lenses. And I STILL won’t wear them outside my own office space at work, for the same childish reasons.

  3. I got my first glasses in fourth grade and I was such a little nerd by then that it didn’t even make a difference to how I looked or thought I looked. I remember leaving them at home by mistake several times at first, but I really did appreciate being able to distinguish individual leaves on trees and see cracks in the sidewalk.

    I switched over to contacts in junior high school and have been wearing them pretty much all the time ever since – until now, when I have had to face the fact that I can see a lot better with my glasses than with my contacts. At this age, if I want to be able to read the fine print on a menu or something, it’s either glasses glasses or reading glasses and I much prefer the former.

  4. My oldest daughter has glasses. She would “lose” them for the first few weeks. Then I let her pick out her own frames and all seems cool now.

  5. And now people (kids?) wear glasses and they don’t even need them.

    I went through such a thing myself around 1971-1977 or so.

    • Jazzbone Swirly says

      I know a guy that spent a short period of his younger adult life dressing like a coal miner.

  6. Neeeeeeeeeeeerd!

  7. madz1962 says

    I was 15 or 16 (1977? 78) and my first pair of glasses was the etch of death horrendously taunting pair of bifocals I was saddled with. As if those teens years weren’t gawky and stressful enough now I had to look like grandma moses to boot. No wonder why I hated everything about high school. I’m pretty sure I accidentally (wink wink) knocked them off my desk and they shattered.

  8. squawvalleyskip says

    I, too, got my first pair of glasses about fourth grade. And since I was already an outcast the cool kids (and even the less uncool uncool kids) didn’t seem to much give a shit. In those days contact lenses were pretty primitive, and I never liked the idea of sticking anything in my eyes anyway. The army gave me some of those black frame, nerd glasses. I never could get used to seeing that huge black outline in my field of vision, so after basic training I bought my own at the PX. Fast forward to my 40’s, when my wife and I were at some health fair thing for her work. I asked one of those laser docs about getting lasered. He asked what I did for a living and how long I’d worn glasses. When I told him since fourth grade, and was presently engaged in a career in heavy civil construction, he advised against it. He told me after being used to having something in front of my eyeballs for so long, I’d spend the rest of my life getting something in my eyes on an almost daily basis. Made sense to me. The wife has contacts, and I still can’t live with the idea of sticking my fingers in my eyes on a twice daily basis. I will say, though, that while they are a minor improvement at my age, bifocals aren’t really all they’re cracked up to be.

    • Phil Jett says

      Remember my first military pair in boot camp too…we called them BCDs. Birth Control Devices because no woman would screw a guy wearing those. First thing I did when I got out was swap back to my civilian glasses. I remember some guys wearing them for months. Once I got in Submarine duty we got free specs that were like John Lennon’s. Wore those style until Lasik ended all that.

  9. Lew in Bama says

    Fourth grade seems to be the tipping point for ‘I can’t read the chalkboard”.
    That was a rough year for me all around. Not only was I forced to get glasses, big ugly clear plastic glasses that covered 3/4 of my tiny little face, but I also got braces, and my first bra that same year.
    What the hell? As if glasses weren’t anough to be made fun of, they stick a mouth full of metal and boobs in the mix?!?! I don’t know how I survived.
    I wore glasses only when absolutely necessary up until my sophomore year of high school, when someone stole my purse with the god-awful glasses inside. I was then allowed to pick out newer cool frames (for the 90s) and then had to wear them non-stop or lose my drivers license. I HATED glasses!
    I got contacts mid-20’s, and finally got Lasik at 31. Best decision I ever made. I remember reading my alarm clock for the first time in 20 years, it was awesome.

    • Ron from PA says

      Jesus!!! They only other thing you needed in the 4th grade was for Locusts to swarm in your bedroom

      • Lew in Bama says

        Add to it the status of “new girl” with a strange accent…. dad in the military, we had just been stationed to Rhode Island…from South Carolina.
        Only now as an adult is my southern accent an asset, back then I was one heck of a freak-show.

  10. I got my glasses halfway through highschool. Didn’t bother me in the least, for now I had a handy set of safety glasses for the inevitable spitball fights that broke out seemingly everyday. Prior to the glasses I’d be squinting trying to keep the eyes safe, afterward, I could aim in clarity and not worry about getting stung in the eye. I always sat in the back, one day I noticed I couldn’t read the clock clearly and set the ball in motion.

  11. Glasses at 15, by which time I didn’t give a rat’s patoot about getting them. I needed to SEE, kiddoes! I knew it was time when I started seeing two of things when there should only be one (and having to pick which one to pay attention to!). Getting that issue resolved was totally worth any ridicule that might have been heaped on me. O’ course I picked out my OWN dang frames, which had to have made a difference – totally rad plastic-framed aviators with (hot!) gradient-tinted lenses. Oh yeah.

  12. I’ve been wearing glasses since I was six. It never even occurred to me that I might get taunted, and in fact there was only one remark at school, ever. It helped that I was always allowed to pick my own frames.

    And I won’t wear contacts; I’m not interested in sticking my fingers, or anything else, in my eyes. Besides, at this point I would need reading glasses anyway.

    Lasik? I hear that hardly anyone goes blind from it.

  13. Jersey Girl in Pa says

    Got glasses when I was six (cat eye glasses, I am told I was so happy to see, I kissed them). Contacts just in time for high school. Wore contacts for 30+ years but then the dreaded over 40 issue. Was wearing contacts with reading glasses. I finally gave up about 4 years ago and just get new frames ever year. Up to 3 pair of regular and one pair of sunglasses.

  14. Fifth grade. “Teacher, why are they writing the answers so small on the board?” “You can’t read the answers?” “No.” Quick trip to the Nurse’s office and a note to the parents – she needs to see an eye doctor. Like some others, I didn’t realize that there were individual leaves in a tree vs. a blob of green. And there are individual blades of grass. Wow!

    Fast forward 40 some years . . . I’ve done hard lenses, gas permeable lenses, and daily wear soft lenses. But I’m wearing the glasses more now and I’m finally going to have to have bifocals. I still do contacts with reading glasses but I don’t think I’ll be able to do that much longer.

    Lasik – not an option. My eyes are soooooo near-sighted that the procedure would have to be performed in stages. No thank you!

    Teasing only really happened in junior high. No one cared by high school.

  15. Not pertinent to the topic but I like bitching to you people

    You want to know why the medical industry is screwed up? Because nobody is responsible for a damn thing.

    My case:

    There is a bill out there against my name.
    I want to pay this bill. (This, by the way, is where every single person I deal with gets hung up. They insist that I mean I don’t want to pay the bill. They are wrong, I do want to pay the bill. If labor was done for me that I approved, I owe the money and want to pay for it. This fucks them all up real bad.)

    I must have two pieces of information to get this bill paid.
    1) What was done that I am paying for?
    2) Who did it so that I can pay them?

    Nobody has an answer to these questions.

    I voluntarily underwent a medical procedure.
    During that procedure, the doctor told the hospital to send some of my flesh to a pathology lab for some sort of testing.
    Then I get a bill from some fourth party for the pathology work.

    Before I pay the bill, I want to know the product that came from the parts of my body that were cut out and sent away. The hospital doesn’t know what was done because they were just a middle man delivering the sample. The pathologist can’t tell me what happened to my flesh because I’m not the doctor. The doctor can’t tell me what came of the test because they never received a report from the pathologist. I can’t tell the pathologist to send the report to the doctor because only the doctor can request the report. The doctor doesn’t know he needs to ask for the report because he doesn’t even know this is an issue because I’m just one of about 1000 people he has to deal with; and I can’t tell him to ask for the report because his notes said that when he was digging around my insides he saw nothing of concern and didn’t need any pathology work done.

    So, there is no proof that the work was done.

    Whatever, let’s just say I want to pay this bill and get it over with. So I’m being fleeced, whatever. I ask the billing company who I owe. They say is Sierra Vista Pathology or some shit. I knew that. I try to go to Sierra Vista pathology and pay them. They freak the fuck out. I might as well have been pointing a shotgun at their face. They told me there is absolutely no way I can pay them and I must go through the billing company. Fuck it, fine. I ask the billing company what is it I was paying for (again), and they said they didn’t know.

    What this shows me is that nobody wants the money bad enough to prove I owe it to them. Even with a little bit of proof. The billing company doesn’t really care about any of this, nor should they. I tell them that it is absurd to expect people to pay any and every bill that comes to their door. If that were the case, I would do nothing but send people bills for shit that can’t be proven and can’t be not proven and hope their dumb ass pays it.

    The billing company tries to play the “we’ll submit it to collections” card. I ask them what happens then. They say it will go against my credit.

    Is that all? Apparently.
    Well bring it bitch. I like nothing better than to spit golden plated hate at people who attempt to enforce policies without having any idea how they work. Credit is only important to people who need it. Guess who has a bunch of cash and neither wants nor needs your credit. Me, motherfucker. In fact, I despise credit.

    Let’s see what the collections people will do. I will ask them the same questions: What work was done and who did it?
    They will also not be able to prove that I owe money; and if they do, then it was well worth it.

    I want to give people the money they say I owe, but simply saying “You owe me money so give it to me.” and expecting me to give it to you is bullshit.

    • Holy Crap! That’s all waay screwed up!!

    • That was outstanding.

    • johnthebasket says

      Those test records belong to you. Under HIPAA law and guidelines, you have a right to look at any medical record that pertains to you. More relevantly, you, upon establishing your bona fides by providing your birthdate, SSN, and address to the lab, have a right to have the results sent to the doctor of your choice.

      Remember, everybody you talk to in this scenario makes a lot less money than you. Most likely, none of them are Rhodes Scholars, so patience in dealing with them will be useful.

      I’m dealing with a very different, but just as galling a medical records situation now. I’ve wanted to strangle the phone a few times. I know how you feel.


  16. My first pair of glasses acquired in the 5th grade, in 1976. They grew and grew through the 80s, reaching something Thomas Dolby would have envied. Luckily, my parents ran out of camera film shortly after I was born.

    • I put a link to the Jeff’s original on the Youtube page, so maybe it’ll draw some new traffic.

  17. glasses around the same time, Jeff. vision got worse as I got older and subsequent pairs got as thick as a filet mignon.

    Contacts now, wish for lasik but cant afford.

  18. I was in glasses by age 4. I had contacts throughout high school, but my eyes revolted in college and I developed granulomas inside my eyelids. It made contact wearing about as pleasant as using ground glass as eye drops. I used steroid eye drops for a solid month so that I could wear contacts on my wedding day, and I haven’t worn them since. Glasses make more sense for me as a nurse; my glasses have saved me several times from an eyeful of blood or amniotic fluid. I got the usual “four eyes” comments in school, but I lived through it. My little boy has been in glasses since age 2. He’s about to start kindergarten. More kids wear glasses now, it seems, so I think he’ll be fine.

  19. Second grade here. and I was legally blind after awhile without them. I could not avoid wearing them, and so began the era of “four eyes” for me. Ah, kids, how creative they were with their insults. Thinking about it now, how is that an insult? Having four eyes would be pretty damn cool, especially if I could move them all independently of one another and look at four things at once.

    • My understanding is that women, upon giving birth, develop a second pair of eyes which is mounted rear-facing. I could be wrong.

  20. I got glasses when I was 44 but only for reading. One day, after ordering from a menu I forgot to put them in my purse. I wa so shocked I could see the coleslaw that I continued to put them on every day, and I wear them every waking moment unless I am in the bath or washing my hair.

    I wore glasses later than anyone in my family, including parents, siblings or children. Now, I have cataracts, so glasses make little difference in my sight.

    In school I never thought kids wearing glasses looked nerdy or awful. I was just glad I did not need glasses because of the teasing. Plus, popular sayings such as “girls who wear glasses never get passes” struck fear in me. Of course, I know better now.

  21. The Kuban says

    I was preparing myself for some really horrendous torture at the hands of the other kids. Something that involved eating dirt clods and pummeling and broken specs, but the anti-climatic ending to that story had me rolling. I laugh/cried my way through the comments. Hilarious.

  22. When I got them in 9th grade the first thing I noticed was that stars were actually distinct point of light. Definitely saved my grades in the last 3 years of high school.