Saturday, January 26, 2008

Out on the Edge

Betsy’s been the eensiest bit testy the last few days.

A little friend who comes bearing hormones is about to visit, which is always good for making me want to slap anyone even remotely cheerful. And the month-long talent competition I’m co-chairing at Ben’s school is well underway, reminding me that the reason today’s kids don’t read is because their parents don’t read. “Are you aware that you’ve scheduled rehearsals the same week as cheerleader tryouts?” a mother asked one night this week, way past the time polite people have quit using the phone for the evening. As a matter of fact, I was. I was also aware that since said rehearsals were during the school day, when absolutely no cheerleader tryouts would be taking place, this wasn’t going to be a problem, a fact of which said mother also would have been cognizant had she read the copious amounts of information we’ve provided her and her multi-talented daughter these last few weeks.

Anyway, in retrospect, I guess this might not have been the best week to select new glasses frames. But I’m tired of not being able to see like I did as a minor. Talk about testy – being nearsighted, presbyopic, dry-eyed, and vain is a combination guaranteed to put one in a chronically foul mood. With my glasses off, I can’t see anything. With them on, I can’t see much. My doctor told me that even after laser surgery I'd still need reading glasses, which, as you 40-something readers undoubtedly have learned, actually means I'd need several pairs of reading glasses to account for phone books, regular books, computer screens, and the fact that reading glasses tend to end up in the same spot where socks escape to. (She also told me I have tiny cataracts, which is guaranteed to make a gal feel like she ought to start shopping for a Lil’ Rascal.) I’ve still got contacts, but after a few hours they start sticking like burnt cheese on the rim of a 9 x 13. New glasses with even-stronger progressive (i.e. bifocal that don't look like bifocal) lenses seemed the least unsatisfactory of an array of bad options. Besides, I’d been feeling vaguely unsettled about my eye wear since my sister suggested over the holidays that my glasses were both the wrong color and out of style.

As (I hope) readers with bad eyes know, one must never go glasses shopping alone. Who knows how many social lives have been tragically cut short by solitary eyewear-selection excursions? Back in the early 80s, on a day I was feeling feisty and independent, I acquired all by myself a pair of gigantic pink glasses that Elton John would have coveted. Only the intervention of a kind friend saved me from a life of Star Trek reruns, cat breeding, and eating Rocky Road alone.

Thursday, however, when I was ready to buy glasses, the only person available for consultation was Ben. This was not necessarily a bad thing. He’s the only man in this household who’s remotely fashion conscious; true, his taste tends toward mall stores that blare OSHA-infringing rock music and spew cologne through their air vents, but I’ve watched Project Runway with him, and he recognizes good lines. What’s more, he’s terrifically concerned with what I wear. He has studied the matter and determined that white is my best color; he’s thrilled when the pockets of my jeans bear designs that looks vaguely expensive. His ultimate compliment is “you’re looking very Fox Valley today.” A mom could do worse than have Ben serve as her eyewear consultant.

In taking the kids for eye appointments in recent months (guess who’s vision needs came last?), I’d spotted a comely pair of frames at a nearby optician’s, and it was to that office that we drove Thursday after Ben’s allergy shot. Despite my surly mood, I felt a bloom of cheer; this was going to be a quick trip. These frames were perfect; Ben would agree; I’d write a big check and we’d be home by 5.

We entered the store, and I made a beeline for the adorable frames. What luck! They were still there. I pulled off my old glasses, put on the new ones, turned to Ben, and smiled. “What do you think?”

“I think they make you look like a librarian.”



And how were you planning on getting home, son? It’s a long walk, and it sure is cold.

Actually, I’d love to be a librarian. It’s nice and quiet where they work, and they get to see all the new books fresh off the presses. But I don’t want to look like one – at least not the way a 14-year-old boy thinks of one. If my own flesh and blood thought I looked frumpy, what would the general public think? And that wasn’t the only reason I wanted Ben’s approval. I wanted this whole process to be quick and easy. I have a talent show to co-chair; I don’t have time to scour the countryside for glasses.

“What do you mean, a librarian? I think they’re cute.”

“I just think you need some that don’t make you look so old.”

What had ever made me think this child was adorable? Clearly he was a mouthy adolescent who needed to establish himself a college savings plan posthaste.

Ben could tell he’d touched a nerve. “It’s not that they look bad, Mom. I just think it would be better if you got some that were edgy.”

Has Ben looked at me lately? I wear low-heeled shoes and flannel pajamas and the occasional pair of elastic-waist pants. My idea of a thrilling evening is watching Jane Austen on Masterpiece Theatre. Edgy? I wish.

Clearly we needed the voice of reason. I asked one of the women who worked there, a gal around my age, for help.

She liked the frames, as well as several other pairs, all of which elicited the same librarian look from Ben. But though they weren’t on exactly the same page, they were simpatico on one thing: everything in the store was better than what I’ve been wearing.

“Let’s see,” she said. “How long have you been wearing those?” She pulled my file and searched for a date. “Goodness – four years. The styles have changed a lot.”

Since when did glasses become extinct after four years? My mother wore the same pair of cat eyes for most of my childhood. Of course I was embarrassed to be seen outside the house with her, but that was my own immaturity, not any fashion statement. And whose side was this lady on, anyway? After all, Ben had whispered to me that her glasses looked like a secretary’s.

“Well, I’ve really liked them,” I said defensively.

“Oh, they’re fine,” she said. “I’d just like to see you in a darker color. Something edgier.”

Great – just great. Now even the woman with secretary eyes was on the edgy bandwagon. Not only did this crew want me to look like something I’m not; they were both insinuating that I’d been walking around the last four years with glasses that made people think “I sure hope she’s got a great personality.” Had my sister set this whole thing up? It was like finding out I’ve had my skirt tucked in the back of my pantyhose for the greater part of George W.’s presidency.

The whole affair was enough to push my mood from foul to toxic. I said it was time to get home and I’d think about it. Ben and I engaged in a round of “you’re mad” – “no, I’m not” on the way home. I called Bob and told him I wasn’t cooking, and we all had nachos for dinner.

The next day I went glasses shopping alone. I know – I’ve already said that’s dangerous. But I was still nursing my vanity wounds from the previous day – and wearing corrective lenses only when it was absolutely essential that I be able to see.

I made the rounds of a few stores and put a couple of pairs on hold. After I touch up my roots this morning (if those glasses looked like a librarian, then my hair must look like Janet Reno’s), Bob and Ben are going to take a look and tell me what they think. (Perhaps mercifully for him, Billy is taking the SAT this morning. Bob and Ben probably wish they could trade places with him.) I think Ben at least will be surprised at my choices. “I love those!” the woman who was helping me yesterday shrieked. “They’re so … edgy!”

Maybe. But I’m not ready to give up elastic-waist pants. And I can’t wait for Masterpiece Theatre tomorrow night.


A POSTSCRIPT: Yesterday's trip to the eye wear store was a success (not so much the hair coloring; I give Nice 'n Easy's new Perfect 10 only one thumb up). I ended up buying the edgy frames from Friday. In an unexpected development, I actually fell in love with an even edgier pair, sort of miniature tortoise-shell Buddy Hollys with an inner, lavender layer. But they cost $200 more, and since Billy taking the SAT has ramped up the paying-for-college anxiety level to red from orange, I went with the less edgy of the two. Ben actually didn't say a lot; I think he was afraid to.

So in a couple of weeks I'll have a whole new look. I've got my fingers crossed these glasses won't induce anyone to begin a comment about me with the words "Bless her heart ..." But if you see a middle-aged woman walking around and you think she looks like Bono, just leave her be. You'll know she tried.

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