I Feel Like I Should Have Watched Him Closer

Last week was my birthday and I spent most of it with Tristan (age 10) at the eye doctor. The weekend before he took a nerf bullet to the eye. We easily have a dozen pairs of protective glasses in the house, and he knows the rule is to wear them when playing with nerf guns, but he didn’t and ended up taking a hit to the eye.

He’s fine. But he did need to meet with a doctor about an hour away three times, and take steroid eye drops every hour, and cause me to spend my birthday at a doctor’s office, fretting over his eye, and hoping that no permanent damage had been done.

It’s one of those frustrating things parents of preteens struggle with. Tristan acts like I’m micromanaging him, so I try to give him space and independence. I try to trust him to follow the rules, but then, something like this happens and I feel like I should have monitored him closer.

I feel like I failed.

With kids his age, it feels like a balancing act, like holding a large water tub filled to the brim. I’m trying to keep it from spilling, but some water will spill. It’s inevitable, so I do all I can to keep the water in, all the while hoping I don’t drop it.

This was the first time I’d taken my birthday off in… well… I can’t remember. And I’ll admit, the last thing I wanted to do was drag Tristan to the eye doctor, so several times on the drive I lectured him.

“I hope you learned a lesson here,” I said. “I hope you now understand why we put rules in place. Because we want to keep you safe.”

By doing this, I felt like I was doing my job as a father. I thought that this might help him understand how close he came to tragedy.

And true to Tristan’s role as a preteen boy, he rolled his eyes. He let out a lot of sighs. He said things like, “It’s not that big of a deal,” and “I won’t do it again. Gosh! You are so serious.”

It wasn’t until I asked the doctor, a slender white man in his early 30s what could have happened that he seemed to understand the severity.

“I’ve seen this go a lot of ways. Everything from what happened with your son, to going partly blind.”

Tristan was behind the doctor, in a medical chair, eyes opened wide. I don’t know if all my lectures suddenly made sense. Perhaps what the doctor said gave my words the weight they needed for him to fully understand. Or maybe he just needed to hear it from someone other than me.

But what I do know is that Tristan was really quiet on the drive home. His eye was dilated, so he was wearing sunglasses. He spent most of the drive looking out the window, deep in thought.

“Are you going to wear your glasses next time?” I said.

He nodded.

I believed him.

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