Heater, Mother of Lance

Matters of the eyes, continued

Last fall when I belly-flopped into the world of pediatric ophthalmology, I learned that if Marlo’s eyes had not improved by a certain margin in three months that she might need to begin patching therapy. For those of you who are as unfamiliar with the terminology around the health of eyes as I am, this means that for a few hours a day she’d need to wear a patch over one eye to strengthen the vision of the other. Like a pirate, yes.

Why couldn’t the Mormon pirate see American Sniper? Because it was rated ARRRRRRRRRGHH!

No worries at all, I just groaned on your behalf, and it was primeval. Promise not to do that again.

A couple of weeks ago I drove her out to the clinic and we sat in one of the examination rooms for a bit before the doctor could see her. While waiting we spotted a book on the counter called Jacob’s Eye Patch about a boy who has to wear, quite obviously, an eye patch. It’s a very cute story that celebrates the differences among strangers, and we read the whole thing. Okay, correction. I read the whole thing to her. BUT. You want to know what that kid did on Sunday? She wrote her name 19 times on 19 different Valentine cards without once trying to convince me that letters are an enemy of the state.

I cannot express what an enormous victory that was. The night before I was on the phone with my mom telling her that Leta had a huge oral report due on Monday, and I didn’t know how I was going to manage both that and Marlo’s Valentine cards.

“How many times does she have to write her name?” my mom asked.

“19 times,” I answered.

I could hear my mother sending up an earnest prayer on the other end of the line. “THAT IS 19 TIMES MORE THAN SHE WILL AGREE TO DO SO!” My mom is somewhat familiar with my younger child.

“RIGHT?!” I said, so thrilled that she understood. “The essence of my life has been filtered down into, ‘The Numerous Ways In Which I Have to Peel My Younger Child Off of the Floor Because of the Alphabet.’”

When we finished that story in the examination room, Marlo reached her hand up and cupped my right cheek.

“Am I going to have to wear a patch? Because I really don’t want to,” she said. That sounds kind of heartbreaking, and at its core it kind of is. But she said it just like that to disguise what she was really saying: “If the doctor says that I have to wear a patch you will feel so sorry for me because I’m manipulating you. And you will tell him no.”

I didn’t bite and answered, “We don’t know yet. We’re here to find out.”

After a technician cleaned off the ocean of smudges that had collected on her glasses since that morning—tangent here: Leta will tell you that when I die she’s going to have inscribed on my headstone, “HOW ON EARTH CAN YOU SEE THROUGH THESE THINGS!” Because it’s one of the most frequent things to come out of my mouth on a daily basis. While the kids brush their teeth in the morning I’ll clean off both pairs of glasses, and she’s now reached a point where she will beat me to it, yank the toothbrush out of her mouth and say in the most dry and monotone way, “How on earth can I see through those things.”

So help me god when she starts a blog about her life. Won’t she know that she will be compromising my adulthood?

The doctor came into the room with clean glasses and began conducting a few eye exams, and from what I learned and observed last fall I could tell immediately that things didn’t look good. In her right eye specifically, she couldn’t even see 20/60 with her glasses on. Which is just, well, not okay in any way whatsoever. And yes, before you ask, she wears her glasses religiously now. She wants to wear them because they’ve obviously improved her condition. I haven’t ever had to cajole or bribe or threaten or surgically attach them to her face myself with purposefully dirty equipment.

So… patching therapy. Because the vision in her right eye is so poor Marlo has to wear a patch on her left eye for two hours a day for at least the next three months (possibly for many months after that). I asked if we’d need to increase the amount of time, and he said research indicated that kids who wore a patch just two hours a day showed as much improvement as kids who wore them for eight hours. We left there with a box full of adhesive, colorfully patterned patches. And the entire drive home I tried to come up with an equation that would calculate the amount of chaos this would add to the packed schedule that is already our evenings after school.


I had not even mentioned the word “pirate” that day, but when I applied that first patch to her eye that night she clinched her fist and swung her arm while chanting, “AHOY, MATEY!” She was exited at the novelty of it. Giddy, even.

Why does it take pirates so long to learn the alphabet? Because they can spend years at C!

Okay, I know I promised I wouldn’t do that again, but COME ON. How appropriate is that one?

30 minutes into the two-hour required time period, however, she started to loose her mind. She was screaming and moaning and writhing. I texted my mom in frustration and said that I’d tried bribing her with ice cream and even promised to steal a panda bear and let her keep it in her room. But she was having none of it. It was like the alphabet had come alive and was eating her face off.

“Set a timer,” my mom texted back.

So that’s what I did. I calculated just how much time she had left, set an alarm on my phone and told her that when she heard the bells she could take it off. She complained every ten minutes for the next hour and a half, but when that alarm went off she ran over to me and we exchanged so many high fives that I may have bruised my hand. We danced and celebrated and hollered and shouted all sort of things like BARRRRGE! and LARRRRGE! and CARRRRR!

I set the alarm on my phone every day and she hasn’t complained since. Something about the audio signification that she has accomplished what she had to accomplish thrills her. On the night of Leta’s birthday I asked her if she wanted to wear her patch before the party so that she wouldn’t have to have it on during the festivities, and she perched her hands on her hips in utter disappointment. It was a physical manifestation of DUH.


I kid you not, she answered, “Of course not! I am Patch Girl. How sad would it be if everyone missed out on that?”

So sad. So harrrrrrd to imagine.


  • Cat

    2015/02/10 at 5:50 pm

    You are such a great mom!

  • Melissa Summers

    2015/02/10 at 6:02 pm

    God I love when you find a trick that works! Timer = Positive Reinforcement. Marlo’s got the Pavlovian thing down.

  • LMN

    2015/02/10 at 6:10 pm

    I had to wear a patch when I was about Marlo’s age (I was cross-eyed, corrected by two surgeries at ages one and six). I did not like the adhesive patches because they bothered my skin, so I switched to fabric patches that slipped over one lens of my glasses. This was 20 years ago so I’m not sure if that’s still an option, but if so it might be more pleasant for her to wear.

  • kmpinkel

    2015/02/10 at 6:11 pm

    Love that patch kid! Ask her how the pirate stopped smoking? He used the patch!! (Hey, if you can tell bad jokes, so can I)

  • Amber

    2015/02/10 at 6:14 pm

    My 11 months old has been patching for 2 months (along with wearing glasses). Glad you found something that works for y’all!

  • tmclarke

    2015/02/10 at 6:16 pm

    Did the doc talk about the possibility of putting frosted tape on her glasses? Acts in the same way as the patch, but far less visible and no daily application. We did that with my daughter and it worked. Might be something to consider if the patch becomes too troublesome.

  • Charese

    2015/02/10 at 6:30 pm

    What kind of socks does a pit rate wear?

  • Charese

    2015/02/10 at 6:31 pm

    *pirate, damn autocorrect.

  • chykie

    2015/02/10 at 6:39 pm

    I went thru this with my kid. I ended up buying something on amazon that went over her right lens because she kept peeling off the patches. Got dang expensive

  • Chuck

    2015/02/10 at 8:41 pm

    You may find this site useful: http://patchpals.com/

  • Katybeth

    2015/02/10 at 7:50 pm

    Q. Why are pirates so mean?
    A. I don’t know, they just ARRRRe

  • dooalot

    2015/02/10 at 7:56 pm

    My son was 5 and already in kindergarten when I took him for his required eye exam. They covered one eye and asked him to read the letters and he said “everything is white.” After I accepted my Mother of the Year award I was told he needed to patch. Even as bad as the eye was, he luckily never had to wear the patch during school hours. Just a few hours a day after school was the basic routine. We did it for a good while and his eyes improved. Eventually he only had to wear his glasses. Later (around age 14 or so) he was able to wear contact lenses. Now at his most recent appointment at age 16, he was told that he doesn’t even have to wear contacts if he doesn’t want to. So there are definitely success stories to be told… especially when you catch the problem at a young age. Hope that Marlo has the same kind of outcome. 🙂

  • Aimee

    2015/02/10 at 7:59 pm

    I have a 5.5 year old who is finally wearing his patch after two other failed attempts. Until this year, every day was a fight to keep the patch on for as many days as I could stand it until I gave up. I sometimes made it a week. We tried bribing, everyone in the family becoming a pirate, nothing worked. His tears from the anger/frustration would wear the sticky right off that sticker! This year we switched eye doctors and I was so bummed when I heard the rx for patching again. Here we go again, I thought. But this time, my kindergartener has handled patching with ease. We only have to do one hour, and we do it first thing in the morning when he is waking up and watching TV. We purchased the patch that you slide over the glasses (as one commenter mentioned) and my son likes it better as well. I saw them on amazon; ours is plain but there are cooler options too. We have to go back to the dr in a few months to see if patching is working, and I am so relieved to finally be doing what was asked of us (I’m a former valedictorian of high school, present wannabe valedictorian of life) and be able to tell if it will actually work. Good luck to you and to Marlo! I have followed your story since my son was an infant and I was struggling with post partum depression. I have always seen Marlo and my son as kindred spirits- I am glad they are now sharing a common success!

  • Amy K.

    2015/02/10 at 8:32 pm

    Hooray for Marlo for handling it so well! My son patched off & on a couple of months at a time until he was 4 or so. He is my first, so I was all, “If he has to do it, I should know what it’s like,” so I wore one for 20 minutes once, and I must say…. Marlo’s initial response (writhing, moaning, etc, etc) was pretty right on! It was awful wearing it & awful for a while after I took it off too! I think the kind that goes over the lens of glasses would be easier, though – part of the awfulness was that my eye was *closed* the whole time, I think. Also, brains and eyeballs are just crazy.

  • Richard Morey

    2015/02/10 at 9:15 pm

    A little boy dresses up as a pirate for Halloween and at that first house where he goes trick or treating the woman says, “How cute, a pirate! Where are your buccaneers?” to which the boy replies “Under me buckin’ hat”

  • KristenfromMA

    2015/02/10 at 9:31 pm

    Where do lots of pirates go when they retire? ARRRRRRRUBA!

  • KathyRo

    2015/02/10 at 10:55 pm

    You had me at “Mormon pirate joke”. I can’t top that.
    Also? Leta kills me. I can’t wait until she starts her own blog. I will be right there.

  • MB

    2015/02/10 at 11:56 pm

    Nerdy teacher joke: What is a Pirate’s favorite sight word? Are What is a pirate’s favorite letter? R

  • Anastasia McDonnell(ism)

    2015/02/11 at 12:44 am

    Ah, my heart – I love that not only had she nicknamed herself, but that she knew how much everyone would enjoy her new persona and prop. Kids are so great.

  • Eva

    2015/02/11 at 6:48 am

    One suggestion. Buy some fabric tape that you can apply over the top part of the patch in the event that it gets loose (which happens with active kids). My husband and I used to practice on each other to Mae sure that the patch was secure

  • Rachel

    2015/02/11 at 7:02 am

    What is a pirate’s favorite pattern? Arrrrgyle! Nice work on the timer – I do the same for my cardio sessions. Nothing like a countdown to lessen the suck and hate!

  • Mikey

    2015/02/11 at 7:03 am

    A pirate walks into a bar. Steering wheel sticking out of his pants. Bartender says, “Hey buddy, you know you have a steering wheel sticking out of your pants?”. Pirate responds, “Arrrgh. Aye. ‘Tis drivin’ me nuts!”

  • Kate Coscarelli

    2015/02/11 at 8:34 am

    Quick patch tip: If the skin around her eye becomes irritated from the adhesive — just paint a thin coat of milk of magnesia around her eye. let it dry. then put the patch. that way it doesn’t stick directly to her skin. Sounds crazy. Totally works. My daughter has been patching for seven years (since she was two) and it’s working great.

  • Michele

    2015/02/11 at 8:52 am

    My son had to patch for the entire day throughout his pre-school years. He was blind in one eye. The first night we both cried because he could not see out of the non-patched eye. He is now 14 and has been wearing contacts since he was 9 because we could not find sport goggles to fit inside his goalie helmet. He would run from me and fight me so badly that I would have to practically sit on him to apply the patch. Every struggle with that patch is worth it. He will always need glasses or contacts but the fact that he can now see out of both eyes and can stop hockey pucks like a pro! It makes every tear and feeling of guilt worth the struggle. He barely remembers the fights and luckily when kids are young they are still kind and caring to their classmates that are unique!

  • Joey Held

    2015/02/11 at 9:30 am

    What’s a pirate’s favorite restaurant?

    And what’s their favorite item on the menu?
    Jamocha shake. Pirates find them to be delicious.

  • Bryna

    2015/02/11 at 10:52 am

    My good friend started making felt patches for her girl, and now has them available in her etsy shop. They slip over the glasses themselves, so there’s no sticky on the face. Totally cute and she can customize them to what children like ( and will then wear!).


  • Anemotis

    2015/02/11 at 10:14 am

    Person 1: What is a pirate’s favorite letter?
    Person 2: Arrrrrrr
    Person 1: Aye, ye’d think that, but actually it be the “C”. (Get it? The Sea?!)

  • Heather Armstrong

    2015/02/11 at 10:51 am

    This totally made my buckin’ morning.

  • Anna Cabrera

    2015/02/11 at 11:09 am

    I love patch girl… even if she doesn’t like the alphabet. I believe she is secretly creating her own meaning to those pesky letters. Go Patch Girl!!

  • Sandra

    2015/02/11 at 2:02 pm

    Awwww! I’ve been reading your site since the beginning & had to finally comment. Pirate jokes!

    I wonder if encouraging her to unleash her creativity into a story, like a Patch Girl superheroine series, might help on those days her patience with all this dips. We so need more superheroines 🙂

  • Abbie

    2015/02/11 at 2:40 pm

    Good lord, what a great kid she is! This isn’t the first time I’ve been inspired by your daughters positive attitudes, creativity and perseverance (last week’s post about Leta’s hard work in preparing for her piano recital is another great example). Patch girl! Just love it. Arrrr!

  • Rachel

    2015/02/11 at 5:48 pm

    I had to wear a patch when I was 13. Can I tell you how cool I felt? Awesome that she’s doing it now when the attention about it will be positive.

    A pirate walks into a bar and the bartender says, “Hey, I haven’t seen you in a while. What happened, you look terrible!”
    “Nay!” the pirate replies, “I are’t perfectly well.”
    The bartender says, “But what about that wooden leg? You didn’t have that before.”
    “Well,” says the pirate, “We were in a battle at sea and a cannon ball hit me leg but the surgeon fixed me up, and I’m good as new.”
    “Yeah,” says the bartender, “But what about that hook? Last time I saw you, you had both hands.”
    “Well,” says the pirate, “We were in another battle and we boarded the enemy ship. I was in a sword fight and my hand was cut off but the surgeon fixed me up with this hook, and I’m good as new.”
    “Oh,” says the bartender, “What about that eye patch? Last time you were in here you had both eyes.”
    “Well,” says the pirate, “One day when we were at sea, some birds were flying over the ship. I looked up, and one of them shat in my eye.”
    “And that put out your eye!?” replied the shocked bartender
    “Well,” says the pirate, “I really wasn’t used to the hook yet.”

  • Lee

    2015/02/11 at 8:17 pm

    Arrrrrrrguably the best post ever!

  • Nicole

    2015/02/12 at 1:31 pm

    What’s a pirate’s favorite letter?
    Oh no, matey, it’s a P – which is an RRRRRR that’s missin’ a leg!

  • Margaret

    2015/02/12 at 2:48 pm

    Dooce! She started to loose her mind? The worst typo ever!!

  • Kristen

    2015/02/12 at 11:08 pm

    Regarding kindergartners writing their names on valentines – my daughter brought home a bag of cards from a class she had yesterday. The class is K-2, so when I opened one card and all it said was “ASS” with a scribble after that, I figured it must be from a kindergartner but I burst out laughing anyway. Then I asked my little girl if anyone in her class had an A name, and she said no. I can’t figure out who the ASS kid is and it’s cracking me up.

  • Amy

    2015/02/13 at 12:03 am

    Yes! My three year old wants the timer set for everything now. So much less complaining and asking about ‘are we there yet’ ever since I started using a timer. Who would’ve thunk?!

  • Nicola Spencer

    2015/02/13 at 12:46 am

    My son was 5 when he very suddenly had an eye turn, he is incredibly non tactile & getting him to wear the patch was like pulling teeth! Sticky wasn’t even an option, we used felt ones that slipped over the lens of the glasses & totally blocked one eye that way…many bribes were had just to get him to wear it, so glad that time has passed us now. Good luck with your patching journey.

  • Steffi Wolter

    2015/02/13 at 11:00 am

    What an amazing kid. Here’s hoping that the therapy may help. Soon.

  • Margaret

    2015/02/13 at 11:53 am

    When my daughter got her 1st pair of glasses at 3 years old, there was a discussion about patch therapy if her ‘not so good eye’ hadn’t improved in 6 months. After testing 6 mos later, she was quite disappointed that her sight had improved enough that no patch was needed. More than 10 years later, I can still hear her in her little 3 year old voice proclaim, “But i wanted to be a parrot (her word for pirate)!!!!” Good luck to Marlo, the coolest ‘pirate’ on the innanets.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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