I’m currently at my family home in Hartlepool for a few days. I’ve spent most of the day trying to keep three children entertained, who are constantly asking me to look at what they are doing, and pointing at things, wanting me to tell them what they are. Because I only see them a few times a year and because they are so young, they seem to forget that I can’t see properly, meaning that I have to try and explain to them once again that my eyes don’t work very well. This inevitably results in the next question being something like, “have you not got them fixed yet?” I playfully berate myself for being so stupidly forgetful or too lazy to get around to getting my eyes fixed, and promise them that I’ll make sure to write it in my diary and make some phone calls about it tomorrow. They agree that this is a sensible idea.
I start to muse to myself about whether it is right for me to be making statements like this. I’m not sure they appreciate that it is a joke, and I think they are genuinely under the impression that the next time they see me I’ll have got my eyes fixed. I Thought that this little white lie would be easier and more platable than going into detail about why I can’t see properly and that it’ll probably never come back. I should have really learnt my lesson after what happened a few years ago with my older niece Lucy. We’ll come to that soon, but right now my musings are being interrupted by my three younger nieces who have decided to take advantage of the fact that I’ve not yet had my eyes fixed, and have begun to play a game of How Many Fingers Am I Holding Up.
If I get the number right, they cheer and excitedly declare that my eyes are fixed. I try to give them a basic lesson in probability, but this is clearly not as interesting as believing that my sight has miraculously come back. They hold up some more fingers just to be sure that my sight definitely has returned, and are disappointed when I get the number wrong. Fortunately, I am gifted with being a comedy genius, and I manage to lift the mood by getting one of them to hold their fingers up to my face and then telling them that the number of fingers is 432. They whoop and giggle gleefully at my amazing joke; I imagine that you are also doing something similar now. I am truly a comedy genius.
When my oldest niece Lucy was little she used to also ask the same kinds of questions about my eye sight as her, as of then unborn siblings. She seemed a bit down when I told her that my sight wouldn’t improve, and so, not wanting her to be upset, I told a little white lie, and said that one day they would probably make some special glasses that made me see again. I don’t know why I said “special glasses,” but I just sort of panicked, desperate to say something that would make her feel better about my blindness. It worked; well, sort of. She believed me, and it did cheer her up, but it also did something else: it made her determined to help me find these special glasses. She seemed to think that perhaps the glasses were already out there in existence, and that I just hadn’t been proactive enough in trying to find them.
She proceeded to go around the rest of the family and removed the glasses from the glasses-wearing people in the house, trying them on me. I would then have to guess how many fingers she was holding up and go through a variety of other tests in order to establish whether we had managed to find the right kind of glasses to give me sight. Obviously none of the small selection of glasses we tried worked, and Lucy had no choice except to forgo her optimistic endeavour. And I assumed that this was the end of it, so I didn’t see a need to burst her bubble and tell her that I was lying and that my sight wasn’t going to return because of some amazing glasses. She had done all she could to help me and was now involved in a completely different activity, having been forced to abandon her mission.
However, Lucy clearly hadn’t forgotten our conversation. A few weeks later we were in a shop, and I suddenly noticed that Lucy had disappeared. Before I could worry though, she was back by my side. She put something into my hand. It was a pair of glasses. I was about to ask her where she had got them from and what she was doing, when a lady came towards us, sounding a little cross, and asked for her glasses back. I apologised to the lady and went to hand them back, but Lucy was indignant, upset that I wasn’t even going to put the glasses on and give them a try.
“We’re just borrowing them,” Lucy protested, “just for a few seconds, just to try.” The woman sounded more confused than cross now. I began to explain why Lucy had stolen the glasses, and apologised again. But now, the woman was as far from cross as you could get. She was beaming – or at least, I imagine that she was beaming, I can’t be sure because it turned out that these glasses also weren’t the right kind of special glasses, but she certainly sounded like she was beaming. Other people in the checkout queue also made noises of delight and said things like, “aw, that’s adorable.” One man offered up his glasses for Lucy, suggesting that we could try them. Was he saying this just to humour Lucy, thinking he was doing the right thing by joining in with the charade? Or was he actually under the impression that his glasses might genuinely help me? I was getting rather embarrassed by the attention that all of this was gaining me. I felt I had to step in and politely decline his offer, which made Lucy get all stroppy. I tried to quickly explain to Lucy, all the while feeling uncomfortable about the small queue of people who were also listening to this conversation, that I had made up the thing about the special glasses because I didn’t want her to be upset about me not ever being able to see properly. There were no special glasses and so she shouldn’t take other people’s glasses. What else could I do? I had to come clean, lest she should continue to steal glasses from people and get us into more complications, plus we’d never get anywhere if she stole the glasses from every glasses-wearing person she saw.
“You lied?” she said, sounding deflated. I apologised and admitted that, yes, I had lied. There was a pause. I wanted to get out of this shop and away from the people in the queue who were probably thinking I was a terrible person to play with a child’s emotions like this. Fortunately the promise of ice cream seemed to do the trick, and a few minutes later, all was seemingly forgiven.