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No! My son is NOT a pirate!

My son Dane wore an eye patch from the age of 7 months to five years. He had a congenital cataract which led to his lens being removed and a contact lens having to be used every day for the rest of his life. He had to patch his ‘good’ eye to make his ‘bad’ eye work better. And he had to do that every day.

Just like any kid that looks a little bit ‘different’, he was stared at, pointed at and laughed at. And the sad thing is, it’s usually adults that are the worst. I had to use all my self-restraint one day when a father pointed Dane out at the shops to his young child and said ‘oh look, doesn’t he look weird’. Seriously? What kind of parent highlights another child’s differences in a negative way like that? I was furious!

The joke got pretty old, pretty quickly

I never had any problem explaining to any child that asked (and it was usually the children that were brave enough to ask) why he was wearing a patch, and once you tell them, they’re totally fine with it and get on with whatever it was they were doing.

What frustrated me was adults that constantly called him a little pirate and followed it up with a laugh (it’s the laugh that tipped me over the edge). The joke got pretty old pretty quickly, not just for me but for my son as well. 

What these well meaning (maybe?) adults failed to realise is that they were not the first person in his life to make the connection between a pirate and an eye patch and feel the need to comment on it. It pretty much happened on a daily basis. Looking back, I’m not surprised that I gave forced smiles/grimaces and not a standing ovation for their outstanding wit and humour. 

I'm just a boy, not a pirate

I usually gave this forced smile and then explained that he had to wear the patch to strengthen his eye and that it was not a fashion statement or a costume. And just for the record, I did it super politely. But there was one clear incident that I remember where I was mentally fist pumping the air when Dane shot back at a pirate commenter ‘no, I’m not a pirate. I’m just a boy and I have to wear a patch to make my eye better’. Good on you buddy! Proud mumma moment right there. 

No pirate boots here

I’m sure adults just don’t know what to say and they think they’re making light of something they don’t understand or don’t know how to respond to. I get that. But put yourself in the shoes (and take note that patch wearing kids are not often wearing pirate boots) of the child and imagine how you would feel if every single day of your life perfect strangers told you YOU looked like a pirate. And then laughed at you. Doesn’t make you want to go ‘yo ho ho’ does it?

What a great eye patch!

So what can people say to a kid that’s wearing an eye patch? Well, here’s one simple comment that could easily replace the ‘pirate’ one – ‘wow, what a great red eye patch!’. And I don’t even mind if it’s followed up with ‘why do you wear that?’. Dane was only four but he knew why he had to wear his patch and would happily explain it to anyone that asked. 

Turn a difference into a positive

I’m sure this type of commenting or questioning could be used for any type of ‘noticeable difference’ that a child has. By turning your comment to a child that has something a little bit ‘different’ – no matter what that difference is – into something positive, that child might just feel good about their eye patch, their glasses, their wheelchair or whatever it happens to be. And that’s the way a child should feel. 

Where's the treasure buried?

So if you happen to see a kid wearing a patch maybe just say ‘what a cool patch’ and not ask him or her where the treasure’s buried. 

Image courtesy Jessica Butler, Eye Power Kid’s Wear for the Great Glasses Play Day