Contact high: The indignities and triumphs of having your Mommy help you take your contacts out. At 50.

There is nothing wrong with admitting that you need help as an adult. It’s even OK to ask from help from your mom – I asked mine to help me co-parent my kid, so obviously I’m cool with that.

But sleeping in my new contact lenses until she could get home and help me take them out? Not my proudest moment. At all. The moral is that sometimes you need help and it’s OK to admit it even when it’s super embarrassing. And boy, was it.

Wear soft lenses, they said. It’ll be a breeze, they said!

I’ve worn contact lenses since I was almost 16 years old – I’d graduated from bifocals I’d started wearing at 5, along with my twin sister, gaining us the unfortunate nickname Eight Eyes, because, you know, four eyes times two. Children are evil.

My parents, realizing that we needed a self-esteem boost and that we had actual nice eyes no one had ever seen behind all that giant 80s framed Coke bottle situation, got us contacts as an early 16th birthday present. We started with rigid gas permeables, basically hard lenses. They were not the most comfortable thing in the world, because they are literally a rigid piece of plastic in your eye. My first couple of years as a glasses-free being were a combination of high self-esteem – I was that real-life cute girl hidden behind those massive lenses! – and terrible discomfort and trips to Baltimore-area ERs and optical centers to extract an errant contact stuck in my eye.

OWW.

But I kept wearing those suckers anyway, for 34 years, with some pauses to wear glasses now that I had money to pay for frames I actually liked. I’d asked about soft lenses – even wore an emergency pair that wasn’t anywhere near my actual heavy prescription for like a week in the 90s while my real replacement lenses were rushed to me – but was told that my astigmatism was too advanced for them. Or my eye shape wasn’t going to work, or something. Always a no.

That is, until this year. Right before we left Florida in the summer of 2020, I’d lost one of my brand new RGP lenses right before my book launch at the Colony Hotel on Palm Beach and ordered a replacement, only to realize that it was the same lens I already had, and wearing the wrong lens hurt my head. So I mostly wore my glasses for a year to the point that there is an indentation in my face (!) that I have to cover with Rihanna’s finest makeup products. Because we are still in that pan pizza, it took me a while to get myself to an optician.

But when I did, she told me that she had no idea why no one had put me in soft lenses. Actually, she thinks she might – one was that the RPGs sometimes had more sharper vision clarity, although not so much that the soft ones wouldn’t be helpful. The more insidious reason, which I asked about and which she wryly said was probably not wrong, is that I and my insurance had been paying for the more expensive RGP lenses for more than 30 years to various doctors up and down the East Coast, and that they saw no need to save me money. I hope that’s not true. But…you don’t know.

Anyway, she ordered me a pair of trial lenses, which I happily got and, after a few tries in bathroom at her office, got into my eyes (they’re slippery little suckers) and then drove to Annapolis to visit my sister and her family. I learned two things very quickly – these were not quite my prescription. And I didn’t know how to take them out. With the harder lenses, you either yank your eye sideways and let the pressure pop them out, or use this little suction cup thing I was always losing. But these were harder to dislodge. There was pinching and pulling and glancing and not blinking. I felt like I was trapped in the damn Safety Dance.

It was a whole ordeal. My mother and my sister, now a soft lens vet, took turns literally trying to yank that thing out of my eye. It got to the point where my son was standing guard outside of the bathroom for moral support, yelling “You can do it Mom!” (Oh that kid.) My sister finally got it out, and flung it triumphantly into the trash, thinking it was a daily (it was a monthly. We had to fish it out. Insult to injury.)

And then I woke up and realized I would have to do it again. And, friends, it did not go well. Once I finally got the right prescription, there would be days I wouldn’t wear them because I was afraid of not being able to get them out. I had to go to the doctor once for a tutorial. And there was, yes, that terrible moment when I slept in them till my mother got home from a weekend trip so she could help. TERRIBLE.

I almost gave up and called to go back to the gas permeables. They aren’t comfortable and they’re too expensive, but they’re the expensive discomfort I know. It was my mother, who has become the hero of this tale, who talked me out of it. “You can do this,” she says. “It’s just a hard thing you haven’t done before. But you don’t give up. You can do this too.”

And she’s right, of course. I am a stubborn sort who hates being told “No”, who doesn’t quit things because they’re hard, but because I’ve decided they’re a dead end holding me back from something better, be it men or jobs. So I kept at it. Sometimes it took me an hour of literally taking a break and walking around the house with a glass of wine until I was ready to start over. And then one day, I just sat down and plucked those suckers out, first try. Just like that. I of course yelled downstairs to my mother and she treated my proudly and not like a sad old person who had failed Remedial Contact Removal until now.

What is the point of this, other than to tell you again how cool my mom is? It’s to remind you that we should never decide we’re too old to try things we might be bad at. I tried a new job last year and it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t my passion and I wasn’t good at it. So I left it and made a full-time job of the thing I excelled at, which is writing and speaking and advocating for the grieving. Being bad at a thing opened a door. Being bad at contacts didn’t cause me to quit them, because I realized there was something in it that was good for me.

Never quit if you think there’s still a good reason not to. And always be nice to your mom. You might need her to get a contact out of your eye.

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