Food allergies are tough. There have been plenty of times I’ve felt bad for Max when he’s been left out of a special treat. Maybe I’m showing some gender bias here, since Claire has no food allergies it’s impossible to know for sure. In terms of emotional responses nothing has gotten me as worked up as an incident last year surrounding Claire’s alopecia.
Claire’s bald spot was getting bigger as it seems to do now every spring. She had just had a haircut and her hair was quite short. That was the only way the hairdresser felt she could continue to mask the spot and a second one that was developing. At the same time, her school collected about a zillion cereal boxes to donate to the needy. Her teacher selected her to attend a special breakfast/assembly with a live broadcast from a local weatherman to celebrate.
The celebrity weatherman was going around the room asking the students about their favorite ways to stay cool in the summer trying to get as many on air as possible. He got to her and mistook her for a boy. When she tried to correct him, he didn’t understand and did it a second time. A teacher on the sidelines explained. To be fair, he at first seemed embarrassed if not apologetic. While she had pink glasses and shoes, she had her school spirit shirt on which is gender neutral and I can get in a rush how it happened, although for the record I don’t think she looked/looks like a boy. I thought an “I’m sorry about that” might be in order, but he turned to the other adults and said “it’s happened before and I’m sure it will happen again.” It wasn’t what I would have chosen for her television debut. I initially thought it was kind of cool how she at least stood up for herself and didn’t let it ruin her day. (I checked on her at lunch and she was irked at him but fine.)
Then the next day I saw a link to the weatherman’s Facebook page where one of his fans was telling him she could sure see where he was confused and maybe now the parents would let that little girl’s hair grow out. It was followed by some ha ha has. Grrrr! I called Jason to see if I was overreacting. In the meantime, the weatherman bantered on with her about how he felt bad but, man, it really was short hair. OK, I’d had enough.
I wrote a private note to the poster explaining and asking her to remove her comments, which after she accused me of trying to make her feel bad (which, OK, yes, I was) she agreed to do. In the meantime, Jason wrote the weatherman who was on vacation at that point but almost immediately gave a seemingly heartfelt apology and removed the comments, blocked the original poster and offered to try to make it up to Claire if we could think of anything he could do.
So maybe that was a fight that didn’t need to be fought, but it sure did make me feel better. I really did appreciate the apology. With a year’s perspective, I realize we didn’t really change much. Maybe we created some new awareness about alopecia for two people, but I think the mama-bear way I approached it made one so defensive I’m not sure she even believed me.
It’s interesting to me that I was pretty philosophical about the incident until the fan questioned our parenting, saying we should have let her hair grow longer. It was the questioning that set me over the edge. I think with Claire’s alopecia even more than Max’s allergies I don’t always know what the right course of action is. This summer at the pool it is obvious her hair is missing. She doesn’t want to wear a swim cap. Should we encourage her to do that or wait and risk some teasing? I don’t know. At school that year, I had gotten her special permission to wear a hat, but she didn’t want to wear one. The hat was attracting more attention than the bald spot. I didn’t push. There’s no guidebook, and so when people judge without considering what we’re up against it stings more. It stirs up all my doubts about whether we’re making the right decisions. The kids, however, obviously have a pretty tough skin about this sort of thing. Maybe I need to be more like them.