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In Search of a Tougher Skin

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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.

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8 responses »

  1. People can be such asses when they think the offended party isn’t looking. I think I would want to start wearing a hot pink mohawk just to mess with people, but then, I’m not an 8 year old girl :-/

    Reply
    • Ha! She loved it when you shaved your head last year! I want her to have that kind of confidence, but yea I don’t think we are quite there just yet. I’m not sure at 39 if I’m there just yet either though. 🙂

      Reply
  2. Hey gal! I love this post. It makes this momma bear not feel so alone. Holding you guys close in prayer. Max and Claire probably do not remember me, but I sure remember them (and their sweet spirits!). SR from dburg

    Reply
    • Aw, Susan, thank you! They might not remember you, but you gave them a wonderful gift. They had the perfect start to their spiritual development in the atrium you and MC built from nothing. They still love going to atrium every week. They still love singing The People Who Walked in Darkness. I think of you every time!

      Reply
  3. I think your Mama Bear instincts were right on…the comments were out of line! I think our kids do have a tougher skin than most…I think dealing with our children’s ‘differences’ head on rather than skirting the issue takes away the opportunity of being centered out and actually ‘normalizes’ it. Education is the key to ‘normalizing’ all our ‘differences’! Susan H. @ The Food Allergy Chronicles

    Reply
  4. I mentioned in another comment about how great our kids with differences are – they just seem really grounded and empathetic…. BUT we don’t want them to have to learn hard lessons this way. It’s so painful. I don’t know if you have noticed, but Sophia has many birthmarks all over her body. She was born with a giant birthmark that covered her whole chest (bellybutton to neck) and has had many surgeries to remove some of that. She also has about one hundred smaller birthmarks over the rest of her body. She is now struggling at the pool between wanting to wear cute bathing suits and not wanting to have to answer questions about her chest (and her mom giving her a hard time about not wearing sun-protective rash guards, since her birthmarks put her at an increased risk of getting melanoma). I could write a book here about the incidents just like this one, where adults and kids have made insensitive and ignorant remarks – they are always heart-wrenching. But I have met kids who have conquered much greater obstacles than cosmetic differences – kids who can’t walk, who are deaf or blind, who are battling cancer – who manage to be happy, kind, well-adjusted. And I look at the qualities that I think Sophia has BECAUSE of what she’s gone through with her surgeries and her birthmarks – and I know we will all be better for it in the end. Slowly the heart-broken, angry, mama-bear response has been tempered, and Sophia is leading the way when it comes to growing tougher skin.

    Reply
  5. Aw, thanks for sharing that Vera. I know you are right about both girls. And ha! I just finished nagging Claire about sunscreening her bald spots.

    Reply

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