The First Time the World Was Cruel to My Child’s Face
Most children notice my daughter Landon, who has Treacher Collins syndrome. It’s a natural curiosity when they see the hearing aids, the headband, her ears.
Yet somehow we have managed to live in a bubble where the kids at her school or camp adore her and don’t notice anything other than her smiling face. Even when she was younger, and we lived in a new tiny town, kids would save her favorite book for her and hug her when they would greet her. It’s been a happy bubble that protects our hearts from the silent stares we’ve grown accustomed to.
However, what happened next is the first of its kind in our world.
The first time the world was cruel to my child’s face.
As Landon came into the restaurant, she veered left knowing that’s where the booster seats are parked. Smiling all the way, she threw her little body upwards, climbing into the seat all on her own. Landon’s father casually strolled behind her, beaming at how self-sufficient his little girl is. As they settle into their table just outside the playroom, Landon busied herself with reaching for things, looking at the slide in the playroom and asking, as always, for Elmo.
While they were waiting patiently for their food, a commotion erupted a few tables away. Landon’s fatherheard him then — a boy, 8 or 9 years old saying something about our girl. As if in slow motion, the boy walks right up to Landon with another girl in tow.
“Ewww, look! How disgusting is she?”
The words hung in the air, he said, as rage filled her father’s body.
“What did you just say?” he asked the young boy.
Fumbling for words, realizing this girl’s father’s tone meant trouble, the boy backtracked physically and audibly to explain he used his words wrong. His mother, sensing something must have happened, came over and quickly ushered him out of the place. They left, and the altercation was over for all who had overheard. It was over for everyone else except for our family, who sat quietly and let what happened wash over us.
This encounter has since found a deep, dark hole in my heart.
Let this story sit for a while. Digest your emotions and what you would do if this was your child. How would you respond to a teachable moment?
I know one day this may happen, and she’ll understand his words.
She’ll know what names are said and that she’s being treated badly by a perfect stranger who doesn’t even know her name.
This is a game changer in my endeavor to share our story with the world.
This is the moment when we need to change the conversation.
What would you say to your child if they said that?
What would you do if your child asked you what was “wrong” with that baby?
I heard a story that the author of Wonder is a parent of one of those inquisitive kids. She told this reporter how she was eating ice cream with her child and someone just like Landon and Auggie walked in. Embarrassed by her inability to articulate the differences in another child, the author rushed quickly out of the store and avoided eye contact with the boy or his own mother. She later reflected on how poor of a choice that was for her, and wrote the book as a tool and way to celebrate differences.
Well, since we’re not all authors (yet),
I think it’s important to recognize these awkward times when your child asks something innocent and honest of you. When they ask questions about a child like Landon, I believe the best thing is to be honest and kind. Tell them the child is beautiful and we are all different on the inside and outside.
What’s most important, is seeing the beauty in everyone. Treating everyone as we’d like to be treated. Embracing differences because we ourselves are very unique as well.
If you’re so bold, ask if you can introduce your child to the other kid.
Meet the mother.
Look her in the eyes.
It’s hard to form those words sometimes, as you wonder if you’re saying it right. Saying them at all is what matters.
Most importantly, find a way to address their comments or questions any way that suits you. Have an open heart. Talk about it instead of shoving it under a blanket statement like “Don’t say that!” and just leaving it there.
You’ll get so much further shaping their ability to accept and not bully by going the extra mile to discuss.
And to the little boy and his mother from that day, I hope you both find manners, grace, kindness and the ability to learn to accept others into your hearts.
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