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Keith’s Summary of Last Week’s Dropoff:

As promised – the following is a quick summary from Keith, which he wrote after dropping Adelaide off at kindergarten with her purple-bruised face.  (And by the way, Happy Thanksgiving, all!)

Yesterday, Adelaide had her first laser surgery for her port wine stain since kindy (kindergarten) started. Jennica and I have been warned that kindergarten is when kids “become more aware” (polite code for “get nasty”) of port wine stains.

This morning I dropped her off.  I really wanted her to be her normal happy self. I thought, “if she can just do that so that the other kids are comfortable, and therefore more willing to engage her, she might have a much nicer day.”

And, I thought that I would cheat a bit. I opened a Halloween-sized pack of M&Ms and handed it to her, hoping to pump her up on chocolate-released endorphins. (Don’t judge.) She ate two and handed the little packet back to me saying, “No thanks, Dad. I don’t want to have too much sugar before kindy.”  

Yes, my five-year old is now more responsible than I.

Her first two interactions were in the hall before class. The first was with a tall girl who stood staring at Addy Rae, with a forced ‘I-like-you’ smile, while she listened to Addy talk. Then, she nodded politely and went into the room without saying a word. Addy had a ‘that-was-odd’ face, but wasn’t at all bothered. (Later, the teacher told me that she had prepped the class on how to be polite. Good effort, sweetie!)

Her second interaction was with Mikey (alias).  Mikey stumbled down the hall to hang his coat up but stopped when Adelaide accosted him with a bombardment of words. He stood staring at her with the same ‘it’s-morning’ scowl that he had been wearing the whole time. Then Addy said, “Mikey, I look different today. Can’t you tell?” Mikey smiled, nodded, and they both laughed while he put his coat on the hook.

Man, I love that kid. (Addy, that is. Mikey’s okay.)

Kindergarten (preparing for that first day back)

Last week was our first experience sending Addy to Kindergarten with a purple face (bruised from Monday’s laser surgery).

And we have heard from many (more experienced parents, teachers) that kindergarten is around that age when kids transition from cute little ‘Curious Preschoolers’ to largely self-aware and potentially cruel ‘Big Kids’.

Yes, we were apprehensive. Here’s how we handled it ahead of time:

1) Control the Big Picture: We’re sending her to the same little K-12 school she attended for preschool. Which means small classes (like, a dozen kids here), some familiar classmates, and similarly religious families, all of which help tilt the odds in favor of a kindly reception. It’s not foolproof, but I’d be more apprehensive launching her purple-faced into a kindergarten full of 30 young semi-strangers.

2) Talk to the Teacher: We spoke to the teacher, Mrs. K., a month or two ago to give her the heads-up that this would be coming. She (awesome lady!) offered to let Addy speak to the class in a sort of “Q&A session” to explain her bruising when it occurred. (A chance to be the star? Diva? Center stage? Yes, please!) That way, all the questions can be openly asked, the kids can get all the stares out of their system, and Addy’s in control while it happens. Brilliant woman, this teacher.

3) Teacher to Students: When Keith brought Addy to school, Mrs. K. told him that she had spoken to her students the day before (while Addy was at Children’s Hospital) and given them a heads-up that Addy will look different, and she told them to all be polite. I’ll share Keith’s perspective of his morning drop-off in my next post; in the meantime, I can tell you that it worked.

4) Talk to Addy: The thing about talking to a child is that they have the attention span of a ferret, so we had lots of small conversations leading up to her laser surgery, rather than one Big One. We brought it up multiple times in various settings, making sure to be positive and graceful each time.

Again, this is her 30-somethingth treatment, so she knows what happens at Children’s Hospital – it’s kindergarten we were preparing her for.

“Addy, do you remember what happens at your laser surgery?”
“I get popsicles!”
“Yesss… what else?”
“I … get an IV.”
“Mm-hmm… Okay, do you remember what happens to your face?”
“I have a port wine stain.”
“Yep, you do. But… what happens to it at your laser surgery?”
[blank stare]
“Addy, your port wine stain will turn from pink to…”
“PURPLE!” [her favorite color after pink]
“Exactly. But, the other kids in your class, they’re used to seeing your port wine stain be pink… Do you think they’ll be surprised when they see it be purple?”
“Haha! Yeah, they’ll probably be like ‘Wow! It’s purple! How did that happen?’” [she laughs]
“Right! And what will you say?”
[thinking…]
“You can tell them it’s from your laser surgery.” [repeating that line with her a few times so she can say it comfortably] “La-ser sur-ger-“
“HEY!!! MOM!!! Do you remember when we were watching ‘Finding Nemo’ and the little fish swam away from the shark like…” [and she’s off, reenacting a Pixar scene]

That’s about as much as we could do in one sitting. Later, we would bring it up again, casually, and always (ALWAYS) with genuine smiles, because we want it to be ingrained in every fiber of her being that this is not a negative or worrisome thing:

“Hey Addy! When you have your laser surgery tomorrow, what will happen to your port wine stain?”
“It’ll turn purple!”
“Right! And remember, the other kids won’t be used to it. So they might go “Woah! What’s that?!” [laughing, to keep it light]
“Dad, they know what it is. It’s my port wine stain. Remember? They asked about it before, like that one time at the playground when -“
“That’s right, silly me. But…they might ask why it’s purple.”
“Oh, yeah. I’ll tell them it’s my la-ser-sur-ger-y.”
“Good! And… are you going to tell them about the awesome popsicles you’ll get?”
“Yeah! And my princess toys and pink flavor, too!” [Children’s Hospital has some pretty cool princess toys that she loves playing with every time, and they let her pick out a flavor for her anesthesia mask. It’s a ritual, she loves it.]
“Sure, tell them all about that!”
“Dad, I have a question.”
“Okay, sweetie; what is it?”
“How do mermaids poop?”
…Good talk.

We also tried to broach the subject of possible negative reactions. My mom (Nana) handled this one.

“Addy, when you go to school on Tuesday, what do you think the other kids will say?”
“Hmmm. They might be like “Wow, why is your port wine stain purple?”
“Right… And, sweetie, some people might be rude. They might say impolite things, just because they’re surprised. And that’s okay.”
“Yeah, sometimes people are rude. They might not know how to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. But other people know how to be polite and then they’re really polite in restaurants and they know how to keep their elbows off the table and – ”
“That’s right, Addy! Addy? Focus on Nana here. Yep, sometimes people are polite, sometimes they’re rude, and that’s okay.
“Okay.” [pause] “Can I drink your hot chocolate?”

And with that, we released her back into the wild.

All in all, we over-prepared her. Her classmates are kind, their parents are raising them well, her teachers handled the situation beautifully. It was almost a non-event to walk into kindergarten with a suddenly-purple face.

I’ll include more from Keith’s perspective of that morning’s drop-off in an upcoming post, but for now I just wanted to share some of our ideas, in case any of you are wondering how to ‘chat’ with your own little ferret. And I’ll post more ideas over time; for now, just know that the overarching theme in any such conversation is to be positive and relaxed. Your child will absorb your attitude. So remember that life is good; talk openly, talk like they’re lucky to be special, laugh about all the reactions they may get, and mention negative reactions with grace and empathy.

Just keep the conversations short, before they derail into Pixar reenactments or deep musings about mermaid butts. Once they start down that path, there’s no turning back…

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A Barista’s Fan Club

Okay, kudos to the parents of a Starbucks barista who was working down in Indianapolis sometime between 2008 and 2010 (and may still be there) – you did it right. Not sure what you did, because I have no idea who you are, but I know you did parenting right.

Here’s the story: a few days after Addy was born back in 2008, my uncle from Indianapolis called to tell us that he had just been served by a Starbucks barista sporting a port wine stain like Addy’s, and that she was supremely outgoing, lovely and confident. Her parents, he said, had clearly raised her to be comfortable with herself, in spite of (or especially with?) the port wine stain painted on her face. Our family here in the Twin Cities cheered – then we could do that, too!

Randomly, two years later, my husband’s mother’s cousin (seriously) traveled through Indianapolis, stopped at a Starbucks, and saw a lovely barista with a booming personality and a distinct port wine stain, who clearly loved herself and her face. Cousin was so impressed, she just had to tell our family. And we cheered again.

So, well done, Starbucks barista – your beautiful personality and confidence in yourself have inspired our family. And kudos to your parents, whoever they are, for whatever they did to raise you well. You’re lovely and you know it. Keep it up.

Finally Back…

Well, I think it’s safe to say that Kindergarten has been kicking my butt. (*My* butt.  Addy’s been doing great.  I’m ready for afternoon naps again.) Over a month since my last post?  Yikes…

Anyway. 

I’ve been thinking about an evening a few years ago when Keith and I went out to a restaurant for dinner.  We spotted a young couple at a nearby table that intrigued us.  The girl (maybe late teens or early twenties) had her hoodie pulled up so far on her head that she practically created a tunnel to her face.  Her shoulders sloped down and she looked uncomfortable with herself, shrinking from view.  She chatted quietly with her boyfriend across the table.  This was a girl who clearly wanted to not be seen.  (So, naturally, I stared, but I’m a bit of a voyeur anyway.) 

After a few minutes of watching her out of the corner of my eye, I finally saw the cause of her discomfort when she turned her head to talk to the waitress: a big, bright port wine stain shaped just like Addy’s, right there on her face, splotched on her cheek (and, if I recall, up onto the forehead) like spilled paint. Ah-ha!

I met Keith’s eye to see if he had noticed it, too.  He had.  We silently nodded to each other (the annoying way married people do, covering a whole conversation in a single look, but for once we actually shared the *same* conversation, a rarity).  Anyway.  One look, and we solemnly understood that this girl in her hoodie represented everything we DID NOT want for our baby girl: embarrassment, shame, and a certain… defeated comfort in her slouched posture.  She had lost, and that was okay with her.  As long as she could hide that face.

Interestingly, this young woman’s hide-from-the-world posture is precisely what attracted my attention in the first place and made me want to look more.  Her defeated slouch made me wonder what her story was.  Meanwhile, many people have told us that they hardly notice Addy’s stain because her personality is so grandiose, so immediately engaging that they simply don’t have time to wonder about her face while she’s telling them about her favorite movie and favorite princess and inviting them to sit down and be comfortable while she talks (and talks, and talks, and talks…).

So I wonder if that young woman had been ashamed of her face her whole life (with lax parenting), or if she learned to be ashamed later by the reactions of life’s trolls and bullies.  And, if it was the latter, how can the parent of an innocent, confident kid like Addy fend off that impending shame? 

Certainly lots of truthful affirmations, honest compliments, and confidence-building habits all sound good for sculpting a kick-tushy confident kid, but will it be enough, when the trolls come out, to prevent that kid from shrinking into a sloucher in a hoodie?

Dressed like Everyone Else

Addy just started kindergarten.

I’m cool with that, got it totally under control. In unrelated news, I’ve been feeling anxious this week, like eat-my-weight-in-cookie-dough-blizzards nervous. (Thanks, hubby, for stashing an extra-large blizzard in the freezer. You know me well).)

Her school has uniforms.

For the record, I LOVE school uniforms, and think that K-12 education (and teachers’ sanity) would be greatly, immensely, immeasurably improved by widespread adoption of uniform uniforms.

But.

From the moment our little girlie-girl first “oooh”-ed and “aaah”-ed herself in the mirror (the day her stay-at-home Daddy finally dressed her in a girlie dress from Nama for a doctor’s appointment), we’ve counted on allllllllll her awesome girlie dresses to bolster her identity. In other words, her wardrobe is so fabulous that it enters the room before she does. Before her port wine stain does.

And we’ve now been neutered. Because she can’t wear her myriad lovely dresses. Or her shiny, handmade headbands in her long golden hair. Or the sparkly pink shoes from Nama. Or the shiny costume jewelry from Nana.

So, she brings *just* her own self to school. Without adornment or ornaments.

Just. Her. Self.

It’s terrifying.

And, go figure, she’s fine with it.

And her classmates are fine with it. (Apparently, no one has asked about her face.)

Meanwhile, I’m on my third helping of cookie dough blizzard.

And it’s only Tuesday.

When We Thought About Treating Baby Addy’s Port Wine Stain…

When a parent ponders whether or not to treat their child’s port wine stain (or any other malformation), they face a conundrum: they’re making a decision *for* their child that will have a HUGE impact on that kid’s emotional development, self-image, self-esteem, and school experience… annnd there’s a slim chance that their child will eventually hate them for it.  (So, I guess it’s the same as most of our parenting decisions… Hm.)

A) If we treat this, then she won’t get made fun of as much in school – yay!  But then again, maybe someday she’ll hate us for taking away a distinguishing mark that was rightfully hers…?  B) If we leave it so that she alone can decide its fate when she’s older, then the damage will be done, both physical (as it may have grown too thick to treat completely) and emotional (as she will have already endured early childhood with immature classmates and the inevitable questions and teasings). 

So there we are, with the fate of our daughter’s face in our hands.  Obviously, we’ve decided to zap it off.  (And we don’t regret it.)  We’ll either get a sincere “Whew, thank you, Mom and Dad, for thoughtfully removing the mask so that people can see the true beauty of my face! I’m so glad I get to look like everyone else at prom!”  …Or, we’ll get a dramatic “I CAN’T beliEVE you took away the ONE THING that made me unique!  Now NO ONE will EVER notice me!” and then she’ll run upstairs and slam her bedroom door and blast whatever emo music the teenagers will be listening to at that point.

No pressure.

 

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“Welcome, Baby!…Woah…”

So, some of you parents might understand this: when Addy was born 5 years ago, it felt VERY weird to be head-over-heels in love with our absolutely perfect, lovely, beautiful bright-eyed baby girl… and at the same time look at her face and say to the port wine stain, “Woah, that’s gotta go!”  Weird.

It brings on some mom-guilt (and dad-guilt, I’m sure).  How could I not think that every single one of her features was perfect and sweet and beautiful??  I was planning to zap one of those features clean off!  Telling her she’s beautiful and perfect, while removing a distinguishing mark…?

Obviously, I have no regrets for treating the stain, and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.  But there’s just something odd about feeling the *exact same*  “Woah!” that you later dread everyone *else* feeling when they see your kid.  …Anyone else know what I mean?

The ‘Debriefing’

I almost forgot the follow-up!

After the brief Q&A with the neighbor girl (prior blog post), we got back to our house and I made a point of openly talking about the encounter to Daddy, in front of Adelaide.

I said, “By the way, Daddy, the neighbor asked about Addy’s port wine stain!” “Really? [Happily, like I just gave him good news.] And what did she say?” Addy piped up: “I said it was my port wine stain from Dr. Zelickson.” “That’s wonderful, Addy! It’s cool that she was curious about it.” To which Addy nodded slowly, processing, then agreed happily: “Yes, it is!”

Why debrief? Because I want Addy 1) to know it’s fair game for open conversation – something she can bring up casually with us, 2) to get into the habit of debriefing us after those little conversations (keeping us in the loop when any negative ones come up), and 3) to put a positive spin on it.

Did I want to? No. I feel awkward talking about it, honestly. But I don’t want to spread that feeling to Addy. So it took some effort to bring it up, but I’m glad we did. Just seeing her absorb Daddy’s enthusiasm was worth it. 🙂

The Tables Are Turned…

I took my kids to the doctor’s office for a checkup recently.  While I stood at the desk (in the super-quiet lobby area) filling out forms, Addy suddenly turned to me and asked in a loud voice “Mommy! Why that girl not have any arms?”  I froze.  She jabbed her arm out to clearly point: “Right there!  Why she not have arms?”

Well, this was a completely new experience for me.  Ever since Addy was born, we’ve experienced staring kids, curious adults, and parents’ awkward reactions when their kid asked them loudly “HEY! MOM! Why does that girl have a RED FACE?”  No problem; until recently, Addy was too young to hear the inquiries, and we know little kids are curious.  We often just reassured the other parents with a smile, not sure why they felt so awkward around us.  It’s okay, we’re cool with it.

But that day in the waiting room, the tables were turned; suddenly, I was the parent who was terrified that my curious three-year-old’s questions would be overheard by the girl who was, in fact, missing both arms, and I wanted to do anything to shut her up before I was branded as some backward, insensitive, ignorant lazy parent who can’t even teach her kids to accept other human beings for what they are in our postmodern hypersensitive age of diversity!  (*gasp*) What would people think?! ?

I halted her questions with an awkward combination of The Mommy Death Stare and a loud “shush!!” (yeah, smooth), muttering something about needing to sit down and wait “very, very quietly” for the appointment.  Go figure – the only place to sit down was right next to the young girl who, sure enough, was using her toes to leaf through the pages of the book she was reading, as there were no arms beyond the shoulders.

Then the girl looked up from her book with a soft smile and said quietly to me, “It’s okay, she can ask me anything she wants.  I’m used to questions.”  [“PHEW!  So she doesn’t hate us.  Good.”]  I smiled and thanked her.  She continued, “I don’t mind it when little kids ask me.  It’s the older ones who aren’t nice.”

Hmmm.  Maybe that’s why I’ve never minded kids’ questions; until recently, it’s usually just been the young ones who have noticed and asked about the stain.  So before I label us as the ‘confidently proud and matter-of-fact’ modern parents I thought we were, I have to admit that we’ve never really been the target of any malicious teasing.  Maybe there’s an inner ‘shaken and insecure’ parent waiting to emerge with the right prodding?  Probably.

At least now I understand better why parents silently freak out at their kids’ noisy observations – they’re afraid they’ll be branded as terribly incompetent parents.  And, like the graceful young girl in the waiting room, I’ll reassure them that it’s okay to ask.  No, I don’t think you’re backward or insensitive or a bad parent.  Even the most hypersensitive, postmodern parents have curious three-year olds…

Taming Mother Bear

Last night we went out to eat at Noodles.  It was dinnertime, so there were lots of families with kids.  We found a table in the back, by a family with a couple of little girls who were somewhere between kindergarten and third grade. (I can’t tell kids’ ages, so that’s a guess; older than Addy, still quite a bit younger than tweens.)  While we approached and were getting settled, one of the girls noticed Addy’s face, still quite bruised from laser surgery.  The girl caught her friend’s attention and gestured toward Addy.  They stared wide-eyed.  Then they started whispering furtively together; one kept touching her own cheek while they were discussing the sight.

There was something about their manner that brought back every memory of junior-high-female cattiness – that kind of “Ohmygosh, did you SEE her outfit?” posturing, leaning forward to whisper together importantly, stopping to turn and stare, then ducking back into the gossip.  And it infuriated me.

I could a) ignore them, b) obey my ursine maternal instinct and cross the eight feet between us to give each one a good smack upside the head, c) find a happy medium and just stand there glaring at them until they got uncomfortable, which would have looked weird in public but still been at least mildly satisfying in a passive-aggressive way.

Since I’m not writing this from the local jail, you can assume I went (reluctantly) with Option A.

There were three factors that caused me to pick ‘self-control’ over ‘mother bear’:

1) The girls’ parents were sitting right there, and would have noticed me.  Darn it.

2) Addy was completely oblivious, so… if I’m honest with myself, I’ll admit… no harm done there.

3) There’s a solid possibility that these were actually, truly, good girls.  Girls who would never in a million years intend to hurt anyone’s feelings.  Girls who are too little to understand that their innocent whispering could be noticed, let alone misconstrued.  Girls who have never seen a half-purple face before and are simply trying to figure out what might have happened to it by talking about it together.  Girls who are just old enough to start innocently adopting those chattering female mannerisms that carry such baggage for those of us who survived junior high.

So, I sat down at our table and ate dinner like an adult.  Every once in a while I glanced over to observe the girls, and they seemed to be normal.  I’m not sure exactly what that means (like how nasty the normal ones can get), but at least they weren’t running around hitting old ladies or laughing at people in wheelchairs.  So, maybe I can give them some room to be curious.

I guess I’m learning that it’s a lot easier to handle the questions with humor, than with grace…

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