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“I’m Glad My Port Wine Stain Was So Dark!”

Three days after her latest laser surgery, Addy sang a solo in her school play while sporting the usual purple bruising that follows each treatment.

The color of her face never came up in the days between her surgery and her solo; honestly, I’m never quite sure if she’s oblivious to her darker face or if she’s aware and just doesn’t care.  (After 37 rounds of this, I’m guessing she’s blasé.). Sometimes she remarks on the difference in the mirror after a zapping, and sometimes she doesn’t. This time, no commentary.  So we didn’t say anything, either.  (Such is the eternal balancing act of a parent, right?  Making it clear that it’s an Open Topic, but not bringing it up prematurely and making an Issue of it…)

So, she hit the stage as “Mouse” in her school play based on the classic tale, “The Mitten”. She got to sing a solo, then scowl at the other animals who wouldn’t make room for the little Mouse in the Mitten.  (Yes, she enjoyed every moment on stage.)

Did I mention the process by which a kid ended up with a solo here? The teachers didn’t arbitrarily assign parts; instead, they first asked: “Okay, who wants to sing by themselves onstage at Art and Drama night?”  So Addy’s here because she wanted to put herself out there.  (A thousand points to the beautiful teachers and graceful families at her little school, for building an environment of safe creativity and self-expression; you know who you are, and we are grateful every day for you.)

I shot this video as a keepsake.  When Addy watched it for the first time, her eyebrows rose upon seeing the dark side of her face. “Oh! Wow,” she said, giggling. “Boy… Thank goodness my port wine stain was so dark, so I could look angry!”

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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First Kindergarten Surgery

Today Addy went to kindergarten sporting purple laser-surgery bruising for the first time!

As usual, the parents stressed more than the child. We had talked with her quite a bit leading up to this, and I’ll write a post soon to let you know what we covered and why.

In the meantime (we’re all pretty wiped out from the last few days here, so I’m going to bed ASAP), I can tell you that her classmates are cool, her teachers are awesome, we love her little school, and it totally works to tap into a girl’s inner diva.

More later. 🙂

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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.

2nd Surgery during Preschool

Today Addy went to preschool with her face bruised from Monday’s surgery. It’s been six months since her last treatment, so we were a little concerned that she’d be more sensitive to her classmates’ stares/questions/comments (if they said anything at all) than she was last time. So Keith had a little pep talk with her this morning right before we raced out of the house (we were running late):

Keith: “Sweetie, you know how you had your laser treatment on Monday?”
Addy: “Yeah.”
Keith: “And you know how it makes your face look… different… than it usually does?”
Addy: “Yeah.”
Keith: “Well, your classmates aren’t used to seeing it like this, so they might wonder why, and they might ask you.”
Addy: “Yeah.”

… Noticing that each answer was increasingly distant or forlorn, he thought she might be worried about her face, so he delayed our departure by another minute to find out:

Keith: “Honey, are you sad?”
Addy: “Yeah.”
Keith: “Okay… Do you want to tell me about it?”
Addy: “I’m disappointed.”
Keith: “All right. And why are you feeling disappointed?”

She looked at him with a “duh” expression: “Because I want to go to preschool. Right now.”

So much for a pep talk. 🙂

The Outcome

When I dropped Addy off at preschool on Wednesday (the first day after her surgery), I lingered out of curiosity, vaguely chatting with other the other moms and the teacher while watching Addy out of the corner of my eye.  Addy was happily getting settled, greeting the teacher and the other kids, getting into the playtime rhythm.  I noticed that the little kids by us were watching her closely.  A couple even started to follow her, to get a better look at her face while she was walking around.  (Either she was oblivious, or she doesn’t mind an entourage.)  One little boy finally stood right in front of her, stopping her, and stared hard for a minute – then he raised his hand, pointed to her face and asked “What’s that?”

Instinctively, her hand flew up… to the pink barrette in her hair, and she enthusiastically responded with “Oh, that to keep my hair out of the goop.”  [Goop = post-laser ointment applied to cheek]

The boy just stared blankly.  Addy tried again: “GOOP” – saying it clearly, as if the poor kid didn’t hear the first time).  Another blank stare.  “GOO-OOP!”  Nothing.  “GOO-OO-PUH!”

She finally gave up; clearly, he just wasn’t getting it, so she went off to play.

Big-Girl Chat

Okay, I chickened out.

I was going to talk to Addy about her stain, in order to preempt any comments from the other kids at preschool.  (“Why is your face pink?”  “What’s on your face?”)  But, when I’ve seen her get questions in the past, she has generally just looked blankly at the interrogator and kept playing… so I figured I’d just see if we could keep that ‘blissfully ignorant’ stage going for a while longer.

As far as I can tell, she hasn’t received any comments or questions at preschool – yet.  But she had a laser treatment on Monday, so the stain is looking mottled and dark purple.  (When the laser kills blood vessels, they get temporarily darker, leaving the stain noticeably darker and bruised for a few days.)  She’ll probably get questions today.

So, last night we decided to put it on her radar, and Keith had a “big-girl talk” with her at dinner.  “Addy, you know how you had a laser surgery on Monday?”  [she nods enthusiastically – she really likes her hospital visits]  “Well, you know how your port wine stain is darker now?  Like where it’s usually pink, and now it’s more purple?”  [she nods blankly…like, what pink?]

So they go to the bathroom, where he holds her in front of the mirror.  “See, Addy?  You know how normally your port wine stain is a little bit pink?  What color is it now?”  She lights up like a Christmas tree: “PURPLE!!”

I had forgotten… purple is her second-favorite color.  “And, and, and, my nose is PINK!”  Pink is her absolute favorite color, ever.

“So you know the other kids at preschool? They – ”  “They don’t have purple.”  (She says it with sympathy.  Poor kids.)  “Well, they might ask you why you have purple.  Do you know what you’ll say?”  “It’s from my laser surgery with doctor Zelickson.”

Okay, so the kid’s picked up more than we’ve given her credit for.  She knows and understands that the laser treatments lead to some bruising (about as much as a 3-year old can, I guess), and she knows that other kids don’t get the privilege of sporting pink noses or purple cheeks.

Can’t argue with that, I guess. We’ll see how it goes today; I’ll probably linger over the drop-off, just to watch the other kids’ first impressions, and to see if I can overhear any questions and watch her respond.  Given her ‘big-girl talk’ with Daddy last night, I’m not too concerned… just really curious!

Preschool!

Addy has officially started preschool!  And aside from the normal mom-isms (“how did she grow up so fast?!”), I’m wondering: how should I handle her stain?  She never seems to notice it; she never talks about it at home, she’s never asked us about it.  She’s very matter-of-fact when it comes up indirectly (like putting cream on that side of her face after a treatment).

So… do I a) bring it up with her to pre-emptively deal with any potential classmates’ questions?  Or b) do I stay mum and just wait for her to ask me?

I’m mildly concerned that if I say nothing, then I’m not preparing her well; after all, I don’t want her to be suddenly surprised by a barrage of questions without warning.  (Fast-forward 15 years: “You threw me to the lions that day!”)  On the other hand, if I do try to prepare her (like how? role-play? she’s 3…), then am I just planting seeds of worry, making a bigger deal of it than her classmates would?

When she started last Monday, I opted to stay mum.  And after two days of preschool (she only goes twice a week), she still seems happy and well-adjusted.  Excellent.  But… should I still bring it up?  After all, aren’t parents supposed to be the first ones to talk to their kids about stuff?  “When they offer drugs, just say no.”  “When they ask about your face, just say __.”  Or does that just give the kid fodder for discussions with their therapist in 20 years?

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