I spent most of Monday in what felt like a sea of first graders. I was at my daughter’s school for Parent Involvement Day, and as usual there were questions everywhere I turned. I don’t exactly blend in.
In the lunch line, a little girl asked me if I was a pirate. The look in her eyes and the tone of her voice told me she meant it nicely. “I’m not,” I said with a smile. “But it looks like it, doesn’t it? My hook is even cooler than a pirate’s though. It opens up!” She seemed suitably impressed.
Later one of the boys and I discussed some potential additions to my prosthetic arm after I’d explained to him how it worked. He thought extendo-arm feature would be cool. Super strength too. I told him I hoped he would be the one to invent a prosthetic arm with super strength when he grew up. He looked thoughtful as he said, “Yeah, I probably will.”
But it wasn’t all adorable. How is one supposed to respond to the child who repeatedly says, “You are scary.”? I still don’t know. It would have been different if this child had seemed afraid, but he only seemed interested in drawing negative attention to me. There are only so many ways I can think of to say “I know I look different, but I’m really just like you.” And some people won’t hear that message no matter how I say it.
The good news is that I’m not the only one saying it.
When I first read Wonder by R.J. Palacio, I wanted every kid I knew to read it. It said what I’d been trying to say for years. Auggie says in the book: “The only reason I’m not ordinary is that no one sees me that way.” If you haven’t read it yet, give it a chance. It may be message-driven (or what some have called “guidance counselor fiction“), but it’s a message to which I feel a strong connection.
I have mentioned Jacob’s Eye Patch on this blog before, but it bears mentioning again. It is a great picture book for talking about differences. I highly recommend it–and the activity kit–for it’s realistic look at curiosity and questions. We always tell our kids not to mention anyone’s difference or ask any potentially embarrassing questions, but Jacob offers a “green light” to people who have questions about his eye patch.
My philosophy: When you can’t blend in, you might as well take questions. It isn’t always comfortable. But, as I often assure nervous parents whose children are about to ask me anything, I have heard it all, and I swear I’m not as scary as I look.