Our surprise about Brenna’s new teacher

The energy was lively among the young students who sat waiting for their classroom doors to open on the first day of school, and after giving Connor a kiss, I held Brenna’s hand as we walked slowly down the hall toward her preschool classroom. I began to feel heads turn, conversations quiet, eyes on us, and I maintained a perky smile as I exclaimed “we’re almost to your class, Brenna! This is going to be so fun!”

As we passed, I heard a little boy loudly remark “Why’s she so hot?” and another boy sitting next to him, who was in Brenna’s class last year, answered that she wasn’t hot. “Well, why’s she so red?” came the next loud question, to which I could barely hear – among the chatter that had started again in the hallway – the second reply that was firmly given: “She has sensitive skin. She’s NICE.”

We rounded the corner to Brenna’s class, where we were met with almost entirely new faces, with only a couple of familiar kids from previous semesters – and along with that, very noticeable reaction to Brenna’s entrance. My heart tightened deep in my chest, and the threat of tears burned in my eyes. It was unexpected, and I felt defensive; I was barely able to concentrate as I went over care instructions with Brenna’s new aide.

I cried on that car ride home.

The tears continued after I shut the garage door, as I wrestled with how to make things like this easier or better, how to prepare, how to react myself, how to not to project my own feelings onto Brenna when I struggle as her mother.

That first week of school this year was emotional for me, and I prayed fervently during those days for wisdom, understanding and grace.

Other new developments this school year were staff changes. Brenna was assigned a new personal aide, and the school hired a new nurse – and what comes with that kind of changing of the guards is the re-start of education and awareness about her condition, her IEP and health plan, her routines, her personality.

So when Brenna’s head classroom teacher announced that she was taking a new job at a different school as well, it felt like this school year was a new road containing unexpected twists that left us swerving, frustrated, trying to catch up, perhaps even a little alone.

It was a Friday when there was a little tap on my window as I buckled in, ready to drive off after picking up Brenna from school.

“I just wanted to introduce myself,” said the tall, friendly woman standing next to my van. “I’m going to be the new preschool teacher starting on Monday.”

And I will never forget what came out of her mouth next…

“I have ichthyosis too.”

This rare skin disorder that no one’s ever heard of? Brenna’s new teacher actually has it… a mild form called ichthyosis vulgaris.

I cried on that car ride home.

The tears continued after I shut the garage door, as I marveled at how God makes all things beautiful, how he redeems hard situations, how he works through others to reach us and works through us to reach others.

This relationship between Brenna and her new teacher has blossomed quickly, and witnessing their fast connection has made my heart soar day after day. I’ve peeked into a school assembly to see them dancing together, and I’ve even received emailed selfies that Brenna asked her teacher to take with her. Mrs. G has gone out of her way to ensure that Brenna is fostering one-on-one relationships with her classmates, and Brenna now loves to share that “my new teacher has special skin like me!”

One day recently, I smiled as the two of them walked out of school together, hand in hand.

“I showed her today how much my hands were like hers,” Mrs. G said with a smile. Both of them stopped walking, and Brenna placed both of her hands on top of her teacher’s, palm on palm, examining them.

“Our hands say a whole lot about us.” Mrs. G bent down to Brenna’s level. “And our hands sure have big stories to tell, don’t they!”

Yes they do – and I’m so glad the stories of these two now include each other.

My book, A Different Beautiful, is now available for order!

Interested in reading more with your kids about differences and being yourself? You can download a guide to the best children’s books on differences and disabilities when you subscribe to my monthly email newsletter!  Follow me on  Facebook and Instagram.

{Celebrating Beautiful} Real Beauty Tips, by Stacey Gagnon

In blogging for the last 4 years, I’ve written about many different topics, but one theme that has remained constant has been my focus of sharing about how our family is discovering the beauty in difference and choosing to celebrate the incredible beauty all around us, and how we want to encourage others to do the same. After connecting with and reading about so many amazing people and families doing so many amazing things, I started a guest blog series called Celebrating Beautiful, as it relates to beauty however it can be interpreted: motherhood, faith, your kids, an experience, home, and so much more.

I first met Stacey Gagnon through an online writer’s group, and I’ve been so blessed, challenged and inspired by her words and her incredible family journey. She and her husband have adopted several children with special needs internationally, and she shines through as an advocate for adoption, special needs and physical differences.
Here is Stacey Gagnon on Celebrating Beautiful…CelebratingBeautiful

I’ll never forget the day my two boys were sitting in the bath making ice cream cones on top of each other’s head out of soap, and in the process, creating a lake outside the tub. My 5-year-old, Isaac suddenly stopped mid-soap and gawked at his brother, 3-year-old Joel. “Mom,” he gasped “Joel’s ear is gone!”

I laughed and explained that Joel was born without an ear and it had always been gone. Isaac had never noticed. Joel had lived with us for over a year, and his brother had never noticed he did not have an ear. Isaac nodded and then carried on with all the soap and water; he didn’t care that Joel was missing his ear. His only concern was that it had somehow fallen off, and perhaps it was floating somewhere in the tub among the bubbles.

Gagnon5This happened years ago, and since then, we have added more children through adoption. My days now swirl around keeping up with all their activities and medical appointments. We have our share of sad moments when one is teased for looking “different,” but for the most part we try to educate and roll with it. We know that our children will always deal with staring and gawking. They are also learning each day that in our culture, they do not fit the standard of what is considered beautiful. It has been a process to learn how to best handle it, and how to make sure my children feel confident in who they are on the inside. They are learning that they may be picked last for the kickball team or pointed and whispered about, but they still are chosen and loved. They are learning to be brave and stand up for what they know to be right and true. My kids are learning to define beauty.

And they are teaching me. I am learning that beauty is blind. It is looking at your brother and not noticing that he is missing his ear and that his jaw is crooked and it makes him talk different. It’s seeing beyond the outside to the brother on the inside who is a best friend, playmate, and Tonka truck road builder. It’s worrying about him at school and hoping that no one makes fun of him. It is never once seeing him as being anything less than a perfect brother.

Beauty is selfless. It is sitting down for a family meeting and every child voting “yes” to the idea of bringing home one more brother. A brother who will never walk and is considered unable to be educated. A brother who will take a lot of time, energy and money. It’s watching your children put their own money into your adoption fundraising jar to bring home a child they’ve never met. It’s hope deferred as they sacrifice material things and help with fundraisers and join in the endless waiting.

Beauty is brave. It is walking off an airplane exhausted, weary and scared with a 4-year-old child that cannot walk himself and seeing your children with tears in their eyes waiting to meet their brother for the first time. It’s seeing him scooped into the arms of siblings as they cover his raw fear with the balm of safety and security that only children can give each other.Gagnon4

Beauty is innocence. It is seeing a 4-year-old child that has only lived within four walls, fed a liquid diet, and kept within his crib day after day, sit with the sun on his face. It’s watching him enveloped by a strong, brave family of 5 children who understand and know what it means to be different. It’s a boy conquering all odds to be a cherished brother and son.

Beauty is grace. It is knowing that you and your husband cannot do this “raising 6 kids, 3 with special needs, and work full-time thing” alone…but then looking around and realizing that you are not alone. You are surrounded by your children who are stepping up to help the littlest one with dressing, bathing and loading into the car. It is seeing your kids teach love to a child that has never been considered worthy and lovable, and who takes more than he gives.Gagnon2 It is watching a child who had almost zero language in his native country, whisper to his mommy, “you are Israel’s mommy, I love you mommy, thank you”. And yes, he says that almost every night and I almost cry every time. Beauty is never so shallow as to be skin deep and defined by man; because this kind of beauty places a baby in an orphanage because he will never walk.

It is realizing that beauty exists even in the darkest pit of an orphanage. It’s realizing that it is like a small flame, that you carefully cup your hands around and breathe love and worth slowly upon, and it starts to glow. And each breath fans the coal and soon you have a flame.

Beauty is God. A God who whispered adoption in the ear of a mother an ocean away and breathed a tiny flame of hope into the wisp of a boy lying alone in the darkness of an orphanage. A God that taught a dad and mom that blind, selfless grace is exactly the kind of beautiful love that was sacrificed on the cross.Gagnon1

Stacey is an elementary school teacher turned RN. Her family of 8 laughs, cries and argues over toys daily, while the identified adult figures attempt to maintain controlled chaos. As a mother to special needs children, she is daily figuring out and becoming expert on Spina Bifida, Goldenhar Syndrome, hearing impairments, Eosinophilic Disease, brain injury, and Teenage-itis. Through her blog, she relays the realities of special needs parenting, marriage and adoption while providing some levity. And in the midst of it all, she and her husband look around and see how the adoption of four children has crushed the dreams they had when they first met at the age of 19, and set them on a path greater than they could have dreamed for themselves.