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!”
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.