When A Little Boy Completely Surprised Me With His Reaction to My Daughter’s Appearance

It was a lively family party, in preparation for a wedding weekend, and the house was full of family members from all over the country – some of whom I hadn’t even met yet or at least hadn’t seen in years.

We exchanged hugs over and over as new people arrived to help celebrate. The kids ran around gleefully outside while the adults loaded up their plates and caught up.

I kept seeing a little boy pass by, probably around 10 or 11 years old. He was a big kid, not much shorter than I am, definitely athletic. And while the other kids paid no attention to me and Brenna, this boy would hesitate at my daughter, wrinkle his nose slightly and furrow his brow a bit, as if he was trying to figure out Brenna’s appearance and wasn’t sure what to make of her skin.

Finally, by the fourth time he passed by, he slowed down until he was standing right in front of her. And I admit – I braced myself for what I thought was coming: a question perhaps, or maybe even a not-so-nice comment about her appearance. I felt a little swelling of annoyance start build up in me, threatening to spill over into upset.

But then he knelt down so that he was eye level with Brenna. And this tough-looking preteen all but cooed at her: “Well, aren’t you just the PRETTIEST little girl? I LOVE your pretty dress! Are you having fun?”

Oh. My. Heart.

My expectation of needing to come to Brenna’s defense melted away in an instant. I was absolutely, completely wrong about this child’s intent – and joyfully so.

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Defensiveness can turn our insides ugly – fast. Defensiveness prepares us for a battle before an actual battle cry. It finds us ready to fight, ready to defend, ready to hurt in return for the hurt we are anticipating or experiencing.

Maybe most importantly, defensiveness turns off our ability to listen well. We don’t care what someone else is saying, what they’re feeling or where they’re coming from – because we’re already upset, ready to fight back at the perceived offense. Fight or flight has kicked in, and it doesn’t matter if the threat is real or in our minds.

Pushing back against my tendency to rush to the line of defense turns my focus outward, instead of inward. It has helped me to try listening beyond what others are saying in order to better understand what they are feeling. When I remind myself that I am not necessarily under attack when someone is expressing a differing view or asking for more information, I can usually see that person is hurt or proud or many other feelings that actually have very little to do with me.

I won’t pretend it doesn’t hurt when a rude comment is made or another child uses an unkind adjective to describe our sweet girl. But we have been surprised by the good of people too, again and again. And just as we don’t want anyone to make assumptions about Brenna’s story, our story, we try not to assume negatively about the reactions of others before giving them a chance.

On most days, I would love to experience an outing without pointing or questions because in all honesty, it does begin to feel intrusive. While I want others to be educated about Brenna’s skin, what I desire even more is for people to squelch their own curiosity and offer a hello or tell me how cute my kids are. I can only dream of a world where we could all learn to extend a little more kindness instead of judgment – a world in which we stood more assured and didn’t have need to question others, or ourselves.

Defensiveness can lead to a growing anger and resentment deep within ourselves. But through offering grace, kindness can be mustered up. And I’ve found that when kindness is extended instead of anger, it builds self-confidence and contentment…and even connection.cIMG_1495

A while ago, there was an older gentleman behind us at McDonald’s, and he started speaking to me before I was paying attention. I caught something about “keeping a hat on” Brenna, and my face started to get hotter, thinking it was the beginning of a lecture about keeping a hat on my kid when out in the sun so that she doesn’t get sunburned (not the first time this has happened.)

“What was that?” I asked him, pushing back against my rising defensiveness.

He repeated his comment: “I was just saying that I don’t know how you get her to keep a hat on. My grandkids just pull them right off!”

He smiled at us. “She’s sure a cutie.”

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

Want to raise kind kids who appreciate differences? 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.

When We’re Brave Enough to Risk Falling

Her teacher walked her out of school looking slight distraught, while Brenna sported a spot on her face that was bumped and scratched.

“She fell today,” her teacher explained apologetically. “We feel so terrible about it. I don’t even know what happened; she was running around, and then she was on the ground, crying and bleeding.” And that night, she messaged me again to check up on Brenna, saying the fall scared her.

But I told Brenna’s teacher, “When she falls, I think of it like this: she is taking risks, trying new things, getting stronger. She didn’t move for the longest time, didn’t walk until she was 2, didn’t crawl until she was two-and-a-half. Movement has been so slow for her…

“When she falls, it is hard to see her hurt in that second, but it feels victorious to me that she is being brave enough to do things that come with the risk of falling.”
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You have a much better chance of falling when you’re on the edge, high up, moving fast – in other words, when you’re taking risks. I’m not sure there are many who learned how to take off, soaring, without a trip, a stumble, maybe even a fall, first. Our falls can only define us when we measure them through the scope of failure – and failure is only failure when we refuse to gain from it.

I’m convinced  that in every piece of our life – even the most difficult, the most embarrassing, the most declining – we can still reflect upon, learn from, adapt within and grow because of. The victory is much more triumphant when we have tasted the struggle, the disappointments…when we understand wholly the risks because we have succumbed to them, and then overcome them.

If we never take risks or push our perceived limitations, how can we know how electrifying it feels to stand back up and continue after a trip or tumble, to push up and improve and learn and create again?

Risks looks different for each of us, and overcoming looks drastically different for each of us, too.

But the fact is that we will never know what is our fastest, our highest, our best, our fullest, our biggest…until we try. And yet, we can also never know what we are capable of until we fall and rise once more.

031My oldest was struggling a bit with swim lessons over the summer, and it became a battle of mind over matter.

He wanted to swim across the deep end, but first had to conquer jumping from the side of the shallow end and swimming to the pool’s entry steps without stopping to stand up. Several lessons went by where he fought against this… And after each lesson, he expressed his frustration about just wanting to go straight to the deep end. He wanted the full pool at his disposal without needing to work for it – the success of swimming without learning how to first breathe through the strokes.

“It’s too hard,” he would complain, and I finally told him that not everything will come easy to him, but that will make it even more exciting when he masters it,  because he worked so hard to achieve it. Finally – after all of the gulping and sputtering week after week piled on opportunities to try yet again – the day came when that perseverance took hold, all of those “falls” transformed into the new skill of swimming laps across the deep end.

You know, our kids can do difficult things, big things. However, we need to be willing to let them. Maybe even push them a little. Empower them.

I find myself almost automatically delivering a repetitive cautionary reminder whenever one of my kids is going a little too fast, climbing a little too high. “Careful! You might fall.”

“I won’t fall!” they say confidently. And you know what? Most of the time they don’t. And in the rare instance when they do, it was worth the risk, because they’re learning what it means to have the courage to try again.cimg_5754

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

Want to raise kind kids who appreciate differences? 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.