I saw her grandparents in their car before I met her. They were sitting comfortably reading while a couple of their grandchildren played down the path at the nearby playground.
And so when we walked up that path to step onto the wood chips, there were no other adults around to hear the little girl — who later told me she was 8 years old — as she jumped from her swing to rush toward us and loudly declare, “That baby is really red!”
The girl’s brother joined us, watching, and I couldn’t even smother a smile when my daughter Brenna — who is 4 years old but very small — defiantly responded, “I’m not a baby!”
Truth be told, I really wasn’t in the mood to have an educational meeting at the park that day. I was just wanting to spend some time pushing my kids on the swings.
But I explained, simply and quickly, that my daughter has a skin condition and that’s how her skin looks and this is how she was born, and then I introduced both of my kids by name. Then I pointed to the little boy’s shirt, which bore the logo of the St. Louis Cardinals, and I said, “Oh, do you like the Cardinals? Brenna and Connor are Cardinals fans!” And both kids smiled for a moment, forgetting their original observations about Brenna’s skin.
Within a few minutes, the little girl was back next to us on the swings, asking more questions — curious, not unkind, friendly, but persistent. “Why does it peel like that?” “Why is she so little? She looks younger than 4!” “Why doesn’t she have a lot of hair?”
I answered them all, and I sprinkled in other conversation too: How old the girl was, where she went to school, how she was in Girl Scouts — which then led to a discussion about our favorite cookies. Eventually, the questions ceased and the chatter became the typical playground conversations as more kids arrived.
Later, on some climbing equipment, a new child approached the area, and the little girl spoke up quickly when she saw a glance Brenna’s way, “That’s how she was born. Isn’t she cute? She looks like a baby, but she’s not!”
Maybe being peppered with questions wouldn’t have been my first choice as I set out to spend the afternoon at the park with my kids, but as we left and told everyone “bye,” I couldn’t help but be glad that no one was around to pull that little girl away at the first question.
Not only did that little girl have her questions answered in a positive way, but she also got the benefit of the ensuing conversation. She got to hear Brenna tell her that her favorite Girl Scout Cookie was the Peanut Butter Patties. She got to see her laugh and play and swing like any other child. She was able to learn that Brenna’s favorite character is Minnie Mouse, and that Brenna goes to school just like her, and that Brenna has a brother the same age as her brother.
Not only that, but Brenna also got a wonderful opportunity. Brenna was able to stand up and tell that little girl confidently, “I’m not a baby,” and “That’s how I was born.” Brenna was given the chance to foster conversation instead of wondering, as in many other situations, why a potential new friend is being called away or dragged from her.
It was the first time we had experienced curious questions with no other adult intervention. And when all was said and done, I was grateful that it was a good experience, hopeful that it was positive for both my kids and the other children.
I have long believed that when we allow our children to learn about each other using positive tone and respectful language, and remind them consistently that we are all so different, then we encourage much more acceptance and appreciation for how uniquely we were all created. Different doesn’t have to mean strange or weird. Actually, different really is normal, because differences are a part of every single one of us. Our awe-inspiring creator truly does mold beautiful masterpieces.
A few weeks later, I took my kids back to the same park, and I saw that same vehicle in the parking lot.
And that same little girl met us at the end of the path where the wood chips start.
This time, she was smiling exuberantly.
“You came back!!” she exclaimed happily.
There were no more questions about skin differences, only playful chatter about what 8-year-olds like to talk about.
She had learned, and she had accepted. Now our differences made no difference to her. Now we were simply new friends.