“That baby looks weird. His eyes are ugly.”
Those are not words that any new mother (or any mother for that matter) wants to hear when going out to indulge in a chicken fried biscuit. Way to poo on sacred ground, elementary-school-aged punks. To put some background around this, my son, who is now nearly 8 months old, was born with an unusual eye deformity. He has ptosis in one eye that has already required one surgery to just preserve sight and some webbing and a fistula on the other eye. Both eyes will need surgery again within a year or two and likely a few more after that.
I am pregnant again and expecting in September, so my already heightened new-mommy spidey senses are even more attuned. I always knew that one day my sweet baby was going to become the target of bullying. It is something that kept me up at night crying while he was in NICU and I was at home feeling helpless (he was also 6 weeks early). I have worried about him not being able to make friends, never finding love, not having enough self confidence to get a good job and ending up on the street. OK, that last one is a bit much, but hormones do crazy things to people.
My husband, who is always my rock, reminded me – as I started crying in the middle of the fast food chain while holding my sweet boy after overhearing this – that I was letting them win. I logically know this, but at the time it did not make me want to walk over there and school them – and their father, who watched it all go down – any less. I could not pull it together for days just thinking about it. And then it hit me.
Our kid is amazing. Like seriously amazing. He lights up any room he goes into, he constantly has a smile on his face, and he has no idea that he is “different.” If he is not bothered by it, then why am I bothered? These two young boys that made those hurtful comments about an innocent little baby did not know any better. Perhaps they have insecurities of their own and they act out because of it. Perhaps they are just little assholes. Either way, these are the types of people that our son will be dealing with his whole life. And the way that my husband and I react will forever shape how he reacts. Ughhh, parental pressure and moral responsibility…
Kids always stare at our son, and that’s OK because kids are curious and he looks different. I recently was out shopping and an old man (side note: I have decided that old men have similar filters to toddlers, which is both refreshing and unsettling) stopped me and said, “Poor little thing. What is wrong with his eyes?” Rather than being frustrated, annoyed, or sad, I decided to use this as a chance to practice what I preach. I said, “No need to feel sorry for him! He can see perfectly and is the happiest baby you will ever meet.” And as if on cue, my little sidekick flashed a million-dollar smile. The man looked shocked, but then smiled, and it was at that exact moment I realized my little boy and I made a pretty awesome team.
I hate when people say that God gave us a child with a deformity because he knew we could handle it. I could probably bathe in a tub full of cockroaches too, but that doesn’t mean that I would choose it or need to prove it to anyone. But I do have to admit that I was pretty damn proud of us at that moment. It made me wish that I could go back to that fast food restaurant on that fateful day that changed me forever and explain to those little boys what is wrong with his eyes. I should have been the bigger person when no one else stood up. I should have been the example. I have to admit, though, that sometimes I am just tired. I do not feel like answering questions. I do not feel like dealing with the stares. But this is our life.
We do not know if our second baby will have the same issue, and we truly do not care. We ceased all genetic testing months ago (we had done several tests ruling out any major syndromes, etc. and then came to the conclusion that he is doing medically fine so who cares). I can now say loud and proud that I am the mother of a preemie and a child with facial deformities. I am also the mother of a smart, funny, lively, spirited, and HAPPY little boy. So when it all boils down to it, what more can a mother really ask for in a child?
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