Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Your Confused Face is an Ugly Face

This is a public service announcement: Your confused face is an ugly face.

Do me a favor.
Go stand in front of a mirror.
Now close your eyes and think of a time when something confused you. Or caught you off guard. Or threw you for a loop.
Channel that moment. Feel how your felt. Make the face you made in that moment.

Now open your eyes.

Yikes!  Not a pretty face right?  In fact kind of an ugly face.

How do I know this? No, it's not because I am spying on you through your mirror - I'll leave that to the government.

The reason I know this is because that is the face we see over and over and over again when we are out in public. A confused face that is in fact an ugly and unfriendly face.  So I'm on a mission to raise awareness that your confused face is an ugly face - and in doing so hopefully make the world a better place.

Imagine what it would be like walking through life if this was the face you saw every time you made eye contact with a stranger.

Disturbing right?

And then, as if that isn't bad enough, the person making their ugly face realizes they have been staring at you (or your child in our case) with their ugly face and they quickly attempt a recovery face - and it looks something like this:

Not much better. Actually maybe worse.

Honestly after seeing this face so many times, I want to just to go ahead and put a narrative to it for people. You might as well be saying with your blatant gawking ugly face: "My brain literally cannot comprehend what my eyes are seeing. A person who looks different or acts different???? What is this?  Where am I? Am I safe? This is so far beyond my realm of understanding my face has frozen from confusion and fear."

First of all - what year is this? Diversity has been a buzzword for more than a few decades now and I'm pretty sure wheelchairs have existed for longer than that - so these are not new things. If they are new to you, then you should consider getting out more.

Secondly, I realize I'm making an assumption here, but I feel that it is very likely that you who stare with such bewilderment at people who are different also have one of those fancy CO-EXIST bumper stickers on your bumper and are very proud of it. If that is true, and I know it may not be, but if it is true or you promote this coexist concept in some other way in your life, then maybe go meditate on the meaning of that concept you promote for awhile so that the next time you actually do bump in to diversity you don't freeze and become completely incapacitated by DIVERSITY.  Just a thought.

Third, for the sake of the children (okay, let's be honest, in our case it isn't even for the child, she doesn't see it thank God, in our case it's for me). For the sake of me, for parents like me and for the kids and adults who do see it and are sick of this being the face greeting us wherever we go, please work on your facial expressions!  You want to make a difference in the world, you want to make the world a kinder place? Master your face.

Sounds hard I know, but don't worry, I'm not going to give you that advice and leave you hanging. I am a helper! I want you to succeed.  And thanks to my seven years devotion to Tyra Bank's educational television program America's Next Top Model, I KNOW for a fact that it is indeed possible (with work) to master your facial expressions even when you feel something different on the inside! Thank you Tyra Banks for your contribution to the world.

So, with that good news in mind and a little help from Tyra, let's practice!
Next time you see something that confuses you:

It's not this.

It's this!
Try it!
It's hard, I know, but you can do it.

Let's try one more:
"I just saw something I wasn't expecting to see. What should I do with my face?"

It's not this.

Or this.
It's this!

Okay, got it? Great! I knew you could do it!  Now just practice this tutorial in front of the mirror for 3-4 hours a day and I promise you will be making the world a better place for families like ours!

Thus concludes this public service announcement.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Survival of the Cutest

Last week I posted a new video of Julia laughing on Facebook. I was quickly informed via a comment from a “friend” that she "must confess" she did not find Julia to be" quite as cute" in this latest posting...


The comment was odd to say the least. Who says that, really?  But nonetheless, the comment was made and for as weird as it was and for as much as comments like that probably just need to be ignored and chalked up to the strangeness that is social media –  I find myself having a hard time letting it go.  And not because of the reasons you might think.  Yes, the comment was rude. No, you actually are not required to confess thinking someone’s child isn't looking quite so cute lately – you actually can (and should) keep that to yourself. No, the real reason I’m having a hard time letting it go is because it tapped into something very real to me, something I think about and worry over often.

What happens to Julia when the world doesn’t think she is cute anymore?

Hear me out. When people think you are cute they treat you better.  Cute is a shield. And while Julia will always be the cutest thing on the planet to those of us who love her, I am realistic enough to know that as she gets older her looks (like all kids) will change. She will get bigger, she may become awkward, and she will not be viewed as cute by the strangers she encounters.

And how will she be treated then? That's my concern.

I know the answer a little because the change has already started. The last time we checked into the hospital the nurses clearly treated Julia differently than in previous visits. She’s getting bigger and older and so rather than hear comments about her being “so cute” which is what we have usually heard, (which then behaviorally in our experience leads to being treated with patience and kindness), the nurse trying to get Julia’s vitals labeled her as “difficult” and seemed annoyed by the challenge Julia was presenting to her.  I distinctly remember thinking to myself in that moment that this is just a glimpse of what we have to look forward to when doctors and nurses no longer see Julia as cute and little but instead see her as a difficult challenge.

The world is a kinder place for those it deems cute.

And so I worry that the world will become less kind to Julia when little and cute aren’t the first things to be seen. I wonder if people will take the time to get to know her if they don’t immediately like what they see.  In truth it’s already hard now. We get strange looks or no looks at all when we are out in public so much so that my mom recently made Julia a shirt that says “I’m not invisible!”  If she needs that kind of shirt now at age six, I wonder how much more invisible will she become when she is (God willing) an older child or young adult and not so cute?

My biggest fear around this topic is that people will become less patient with Julia and less accommodating of the extra needs she does have and will continue to have if they aren't at first charmed by what they see.  Sometimes I want to ask the moms of older kids with special needs about this. Did you notice a change? Was there an age when people’s reaction to your child shifted, when their patience lessened?  Have we unknowingly been living in the easiest of years – and the harder years are yet to come? 

I want to ask, but I haven’t - maybe I don’t really want the answer confirmed.

It’s a sad reflection on our culture that this fear exists - but to be honest I'm afraid of this happening because I am guilty of doing it myself.

When I was 22 years old I decided to sponsor a child through Compassion International because a letter came to our house and inside the letter was a photograph of Gracie, the cutest 4 year old I had ever seen. The letter asked me “will you sponsor Gracie?”  And because I could not resist her cuteness I said “yes!” Two weeks later my intake packet arrived with a picture of my newly sponsored child - Yvonne.

Yvonne???  Ummm, where is Gracie?

Yvonne was not Gracie. Yvonne was not 4, Yvonne was not little and Yvonne was not particularly cute. Yvonne was not why I signed up to help.  Cute little Gracie was.

The intake letter explained Gracie had already been chosen so I had been matched with Yvonne, a child also in great need of sponsorship for the very same reasons as Gracie. But I remember thinking “I don’t realllllllly want to do this anymore... I really kinda just wanted to sponsor Gracie because she was really cute.” 

And then I remember realizing, “Wow, I am a complete jerk.”  And I wondered "Am I alone in my terribleness or are other people as terrible and shallow as me and Compassion International knows this and also knows they must use pictures of kids like Gracie to get sponsors for kids like Yvonne?"  Terrible.

I can only hope for my sweet Julia’s sake that most of the human race is NOT like the 22 year old version of myself.

Please, please, please people, be better than me!

I can only hope that I am wrong in my worries and fears, and that most people don’t treat others differently based on their looks or their size (or their age or their abilities).

I can only hope that most people aren’t so shallow as to decide how much love, patience, help, kindness and grace another person deserves based on how pleasing their appearance is.

I can only hope that most people do not measure the worth of another in cuteness but in humanness.

I can only hope...but I do worry.