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...

Huh?

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. 

21 comments:

  1. All I can say is who let you into my head Laurie?? I think this as every month goes by and JJ continues to grow taller and taller. He's more then 1/2 my body length now. When is his "cuteness" going to wear off and he becomes the "disable kid, disabled young man and then the disabled guy".
    I pray that the world will be kind to JJ has he grows into the lovable man I know he will be. I know when I look into those sweet eyes of his and right into his soul that no matter his outward appearance he will still have the same sweet soul. God I hope everyone sees it too. All my love to you and Julia. <3 Medea

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    1. I love you Medea - thanks for letting me know I'm not alone. Those are my exact fears. I pray for people to see their souls too. xoxo

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  2. A friend shared this on Facebook, and it is exactly how I feel about my 7 year old. Our days as "cute" are numbered. And where she was once just that cute, squirmy red-head, she's now becoming that big, strong, squirmy red-head, who also happens to be very (non-verbally) opinionated. I can remember before I had her being a little nervous around teens and adults with disabilities. And I can see that in people's eyes now. It makes me very, very sad.

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    1. Thank you for commenting! I hear you and I'm sorry. Julia also is non-verbal and some of her behaviors (like throwing her toys) are now starting to come across as "bad" rather than cute and it makes me sad also because she isn't being bad - it's just something she knows how to do.

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  3. So well said. I have had the exact same thought. At 11, Max looks younger than his age and people still tell me how cute he is. I try not to worry about the cuteness decline! I figure Max's sunny personality will always be an asset to him. Either that or someone will come out with a cuteness app. He he.

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  4. Oh, and Julia is DELISH!!! And that commenter is a jerk.

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    1. Thank you Ellen for taking the time to read and comment - I am very honored! I have benefited so much from your writing over the years. I'll tell my husband to start working on that app! :)

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  5. I think the whole society is all too focused on outward beauty -- from the smallest of babes to the elderly. We're all put to daily tests (aka judgments of our outward appearances). And as much as we (especially special needs moms) try to look beyond others' outward appearances and "differentness", it's difficult to do. We can set a good example and the rest is (unfortunately) up to others. (Visiting from Love That Max)

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    1. Thanks for visiting from Love That Max and for taking the time to comment!!! I agree with you - I'm hoping we can change what society values one blog at a time! :)

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  6. Hi Julia's mum. I understand what you mean also. The charity worked it out long ago. I bet they send the same picture to everyone, and then give them the same excuse when they give them a different chikd yo sponsor. I think that as humans, we can potentially be terribly shallow at times to be honest. When Julia has to deal with nurses or professionals like that, butter them up, and gave her through some wonderful smiles at them, no matter what..
    Btw.. I read your dad's comments in the blog about the insurance company. As a grandfather myself, I understand that joy. He's a keeper Julia's mum. ;)
    God bless your journey honey.

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    1. Thanks so much for commenting! Yes, Julia's "Poppy" is a keeper for sure - we've been blessed!! Thank you for taking the time to read my blog - I like your advice too, I need to work on that because the momma bear instinct kicks in and I think I have a tendency to give people the death glare! :)

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  7. I must say, I thought this was a pretty interesting read when it comes to this topic. Liked the material. . . . . family survival course reviews

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  8. I sure think she is cute. I know it's hard to remember when you are hurt, but comments like those you mentioned are not about your daughter, but rather an unfortunate reflection of the speaker. Look past those people for those of us who appreciate her beauty; we outnumber the unappreciative by far, and we are all around.

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  9. Don't worry about it, the future will take care of itself. My son is 16 and he is far from cute. Most people are kind and the ones who stare too much.... well, I just smile and wave.

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  10. I agree with you completely in this post. A new set of standards comes when cuteness seems to go away. However she is 6 and by the looks she is as sweet as pie in and out. The "Awws" become "ohs". The patience can get thinner and the road rougher. This does not only happen in the special needs world. Teachers tend to favor cute kids and have more invested in them instead of the homely child who might not be as clean. A way to deal with this is once cuteness has worn. Use the dignity as what is most valued. Treat her as a young lady and other than having them see her as a cute baby see her as someone deserving of respect. It is hard. When I go into a restarnt i have people over look me. I am little but am not looking to be cute. When I am ignored someone will call attention to it. I will make a scene and demand what is needed. whether that is help or more time etc. There was a woman who had to put her child in an institution and gave her something to stop growing for this reason. It is not an uncommon or fictional fear. I actually have a blog dedicated to cuteness and disability for this very reason

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  11. I definitely understand the fears of this but I admit I myself think my daughter will prefer when the world doesn't see her as cute. She hates attention. She hates being touched by strangers. People think cute babies are public property. When she is less cute she will be more left alone in public (it's already less than it was when she was smaller). I know it will come with its own challenges as well. But I do try to seethe positives in it (for my own introverted and sensory sensory sensitive child anyway).

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  12. I work with teenagers and young adults with special needs and can only say that I (and everyone that works with them) still find them gorgeous captivating and charming individuals. The people that matter and who influence your children will too, and will have all the patience in the world.

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