Laura and I decided that on this particular cold, rainy day we would seize the opportunity to go to the indoor pool in the city. I packed the necessities – bathing suit, towel, potty seat, milk/water, snacks and a few books before buckling her into her car seat, assuring her that we’d be there soon.
We sang songs and hada mini dance party during our drive into the city and to my utter astonishment – she was happy the whole way.
We pulled up to the pool, got out of the SUV, ran like mad to the door as it was raining cats and dogs outside and then took a breather once inside before paying for our admission. I paid the adult amount and thankfully, Laura’s fee is 0 because she doesn’t count as a full person yet in public places. She only weighs just shy of 30 pounds so it seems right not to pay admission.
The morning was going smoothly and Laura was behaving like the little angel she is (most of the time). We walked into the women’s change room to see that the Aquafit class had just let out, leaving a herd of elderly women in it’s wake- most of whom were wearing nothing at all (where does the shame go past the age of 70!?).
Suddenly, about a dozen pairs of eyes darted towards Laura – who was looking particularly adorable in her little pink dress and pink rubber boots. Laura, of course, was beaming from ear to ear with all of the attention being placed on her. The ladies began the routine chats,
Oh, look! How cute!
How old is she?
Look at her boots!
Oh, she’s going swimming! How nice!
Frustratingly, there wasn’t an inch of space on the benches to put our stuff on so we found a space in the middle of the floor and I proceeded to get Laura out of her clothes and into her bathing suit.
Here’s when the room grew quiet. As her mother, I don’t notice her differences any more – she is just Laura to me. To a crowd of elderly ladies, though, the sheer sight of Laura’s bare chest is nearly enough to cause a stroke. Suddenly there was no friendly banter, just awkward gawks and eyes trying to avoid mine as I continued to get Laura dressed.
I could see the questions running through their minds:
Is she okay?
I finished getting Laura into her bathing suit and we headed to the pool and proceeded to have a grand ol’ time! Laura only ever lasts about a half hour before she begins to turn blue (she can’t control her temperature very well and gets cold easily) but that half an hour was filled with the telltale giggles of a toddler who was having the time of their life.
The staring really doesn’t bother me. Laura’s chest looks ridiculous and scary and I know that. Laura is a strange beast in that she looks 100% normal until her clothes come off – I can completely understand someone being taken aback. What I don’t understand though, is the social stigma that says that it is not okay to ask. If you want to know what happened, ask me! Ask me if she is okay or if she is in pain or if she cares that she has those scars. It really would make things so much easier.
I would answer that she had surgeries when she was a baby but she is doing well right now and that she thinks her Berlin Heart scars are bonus belly buttons. It wouldn’t offend me to be asked these questions – do they think I don’t notice!?
Surely, I’m not going to answer “What scars? She isn’t any different than anyone else!”
I wish the culture around children with differences could change. People feel awkward and don’t know what to say. In order to not say anything stupid or politically incorrect, they just look away and try to ignore the situation. I believe in a culture of caring and compassion. I believe that if a parent is taking their child with differences out in public, they are perfectly aware that people will notice them and I promise, they can see you staring. Next time, try to make conversation with the parent to acknowledge their presence. It doesn’t have to be about the difference but I believe that if it’s a really obvious difference, it’s okay to ask.
For now, Laura and I will continue to go swimming and I will continue to be hugely impressed whenever a brave soul asks about Laura’s scars 🙂