My daughter has a skin disorder. This is how I wish others would ask about it.

As we enter the playground area, your child immediately points to mine, calling loudly, "Mom, look at HER!"

You quickly hush him, calling him to you to quietly reprimand him.

You’re at the end of the same grocery store aisle when your child catches a glimpse at the baby in my cart and asks, "Why is that baby so red?"


You practically put your hand over his mouth to stop as much of the question as you can while hurrying around the corner without looking back.

Your children freeze, staring open-mouthed at my daughter at the library, and you get a rising panic in your eyes as you try to distract them to look anywhere but.

I recognize all of this unfolding, nearly every day. I hear all of the questions. I glimpse all of the pointing out of the corner of my eye. I notice all of the whispered comments.

4-year-old Brenna. Image courtesy of Courtney Westlake.

My 4-year-old daughter Brenna was born with a genetic skin disorder called Harlequin ichthyosis, which means her skin doesn’t work well and builds up too quickly. The rare condition leaves her susceptible to infections, unable to sweat, and with an appearance that looks like a severe sunburn all over her body.

Because of this, Brenna is the recipient of comments, questions, and stares nearly daily, and as her mother, I feel it all deep within my heart. And it makes it worse when you then try to "hide" it from me, from us.

You’re embarrassed, and I understand that. But we’re both parents trying to do our best, and we both love our kids fiercely. And when you try to hide these obvious conversations that are happening right in front of us, it feels like you’re hiding from our family. It feels like the small insignificant gap between us that your child has noticed has now grown into a wide-spanning canyon that no one wants to cross.

What I wish you would do? I wish you would leave this conversation with your children open to me and my family, so it might become with us, instead of about us.

The Westlake family. Image courtesy of Courtney Westlake.

I wish you would close that small gap by relating to us as you would to any other family on the playground instead of making the gap bigger by treating us as unapproachable.

When your child points and tells you to look, I wish you would respond clearly, "Yes, look at that pretty little girl. It looks like she’s having so much fun playing, just like you are!"

When your child asks you, "Why is that baby so red?" or "Why does she look like that?" I wish you would answer honestly: "I’m not sure, but the way someone looks isn’t important. We all look different from each other, don’t we?"

I wish you would encourage your child to say hi and to ask my kids’ names.

I wish you would apologize without feeling ashamed if your child is offensive right in front of us: "I’m so sorry, we’re still learning how to ask questions respectfully." It also goes a long way if you tack on "Your daughter is so cute. How old is she?"

And above all, I wish you would talk about differences more often.

I wish you would read to your child about differences, and I wish you would positively and naturally converse about various kinds of differences, from wheelchairs to birthmarks, from Down syndrome to skin disorders, from racial differences to wearing glasses. Ultimately, I hope that our children learn that if they have questions about someone’s appearance, they can ask you later, privately, so that they don’t hurt anyone’s feelings — because, after all, how we treat each other is much more important than how someone looks.

So next time, I hope you don’t hide. Questions will inevitably exit your child’s mouth about someone who looks different than themselves. Instead of a steep divide that places our family on the other side with a "do not look at and do not talk to" sign, I’d rather this become a positive opportunity for your child to learn how to respect and appreciate physical differences.

Brenna with her big brother, Connor. Image courtesy of Courtney Westlake.

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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