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.

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Courtesy of Macy's

In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

Courtesy of Macy's

Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

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