Be the change, reflection, students

We Must Be the First to Stop the Labels

Right after birth
Brandon was the first to notice it.  Moments after delivery, he asked the nurse, “What’s that on his face?” and he pointed to my newborn perfect little baby boy’s face and then waited.  The nurse looked at it and said “Probably a port-wine stain…”  At the moment I didn’t think much of it, perhaps it was a bruise like the doctor said, perhaps it was a strawberry birthmark that would go away, but a port-wine – probably not.  
The next day we had the verdict, yes, that nurse was right and he would need to go see a dermatologist quickly because of its placement.  (For those that do not know what a port-wine stain is, it is is birthmark that continues to grow as it fills with blood leaving the skin disfigured and dark purple as a person ages.)  Later we were told that because of the placement on his face, we had to get treatment or the further growth of the birthmark would pull his skin up into his nose and away from his teeth, meaning he would have a harder time breathing and eating.
But that night in the hospital, all I could see were two little babies who needed me.
Yet, now 3 years, I realize how often I stare at that birthmark.  How often I wonder what his face would be without it?  I know that in the scheme of things this is incredibly minor, a mark that treatment will hopefully help (so far it has helped very little).  And yet, it catches my eye too often and I realize that I have to be able to look past it.  That his face is still beautiful, that he is still perfect, that I did not do something wrong during my pregnancy.   That the world may judge him based on this mark, and that I therefore need to be the first champion of him, his rock if he ever needs it.
I think to the children in our classrooms that come to us with labels, whether physical or emotional ones.  That come to us with people’s eyes already upon them, expectations different somehow because of either choices made or things out of their control.  I think of those children and how I have to be their biggest champion at school, how I have to be the one that looks past everything and sees them for the whole kid they are.  Not whatever the world would rather categorize them as.  I have to be their rock if they ever need it.  I owe it to them and I owe it to Oskar.
For a long time, I didn’t post pictures to Facebook of Oskar right after treatment, he looks much like a prize fighter after the laser has done its work.  I didn’t want people to see how bad he looked, how much pain he had gone through.  I didn’t want him to be judged.  Now, though, I know that he does not care.  That he still has a life to explore whether I can see past this birthmark or not.  That he will not be stopped by something out of his control and neither should I be.  My little boy is perfect, this is the way he was made, and no, I didn’t do anything wrong in my pregnancy to cause it.  He bears no label as long as I do not create one for him.  And neither should any of our students.
3 Years Old
If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.

7 thoughts on “We Must Be the First to Stop the Labels”

  1. Pernille, I am moved so much by this post. My Evelyn was born with a hemangioma (not the same, I know) right beside her eye. It is slowly going away, and yet for me it is part of who she is and part of what makes her Evelyn. As it fades so does her childhood, and honestly I'm saddened by this. Kids always ask about "that spot" when they first meet her usually worried that something bad has happened to her. A photographer gently asked us once if he should photoshop it out. Our response was "definitely not." Each child is a unique and glorious gift and should be celebrated for all he is. Thank you for sharing about your sweet Oskar.

  2. Thank you for having the courage to share this piece of your life with us. Your son is precious and adorable. AND, he is lucky to have a mother who will advocate for him. My daughter has Childhood Apraxia of Speech, which is a motor speech disorder. It will affect the way she talks for many years to come. I have already dealt with other two year-olds wondering why she calls me "mama" not "mommy" like they do. I explain gently and move on. I have vowed that I will not let her become defined by this, just as you will not let your son be defined by a portwine stain. I love the analogy you drew to the children in classrooms. It is a powerful one.

  3. What a lovely, love-filled post. Thank you for sharing. We need to always champion our children (at home, at school, in the community). Oskar is adorable! I have fond memories of my toddling boys in summertime wading pools. Absolute joy!

  4. This is a beautiful reminder, Pal, of the role that we must play as protectors of the kids in our lives. Thanks for sharing a part of who you are to teach us more about who we should be.Rock on, Bill

  5. Beautiful smile, gorgeous display of absolute joy! Oskar your delight at being in the water shines through. That's all that matters! Love, love, love your posts Mrs Ripp! Keep 'em coming!

  6. I love this post. First, the love for your son shines through and he is adorable! His picture shows that he has quite the personality. Secondly, the analogy to our students who have labels: official or unofficial is perfect for the beginning of the school year. We soon will be welcoming young learners into our classrooms who bring special gifts. It is our job to find those gifts and celebrate them. Thank you so much!

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