Well, it finally happened. My cleft affected son came home from school and after asking him how his day was he told me it was a good day but…he was playing in the big play yard with the upper grades and an older boy came up to him and asked him “what is wrong with your lip?”
My heart stopped. I quite literally was not expecting this today and even though it has been something in the back of all of our minds it just hadn’t happened and I thought perhaps we might not even encounter such a situation. We got through Kindergarten without any questions from peers but he moved up to first grade and to the big play yard where there are all of the upper grade children and of course it was bound to happen, right?
I kept my cool while holding his hand and walking to our car. I asked him what he said to the boy. He told me that he said “nothing.” I’m like, you just stood there and said “nothing?” He said, “no mom, I told him nothing was wrong with my lip because there isn’t anything wrong with it, right?” I told him that he was right and that there is nothing wrong. I asked him if he told the boy he had surgery when he was a baby and he told me that he didn’t feel like telling the boy that because he didn’t know him very well and didn’t feel like telling him all about his surgery. He then proceeded to tell me about playing kickball and how he was in “green” all day in his classroom. I quietly listened to him ramble about his day while my stomach was in knots. I had more questions but I didn’t want to upset him. We got home and I asked him if I could ask him some questions about what happened with the boy asking him about his lip. He said that was “okay.”
I asked him if his feelings were hurt because of the question and he told me “no.” My son, so brave, so logical told me that it was no big deal. He knew he had surgery and he was fine with it. He said he didn’t think the boy was trying to be mean to him at all and that the boy was just asking him why his lip looked different than his own. He then hugged me and told me not to worry. Told me not to worry. Wow.
As a family we have been very honest with our son about his surgeries and have explained to him that he had a cleft lip and palate when he was born. We have shown him his baby pictures and shared with him stories of being in the NICU and the hospitals when he was little. We have never wanted him to feel shame or to feel like he needs to worry about his facial difference. Of course it has always been a worry that even though we feel this way in our family that outside of that he would not be met with the same attitude. Starting school was a worry, but then, nothing. So it happened. He was asked about his lip and he responded in the best way possible.
I cannot convey how proud I am of him and his ability to be so grown up and comfortable with his response in that situation. He is right. There is nothing wrong with his lip. I love that face of his and his fiendish smile. His personality shines through in all that he does. He has such a good time all the time. He pretends to be a Ninja Turtle practicing his “moves” in the backyard, which never fails to crack me up. He’s actually quite good with his sticks and swinging them around fighting the bad guys. He is a kid. He has had surgeries to repair his lip and palate, speech therapy since he started babbling and more doctor appointments in his young life than I have had up to this point in mine, and yet he does it all without complaint and with that million dollar smile. (literally I feel like that’s how much his smile has cost!)
He taught me to listen to my own advice. I needn’t worry about him. I will of course, but it seems like he’s got this.
Some helpful literature for you and your family found at the www.cleftline.org site: