|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 portwine 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 portwine - probably not.
The next day we had the verdict, yes, it was a portwine stain and he would need to go see a dermatologist quickly because of its placement. (For those that do not know what a portwine 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 11 months later, 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 not). 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.
I am a passionate 5th grade teacher in Middleton, Wisconsin, USA, proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students' heads every day. First book “The Passionate Learner - Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students Starting Today” will be released this fall from PLPress. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.