59. What Makes Her Special

59. What Makes Her Special

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

What Makes Her Special

True beauty is the flame of self-confidence that shines from the inside out.

~Barrie Davenport

When my twin daughters, Melody and Jessica, turned seven, I stopped by their school to drop off birthday cupcakes (for Jessica’s first grade class) and doughnuts (for Melody’s). Mrs. Connelly, the principal, spotted me and asked me into her office. She must have seen the look on my face — or perhaps she’s merely accustomed to how people react to being called into the principal’s office — and set me at ease, saying, “I need to brag about Melody.”

“Did Melody tell you what happened last week?” she asked after we were seated.

“I don’t think so.” Both my daughters had told me a lot of things that had happened the previous week, but none of their stories featured anything principal-worthy.

The principal told me that one of her fourth graders, normally a sweet boy, had been acting up recently. In one incident, he sat next to Melody at lunch and asked her what happened to her face. Melody began to cry.

At this point in listening to the story, I began to cry too, which made the principal join in. Before I continue with the tearfest, let me give a little background.

I don’t think it’s merely maternal pride that makes me think that both Jessica and Melody are pretty. They are identical twins, but by developmental happenstance, Melody was born with a frontonasal dysplasia, or a facial cleft, similar to a cleft palate, but higher in her face and not affecting her palate. Jessica was born without the cleft. Melody has been seeing a craniofacial specialist since birth. The appointments were every three months at first, then slowly changed to yearly, and are now every two years.

She hasn’t needed surgery, and there’s nothing wrong with the function of her nose. It just doesn’t have a defined tip. The cleft also causes her eyes to be wide set and has given her a widow’s peak hairline. All of it combines, in my mind, to give Melody an adorable china doll look.

Melody’s doctor warned us that, even if there was no functional issue with her nose, kids get mean about appearance around age seven. We could always opt for surgery if it was needed for Melody to have a healthy self-image. Honestly, I never gave surgery much thought. Melody is a well-adjusted kid.

It’s not like Melody’s unusual look has never come up before. When kids have asked why she has a “funny nose,” I’ve responded by saying it’s so that we could tell her apart from her sister. When I overheard a little girl telling Melody that her nose was “too small,” I responded by focusing on its purpose. “Does it breathe?” Yes. “Does it smell?” Yes. “So is it too small to do its job?” No.

I’ve told Melody that she has the world’s most kissable nose, and she permits me five kisses exactly at bedtime on her “kissy nose.” A while ago, Jessica told someone that a good way to tell her apart from her twin was her pointy nose, in contrast to Melody’s flat one. I considered taking her aside to have a serious discussion about thinking before we speak, but realized that she wasn’t attaching a value judgment to one look over the other. She was just stating a fact.

Part of me worried, though, that having an identical twin would come to show Melody what she would have looked like without the cleft, and that she would resent Jessica. It’s never come up, though. I hope it never does. It helps that, while my girls value their twin relationship, they also relish being individuals and having some differences from one another.

Let’s return to the principal’s office. As you may recall, we were crying.

The fourth grader had been mean, and Melody had cried in front of all her friends. It took a while for the older boy to admit that he’d acted wrongly and with intent to hurt. By the time he was ready to deliver a real apology, Melody was back in class. The principal called her out into the hallway, and the fourth grader apologized.

“It’s okay,” she told him. “You already said sorry, and I forgave you. People say that stuff to me all the time. It’s fine.”

Now it was the little boy’s turn to cry. He was ashamed.

“It’s not fine,” the principal told her. “You’re a beautiful girl, and it’s not okay that people say mean things.”

“But I forgive them,” said my amazing, extraordinary child. “I love this school!” And she skipped back to class.

That night at dinner Jessica was distracted by her dessert, so I took the opportunity to talk to Melody about this whole thing. “I heard you were extremely forgiving at school. Mrs. Connelly was pretty proud of you.”

Melody beamed.

“Do you want to tell me about it?”

She told me essentially the same story I’d heard in the office. I reiterated what her principal had said, that she didn’t need to just accept people’s cruel words.

“But Mommy, it’s okay. They can say what they want. It’s my job to forgive. I just don’t get it. I don’t understand why they would want to be mean about what makes me special. My kissy nose makes me special. What’s wrong about that? I don’t know why it’s like this, but it makes me special.”

There was nothing wrong with that, I told her. By a major act of self-control, I kept my tears at bay this time. Would she like to know why her nose was special? She did want to know, so I explained in very simple, objective terms the nature of her cleft. I also pointed out that it was responsible for her widow’s peak, which she calls her “heart hair,” since it helps give her a heart-shaped face.

“I love my heart hair!” she said. “That is part of what makes me special too.”

She went on to tell me that her teacher had told her about being teased as a child for not speaking English well. Her sister’s teacher told her about being teased for having a big nose. I added my own story about being teased for my eczema. I told her that I’d never realized I was pretty until I was eighteen.

She gasped. “But Mommy, you’re beautiful.”

“So are you, baby girl. I’m so glad you already know it.”

“Me too. I’ve known ever since Nicole [her friend from infancy] told me I was beautiful when I was very small. That’s why she’s such a good friend,” she said.

There was nothing more to say.

~Sadia Rodriguez

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