"You should pull your sleeves down. Your arm looks weird," I overheard the little girl say to my daughter, as the two of them sat on top of the monkey bars at the park.
"Yeah, I'm getting cold anyway," Bella replied, pulling her pushed-up sleeves back down to cover her arms.
Bella glanced over at me and I gave her my bravest smile, even though my heart was exploding into a million jagged pieces.
Later that evening, I approached her.
"I overheard what that little girl said to you about your arm. How did that make you feel?" I asked.
Avoiding eye contact with me, she continued to color as she answered, "I'm okay, I guess."
She paused for a couple seconds and then quietly continued, "But my arm IS weird."
A lump formed in my throat, as this was the first time Bella had ever said anything negative about her arm.
My mind went back to a conversation she and I had a couple years ago after seeking the advice of yet another surgeon.
Back then, at the tender age of 4, she wasn't bothered by the scar which covered the entire bicep of her right arm. In fact, I can still hear her tiny voice telling me, "It doesn't bother me. I think it's pretty and I like it. I want to keep my scar. It makes me special."
Even now, those words bring a smile to my face. So innocent, so resilient, so accepting. Back then...
You see, Bella was born with a hemangioma on her right arm. At first, it was nothing more than a bright red dime-sized mark on her bicep. The NICU staff explained to us what it was and said it would probably fade with time but, in rare instances, hemangiomas can grow at an alarmingly fast pace.
|Bella - 11 days old|
By the time she left the NICU, 4 weeks later, it was obvious the hemangioma had grown tremendously.
|Bella - 26 days old|
For more details and to view more pictures, you can read this post.
While Bella knows the story of her hemangioma, she gets tired of repeating the story to others....curious strangers who simply have this undying need to know what happened to her arm. We finally told her, "Just tell people it's a birthmark and leave it at that."
|Bella - 10 months old|
|Bella - 13 months old|
|Bella - 3 years old|
To my dismay, the inevitable had finally occurred but I still couldn't help feeling caught off guard by it. It was much sooner than I expected and much more heartbreaking than I had anticipated.
As a parent, I want all my children to be accepted and loved for who they are, regardless of how they look or whatever physical or character flaws they may have. I want their inner beauty to be just as valuable as their outer beauty. More than anything, I wish everyone could see what I see when I look at them...incredible, wonderful, amazing little human beings.
My hand glided over the tough, leathery skin on Bella's right arm as I spoke, "I understand. I really do. I'm sorry those people hurt your feelings. I just want you to be happy and comfortable in your own skin. You are beautiful and special, no matter what. We can go back and talk to the surgeon again, if you like."
|Bella - today at 7 years old|
Bella put her crayon down and looked up at me. "Not yet. I can wait until I'm a little older. Besides, the comments do hurt my feelings but it only hurts for a little while. Don't be sad. I'm not."
With tears welling up in my eyes, I beamed at my daughter as she began to color her picture again...her words forever embedded in my brain.
It only hurts for a little while. Don't be sad. I'm not.
It never ceases to amaze me.
The fact that my 7-year old daughter is so much braver and more tolerant than I am as an adult is something I will truly never understand.