One Book One Town 2013 has drawn to a close. Thank you to everyone who supported this year’s efforts, from the Friends of the Fairfield Public Library and our other sponsors, the book selection committee, the schools (particularly the school library media specialists and classroom teachers who shared this book with their students,) program faciliators and all the readers who took a chance on a book they might not have otherwise selected to read.
We couldn’t be more proud of the reception this year’s book received. So many people read the book, shared it’s message, attended programs, and took the idea of Choose Kind to heart. We hope that you keep the idea in your hearts and minds as you journey on through the rest of 2013 and beyond.
As a final thought, here is a letter from a Fairfielder touched by Wonder:
My precept: We don’t always get what we deserve.
When we found out I was pregnant with my first child, my husband and I were overjoyed. Cautiously optimistic. Excited. You can’t help but worry, of course. Worry is the work of pregnancy and I’m a really skilled worrier. But everything would turn out fine. It always does. I didn’t smoke, drink, or eat much sugar during my pregnancy. I mostly ate green apples and plain yogurt and I only allowed myself to eat desserts on Saturdays.
My son arrived two weeks early. When I pushed him out into the world, they handed him over to me, an ooky baby who stared up with his big, dark eyes. I was startled at his resemblance to me, and I also noticed that he had a brown birthmark the size of a pencil eraser on his right cheek. Kind of like John-Boy from “The Waltons.” I liked John-Boy. That was fine with me.
Six weeks went by, November and December of 2000 were filled with dimpled chads and court wars. My son was turning more into a real baby, no more wrinkles or dark pink skin. One night he lurched forward and hit his face on my husband’s thumb while my husband was holding him, and we thought he had a bruise on his cheek. We were wrong. Now that his skin had faded to a normal tone, we could see it clear as day, a birthmark that was a large triangle with the broad part of it spanning most of his right cheekbone, with the lesion coming to a point close to his jaw line. The original dark pencil eraser spot that I had seen was actually part of a much larger, giant mole. Like a monster freckle that had been blown up and pasted on my son’s face in a very unfortunate spot.
We were shocked, and didn’t quite know what to do. Thankfully we had had six sleepless weeks to bond and get to know our baby without having the shocker handed to us right away. Eventually, the birthmark grew darker and darker and by four months it was the color of light coffee. Spring was upon us, with warmer sun and flower buds, and I was taking my son for a walk in his stroller. A four year-old was out playing in her in driveway and asked to see the baby. “Why does he have a dirty face?” she asked. This was the first of a long line of questions to come. I couldn’t help myself; I went home and cried. It wasn’t the four year-old’s fault. But at that point I finally realized this wasn’t going to be easy. You’d do anything you could to take pain away from your child but there was nothing I could do to prepare him for this. I couldn’t trade faces with him.
We went to a parade of surgeons, we decided that removal was necessary not only for cosmetic reasons but also because a congenital hairy nevus carries an elevated risk for melanoma. My son underwent two surgeries at the age of 2. It was emotionally disturbing to willfully turn a perfectly cute child with a round face in for a surgery that made him cry, thrash, scream, become swollen, mangled, and in pain afterwards. It was awful, and so hard not to second-guess our decision. After the second surgery, he couldn’t walk because they needed to harvest a tendon from his thigh in order to create a sling that would provide internal support for the scar, attached at his cheek and sewn in behind his ear. We carried him everywhere for about a week.
Things calmed down, life returned to normal. Then nine months after the second surgery, in the sunlight I saw something brown and fuzzy in the scar line. Not again. When I called the doctor, the nurse matter of factly told me that the pigment had regenerated in the scar line. We thought we were done. We were shattered and couldn’t handle anymore. Along with the fights with our insurance company and medical bills (which totaled enough to buy a new car), the emotional roller coaster was too much, and we had to take a break.
Fast-forward to preschool, didn’t have the easiest time there, the age of four is a time of self-awareness and one day when bringing a Q-Tip in for “letter Q day,” my son started crying in the car. “I use a Q-Tip to put (bleach) cream on my cheek. Why doesn’t my cheek look like everyone else’s? Why did God have to make me this way? Why can’t I look like everyone else?” Out of nowhere. Sobbing in the car on the way to school. About a Q-Tip. What do you say to that? I have nothing to offer but apologies. “I’m sorry. I wish I could take it away from you, but I can’t. We have to make the best of it. Everybody has something (wrong), it just so happens that your something is right where everyone can see it.”
Kindergarten and its brown speckled scar brought its own challenges too, 60 new kids with questions. Some were nicer than others. One kid brought it upon himself to ask what the birthmark was about once a month, when there was nothing else to do. Can a five year-old really be passive-aggressive?
On our way to his kindergarten birthday party at a local bowling alley, we went to the grocery store to pick up the cake. We were in a hurry in the bathroom, washing our hands, and we bumped into a clerk on our way out. “Oh My God Honey Are You OK? Did You Fall Down On The Playground,” she said emphatically, in her mushy, slightly demeaning little-kid voice. “Do you want to tell her, or do you want me to?” I said to my son. He looked at her and said, “I was born with a birthmark on my face and I had two surgeries. This is my scar.” Thank you, person, who thought that my kid’s face on a normal day was the same as a kid who has had a horrific playground accident. Thanks for deflating what had been a joyous happy day.
As the years passed, the scarline proceeded to become more and more brown and fuzzy, but we just couldn’t stomach another surgery. Finally in third grade, we went to a different surgeon (to spare us further financial calamity inflicted by the first guy). My son had his third surgery a week after his 9th birthday. They reopened the entire six-inch scar line in order to remove the pigment and stitched it back up. He had a bandage glued to his face that was supposed to come off on its own in ten days. In fact, 10 days turned into about six weeks. The day the first part of the bandage finally came off, it exposed a red, raw ugly stretch of scar. My son cried and cried. How was he supposed to go to school like this, to face his friends with a face that looked so raw and awful? I wiped his tears away but forced him to go to school. The first thing his friend said when he arrived was, “I am so happy for you that your bandage is finally falling off! I know it has been so itchy and uncomfortable!” And that was it. How wonderful was that?
Fast forward, another happy couple of normal years, relishing a normal daily life. Everyone at school had a new-found empathy for my son because they had journeyed with him through the process of recovering from surgery and sitting in the office for indoor recess (thankfully he had a long line of friends wanting to be his buddy doing puzzles with him because it was a really cold winter!), that he had to wear his weakness under a gross bandage that was stained with chocolate and spaghetti sauce…and that he had to wear his weakness, red, raw, and unhealed, for the entire world to see when the bandage finally revealed his truth.
Sixth grade presented its own challenges. Three hundred new kids. Being thrown into a huge environment. My son came home with exciting reports the first few days, but after awhile he became worn down. One night before bed, he admitted to me that he just wished that people would say something different when introducing themselves. Something different than, “What happened to your face? Did you have stitches?” because his identity was far from that, and it was frustrating to get past that when introducing yourself to three hundred new faces.
I think of all of the challenges that my son has had, catching people staring at him when he’s in a sea of new people. I can’t save him from that. I can’t save him from the person in the supermarket who thought that his face on a good day looked like he fell on the playground.
While I can’t save him, I can teach him a thing or two about love. I don’t love you any less because you were not born perfect, with your weakness out in the open for all to see, so vulnerable. As a matter of fact, I love you more. And you’ll learn more about other people and what they feel about the difference between false appearances and what’s on the inside, because your true friends will always be accepting of you even if your physical flaw stares them in the face.
All of the people who know and love my son tell me that they don’t see it. They don’t see the scar, and neither do we. We only see it when the rest of the world asks us impolite questions about it and wakes us up from our happy routines. We are blind to the imperfection. We only see love when we look at this kid (unless he hasn’t picked up his dirty clothes again).
When I think about everything we have been through, I think about what we did to deserve this. Absolutely nothing. And when I see a child with ADD, who can’t stay focused, I think about what that parents did to deserve that. Absolutely nothing. Or the child isolated at the “nut-free” table every day because of a life threatening allergy. What did the parents do to deserve this? Absolutely nothing. Or the child with cerebral palsy who is confined to a really expensive wheelchair and a really expensive van that accommodates the wheelchair. I think about what the parent did to deserve this. Absolutely nothing. Or a non-verbal autistic child whose parents’ dream is to have his or her child just to be able to say, “I love you.” What did those exhausted parents do to deserve this? Absolutely nothing.
And so, I ask you, the residents of Fairfield, to ask yourselves the next time you see a person who isn’t perfect. Maybe the imperfection is staring you in the face, or maybe it’s not. Just give a handshake, look the person in the eye, and a smile and say hi. Because while that person didn’t necessarily get what he deserved, he does deserve extra love and kindness from the people around him.
Choose Kindness, because we all deserve it.
We look forward to bringing you another outstanding One Book One Town in 2014. Feel free to submit your suggestions to our attention. And have a wonderful summer!