Is that a scratch?

I just read a piece online called, “Jupiter’s Dot and Mine. Why Life is Unfair.” I saw it on my Twitter feed, then later, Facebook, so I clicked.  I actually read it (see NY Times article, Faking Cultural Literacy for more on that issue). It was profoundly sad.  And relative to my youngest daughter.

“Did she get a scratch,” is one of the typical questions people ask my husband or I when they first meet our baby.  It’s quite common actually. I’d say we hear it at least weekly.  Smiling politely, I tend to say no or shake my head, and quickly reply, “It’s a birthmark,” instead of screaming at the top of my lungs, “What’s it matter to you, ya big jerk? Would you ask her this in a few years to her face, or are you just asking because you know she can’t understand? Why do you even care? Why do you think you can ask about my baby’s face when yours isn’t anything special?”  And then I breathe. Think to myself. That is WHY.  She is special.  She is unique.  They are curious.

Society has conditioned us to question differences rather than embrace them, especially when it comes to appearance. Even in early American literature Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a piece aptly titled, “The Birthmark where the husband, a devout man of science, desperately pleads with his gorgeous wife, Georgianna, to let him try and remove the birthmark on her cheek.  The results are disastrous. Additionally the boy with the ‘mulberry mark’ on his face in Lord of the Flies was identified throughout the book with no name. Solely the birthmark. The mark of birth. The single identifier.

The article about Jupiter’s lone red dot fading was a metaphor for the author who is still waiting for his birthmark mole to fade, or even as his hope dims, for it to completely disappear.  I wonder if my baby will hope for the same.  In infants, chances are high that by age 4, most strawberry birthmarks disappear.  Our eldest had one on her hip, and now it’s gone.  She asks about it all the time.  It was a piece of her that is no longer there.  She even rubs the spot where it was to see if there is any leftover.  All she feels now is smooth skin.  No traces of her past reside.  If our youngest loses hers, I wonder if she will miss it.  If the birthmark stays, I hope that she learns early on that there are many ways to respond to these questions.  With her emerging personality, I’m sure it will be something clever. Our culture is a curious one, and she, well; she is special, with or without the mark. That’s how I will answer from now on.

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