Out of the Mouths of Babes
Kids really do say the darndest things! Now that I am a parent, I am not only around my own kids, but I find myself around many other kids as well. My wife and I work opposite schedules so that we don’t have to put our boys in daycare. I have the Monday to Friday day shift, so it’s inevitable that I have kid encounters. Whether it is at a preschool program, a playdate at a crowded park, or chasing my kid around at the zoo—I find myself surrounded by little humans on an almost-daily basis.
The really great and really terrible thing about little ones is how honest they are. (My five year old has asked me on many occasions if I have a baby in my belly like mom!) My own kids have seen my skin their whole lives, so they have always thought it was “normal.” The one time I ever heard my oldest mention it was when he noticed my “boo boos” were gone after starting treatment. I loved that. Not that he noticed I was clear, but that he had such compassion to see my skin not as scary or gross, but as something that was painful to me.
Kids that are not my own, on the other hand, almost always ask about my skin when they see it. I have faced a wide range of reactions from the young population throughout the years. They all fall into one of three categories: curious, scared, or disgusted.
The why? kids
These type of kids are my favorite. They are the ones that come straight up to me and ask “what is that all over you?” Sometimes they may have a grimace, but usually it is very diplomatic and matter-of-fact. They see a deviation from their understanding of normal, and they want to remedy it. I totally get that. I can relate to these kids, so their nosiness doesn’t offend me. I tailor my answer depending on their age. If they are pretty small still, I usually take the light-hearted approach and tell them “this is what happens when you don’t eat your green vegetables”, or “this is from not listening to my parents.” They either walk away with an astonished look, or they call me on my fib and demand a true answer.
For older kids, I take the time to educate them. I don’t go into the clinical descriptions and complex nature of an autoimmune disease, but I do give them the elevator speech version. This conversation always starts with the disclaimer that it is not contagious. I tell them it is a disease called psoriasis, and it makes my skin cells produce at a lightning speed. Just to give myself a few cool points I add that it is sort of like a superhero power; I have the ability to regenerate! This usually satisfies their curiosity.
The terrified tots
I would be lying if I said that I have never had a child take a look at my skin and literally turn around and run crying to their parent. These situations are always the most awkward. When this happens, I always feel this need to go and apologize to the parent. Usually, they feel more awkward than me and start apologizing right back. I used to be so overwhelmed by this uncomfortable situation that I would grab my kiddo and hightail it to the car.
Over the years I have grown some tough skin (no pun intended. Ok—maybe a little pun intended). Instead of apologizing for a condition I have no real control over, I reassure the other parent that I am not contagious and that the reaction from their child is not unusual. This usually puts us both at ease, and the child feels better just by seeing their parent talk to the “different” guy.
The appalled adolescents
This is the smallest, yet hardest, subset of situations. One time I was at a shoe store. Side note: this already is a stressful outing for me because it is near impossible to find size 14 shoe for my flat foot. However, on this particular day, I was lucky enough to come across a pair that looked promising. As I lifted up my pant leg to prepare my foot, an 8-9 year old boy boldly came up to me to express his disgust with my exposed skin in a loud-and-proud way.
I’ll be straight with you; I don’t feel like I have a good solution for these types of encounters. As much as I tell myself they are just kids, I still feel I have scars from these comments. The one way I have found to ease these conflicted feelings is by teaching my own kids that everyone looks different, and that is a good thing! Uniqueness is one of the most beautiful parts of life. The most important thing to remember is that kids are our future. Spreading awareness and kindness among them is incredibly important.