I hadn’t seen my grandchildren in six months, so I was thrilled to visit them in Virginia recently. Brooklyn is four, and Carson is two-and-a-half. Ever the observant, curious child, Brooklyn was quick to note a change in my appearance.
“Grandma, you’re covering up your head. Where’s your hair?”
I offered to show her. My head is bald because I’m undergoing chemotherapy for ovarian cancer. Brooklyn’s expression registered a mixture of surprise and horror. She shrieked and covered her face. My daughter was mortified.
“You hurt Grandma’s feelings.”
To be honest, she really didn’t. I prefer a child’s honest reaction to the awkward, half-pitying look adults try to hide. Or the studied effort to ignore my appearance. Brooklyn had many questions, some difficult to answer because I don’t know how to explain to a small child that I have cancer and the treatment kills not only the “bad” cells but the “good” ones.
Brooklyn brought a book about princesses to me and asked me to read it. Moana, Ariel, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Rapunzel were among those featured. The book catalogued their best qualities—courage, creativity, loyalty, sensitivity, kindness, bravery—which I love. Today’s princesses are so much more than young girls who sit idly by waiting to be saved by a handsome prince. Still, each of these young girls is beautiful and has long hair. Moana has gorgeous brown hair, Ariel is a redhead, Cinderella a blonde, and Rapunzel—we all know how long her hair is.
It’s no wonder Brooklyn expressed concern at my situation, because in this four-year-old’s mind, girls without hair can’t be pretty. She’s already been introduced to the world’s view of beauty. How could she not be? The message that women must be thin, wear makeup, and have long, gorgeous, shiny hair is blared morning, noon, and night. The world’s view of beauty and God’s view of beauty are at odds. I realized I had some work to do in setting the record straight.
As we read stories, baked cookies, played pretend, and watched the playscape go up in the yard, I sought ways to tell Brooklyn a different story about her beauty in words a small child could understand.
She wanted me to put makeup on her sweet face, but I told her she was perfectly beautiful the way God made her. I want her to always know that. When I look in the mirror, I see a scarred, hunched, bald woman who has gained twenty pounds in the last year. I must constantly remind myself that I’m also beautiful in God’s eyes. He made me in his image. No matter what the world says, we are all fearfully and wonderfully made. Nothing—not cancer, not alopecia, not scars, not neurological disease—can change that.
“The Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’” (1 Samuel 16:7 NIV).
By the end of the week, when it was time for me to leave, Brooklyn and Carson would ask me to lift my scarf so they could pat the soft tuft of white baby hair on my head. They helped me with my cane and skipped alongside my electric scooter at the zoo. They used my gripper to pick up socks and shoes for me. God is teaching them through their grandma who uses a cane and a walker and shuffles on stiff legs. He’s teaching them through a bald head and a round body that’s good for a big lap and lots of hugs. Children are naturally curious, and they soak up our attitudes and our words.
As parents and grandparents, we wield an incredible influence and the ability to impart God’s truths about beauty and disability. Let us always remember that.
Recently, Brooklyn asked my daughter why a friend she made at the gym daycare has skin a different color from her own. Just think of the seeds planted with that answer. Quake at the responsibility. Pray we are up to the challenge.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV).
Two-time ACFW Carol Award finalist Kelly Irvin is the author of the critically acclaimed Amish of Bee County, Bliss Creek Amish, and New Hope Amish series. Her latest work is Beneath the Summer Sun, the second book in the four-book series Every Amish Season, released in January 2018. The book follows Upon a Spring Breeze. Her work has also appeared in several Amish anthologies, An Amish Market, An Amish Summer, An Amish Christmas Love, and An Amish Christmas. Kelly is a retired newspaper reporter and public relations professional who lives with her husband in Texas. They have two children, two grandchildren, and two cats.
Photograph © Ivan Torres, used with permission