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Even Mama Bears Can Make Each Moment Teachable

May 30, 2024

As a whole, our society is not having conversations about looking, acting, speaking, thinking differently.
Maria Ilac is the 2019 Washington Mother of the Year®

First, a little background. My son had cancer in his eye and ultimately lost that eye. He is now healthy and cancer free. When his eye was removed, there were complications that made his eye look terrible. In short it looked like exposed muscles bulging out of his socket.

You can imagine, when we were in public, we get looks. When we would go to the store or the park; kids would see my son and whisper to their parents, stare, or even turn around and run the other way screaming. I decided to use these interactions as educational moments. I would approach the kids and say, “Hi, his eye looks different doesn’t it? Would you like to know why?” Most times, kids of all ages would reply, “Uh ha.” At that point I would explain, “My son’s eye was sick and the doctors had to removed it so that his whole body wouldn’t get sick. Now he is healthy and can play and have fun just like anyone else.” The situation was completely normalized for them at that point. The kids would play and interact with my son as if nothing was wrong. They just needed to understand why he looked so different.

Then one day I was sitting in a waiting room and a man whispered under his breath to his wife. “Look at that kid’s eye, it’s disgusting.” My Mama Bear mode kicked in and I said, “Excuse me, what did you say about my son?’ The man mumbled, ‘I didn’t say anything.” I responded, “Yes you did, you were talking about my son’s eye. My son was diagnosed with cancer at 7 months old and had 9 rounds of chemo. Which didn’t work, so the doctors removed his eye. Now he is having complications with that!”

Ultimately my goal was to make this man feel bad for reacting the way he did. Goal accomplished. I even felt good about it for a while, until one day I didn’t.

You see, I realized with children I used those experiences as educational moments. My outlook was, ‘They likely don’t know how to react. Accepting different is not something our society teaches.’ When an adult reacted poorly towards my son I lost it. I figured, ‘He should know better.’ But really should he? Did anyone take time to have educational moments with him? I could have had the same conversation with this man as I do with children. As a whole, our society is not having conversations about looking, acting, speaking, thinking differently.

As mothers there will be times that the Mama Bear mode is completely appropriate. However, I would like to encourage you, even challenge you; while you are in your communities look for those educational moments to teach that different is ok. It really does take a village. Open up the conversation and see where it goes. Like I did with the kids, for example, or ask questions like, “Oh your son’s eye looks like it hurts, is he going to be ok?” or “ Your son has a bunch of energy, would you like me to help you move some chairs around in this waiting room to make a play area to give you a break?”

Our daily interactions with people have a profound impact. Make that impact be a positive one.