Five seconds into the department store and my three-year-old son, Ronin, had already made a new friend—not surprisingly.
His cheerful greeting and infectious laughter is enough to beckon most.
This time, he snagged the attention of an attractive older woman, who was probably in her late 50s. Visibly tickled by him, she promptly came over, got down to his level and said hello back. Her dark hair was gathered loosely in a ponytail at the nape of her neck, allowing him direct access to her warm brown eyes. She didn’t survey him up and down, like other people do. She looked straight into his own eyes and inquired his name.
Before he could answer, I quickly interjected, the way I have done numerous times before. “Oh, this is Ronin,” buffered with, “He has chronic eczema.” The woman didn’t flinch. I assumed maybe she didn’t hear me and so, I repeated myself, this time louder. “This is Ronin. He has chronic eczema.” Finally, she glanced up at me and replied, without any malice or slightest hint of quiver in her tone, “I noticed but it doesn’t matter to me.”
Then, she gently extended her hand to meet his, something most people shy away from in fear of catching what he has. She smiled, “Hello, Ronin! What a beautiful boy!” I could tell she genuinely meant it. We said our goodbyes and parted ways. The whole interaction lasted a matter of minutes but I continued to feel deeply affected by it.
It made me realize that my husband and I do this sort of thing a lot, lately.
Recently, we saw our next door neighbor outside. He shouted out from across the yard and naturally we started going on and on about Ronin’s skin until finally, he admitted he wasn’t even talking about that at all. He simply wanted to know how our house projects were coming along.
Since when did Ronin become “Ronin: boy with eczema,” instead of “Ronin”? Why do we feel the need to rattle off his condition before we are prompted? Why are we constantly explaining ourselves in circles and apologizing for his skin being the way that it is? For him being the way that he is? Like, his condition is the only thing that could possibly define him or as if it makes him any less of who he is?
He’s three. He doesn’t know that he appears different or that he suffers with an ailment others might not. He has no idea people are gawking at his skin or are terrified to come into contact with it.
All he knows is that flying around the house with nothing but a rocketeer pack and some spiderman underwear is the coolest thing you can do and that mommy’s grilled chicken is the tastiest he’s ever had. He knows Marvel and DC are equally pretty rad and that his favorite color is red. He believes the best kinds of medicines can be found in hearty belly laughs and healthy amounts of shaking your booty. He loves solving problems with hugs and kisses and dislikes other people’s unhappiness as much as he loathes sweet potatoes. He knows that even boys sing along to Taylor Swift songs and that his daddy is his best friend.
I have never doubted that my son is beautiful. But, too often I have gotten caught up in the worry that others won’t be able to see right away what I see all of the time. Running into that woman in the store was a reminder to me that beauty isn’t just skin deep. I don’t need to jump in and cushion anything for Ronin.
He’s capable of being loved exactly the way he is.
Author: Emily Duty
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Author’s Own