Dec 17, 2012

Badge of Courage

When Claire was first diagnosed, the one thing that was guaranteed to make me cry (in my secret moments of weakness) was the thought of having to shave her head for surgery.  Not that Claire has the most glorious locks known to womankind but -- it's my baby's hair and the thought of seeing her little bald head in the middle of winter was upsetting.

It was one of the first things we discussed when we talked about her diagnosis and what everything meant.  I figured the details of the brain surgery would be difficult for her to comprehend but losing her hair? This I knew would be something she'd understand.

To soften the blow, I told my little fashionista that we'd be buying lots of cool hats. "But school doesn't allow hats, Mama."

"Oh honey. They will make an exception for you," thinking they'd damn sure better or there'd be some Mama Bear hell to pay.

Claire's best friend Gianna's dad is Claire's hair stylist. He also is a wig designer.  He promised to make Claire a super fabulous pink and purple sparkly wig.

Ultimately, we found out just prior to surgery that Dr. Skarli didn't intend to shave her whole head, just part of it.  I was relieved.  When we told Claire, I expected her to be relieved as well. Instead she was... vaguely disappointed.

I couldn't figure it out. I became concerned she didn't understand. Since Claire's diagnosis, I'm overly concerned (completely without cause) about her cognitive abilities.  She still acts and thinks like the same old Claire -- which is to say occasionally flighty and often airheaded.  Instead of simply remembering she is, after all, my daughter, I become worried there's some underlying brain issue that is causing her brain fart.

It's not.

She was disappointed because she was really looking forward to that sparkly pink and purple wig.  She wanted those hats. This is a child who enjoys the idea of accessories.


When they brought us into recovery to see her, after she spoke and identified who we were, along with a few math facts and vocabulary translations just to assure us that her brain was functioning fine, I checked out her hair.  It... wasn't bad.  Half shaved on the one side.  A bit punk-rocker.  Claire could work with that look.

They saved her hair for us. More precious than her first haircut.

The day after surgery, Princess Pickle demanded a mirror.  She wanted to check things out.  She turned this way and that, examining all angles.  I watched closely, expecting some kind of pre-tween angst. Maybe some tears.


Instead she kind of smirked. Said, "Hunh." And that was that.

We talked about balancing it out and shaving the other side.  That met with a determined "No!"  Mr. Scott (still one of her most favorite people) suggested a look similar to the lead singer of the 80s band Bow Wow Wow. "Nope."  She wanted to leave well enough alone.

The day after we came home from the hospital, I took Claire on a mini-shopping excursion.  We'd been told that any wig was a bad idea for her (holds in heat, traps bacteria against her huge incision) but hats were okay.  So hat shopping we went.  We picked out $87 worth of hats -- something our bank account could ill-afford but, honestly? The child was home mere days after a six hour long brain surgery -- I'll buy her the $50 sparkly silver sequin bedazzled beret.

For Claire's first truly public excursion with her peers, I was nervous.  I got her all dressed up, fixed her hair (we still have to braid it away from her incision site) and put her matching new purple hat on her.  Off we went to the rehearsal for her school's Christmas program.

When her classmates realized she was there, there were quite a few exclamations of "Claire!" and a smattering of applause. I admit, I got a little choked up.  I looked down at Claire as her friends rushed to hug her.  She was grinning at everyone and promptly whipped off her hat.

I wanted to grab it and shove it back on her head. I expected gasps. I expected people to draw back. I expected Claire to get her feelings hurt. But I looked down and she was still grinning ear to ear.  No one gasped. No one drew back.  The boys all looked like they couldn't get close enough -- peering at her frankenscar with absolute fascination.

We've been out in public quite a few times now, including two community theater performances that Claire did without any head covering on, in front of full audiences.  She met with audience members before and after the shows.  But it didn't dawn on me until tonight when our landlord stopped over to fix our broken water heater, and we were discussing Claire's medical ordeal.  Claire had been in the living room, we were in the kitchen. All of a sudden she comes prancing -- literally prancing -- into the kitchen, strikes a pose, and shows off both incision and hairdo.  It did not dawn on me until that moment,

She's proud of this.  She's not embarrassed or ashamed or feeling the need to hide things under a fancy hat. She's comfortable enough in her own skin (and hair) to show it off to the world.

Here's my scar. I'm not embarrassed.  I'm a survivor.

Yes you are, baby. Yes you are.


  1. Tearing up at this right now. I have my own gigantic scar from a broken arm my senior year of high school and am proud of it much like you describe Claire. I, however was a HORRIBLE patient (what teenager wouldn't be though having to spend 10 days in the hospital, right?). Claire impresses me so much, she is indeed a strong girl! Hats off to her! (Pun intended) :-)

  2. I LOVE that she is proud to show off her scar! You have raised a very self-confident girl and that alone will take her very far in life! You shold be very proud, as it is evident that you have done an excellent job at raising her to be confident in her own skin no matter what the circumstance may be!