I was checking out a Moms without Blogs post talking about death with young kids. Those are conversations we’ve had a fair bit recently, but as humanists (sounds so much sweeter than atheist doesn’t it? Yeah, same thing) our approach has to take a different tact. Anyway, that post got me thinking about another conversation we’ve had recently with Bean, which I’m interested to get feedback on.

I’m not really a Better Homes and Gardens kind of gal, but for some reason I had a recent copy in the magazine box by the sofa the other day.  Bean found it, and as she is want to do with random reading material, started flicking through it. I thought nothing of it, after all Better Homes and Gardens isn’t the sort of magazine that comes in the brown paper cover,  you know. Then, she got really quiet and focused on one page. She kept touching it, then touching her lip. I sat down next to her. The page she was focused on was one that looked pretty much like this:

Operation Smile Ad from

Actually, maybe it was a bit more pronounced. Anyway, Bean didn’t seem disturbed by the image just curious and asked me about the girl’s boo boo. How do you explain a cleft lip to a two, near three, year old? So, I explained that when the baby was forming in her mummy’s tummy this bit didn’t form quite right, but that there was an operation that could help. Bean was really focused on it. She returned several days in a row, multiple times a day.

“Was my mouth like that when I was in your belly?” “Your lip have boo boo too?” “I get boo boo on my lip?”

“No honey, we were very lucky. This happens here a lot, but there is an operation to make it better.”

“She get the operation?” Okay Bean didn’t say operation, more like op shun, but you get the gist.

“We hope so. She lives in a country where there isn’t a lot of medical care. Operation Smile wants us to help.”

Finally, we checked out some before and after pictures and that seemed to help, but I’m not sure what message that sends? Everything is curable?

We talked about how it might be difficult to do somethings with a cleft lip. I think we’ll probably go back to this image, again and again. How else or what else to include in that conversation?



Filed under Conversations with my kid, Navigation of Dangerous Water (Parenting)

11 responses to “Smile

  1. KC

    What a powerful conversation to have. Isn’t life wonderful and interesting! Look at all the lesson it throws at you!

  2. Hello again! Thanks for sharing this conversation….it’s a good one. And brings up some interesting things to consider. Especially as the humanist that you are. I was thinking that when my kids have brought up other’s diabilities, I usually say “God made them that way….” and now when I think about that, I wonder what kind of message THAT sends. You know? Like God would decide to make one kid with a cleft lip. Why? I mean, really.

    So anyway – I think you said the perfect answers. Your kid is only TWO! She’s a smart cookie! I think we tell our kids whatever they can handle at that moment. I don’t think she’ll think an operation can fix everything. As she grows up and you have more reasons to discuss what can and can not be fixed, she will understand the big picture.

    My main message when my kids notice a handicapped child in a wheelchair or someone with one arm, I simply tell them that it’s nothing to be afraid of and that they are people just like us with the same heart and soul inside. And their reactions to disabilities have shifted with different ages and stages of development.

    Anyway – great post. Great food for thought. Thanks for participating….. 🙂

    Have a great weekend.


    • Lee, Thanks for stopping by. I’m interested to hear how you approach the question about why God would decide to make one child with . It seems impossibly hard and makes the humanist approach seem easier from my view. Maybe the humanist approach forces harder questions earlier, but makes it easier later. I don’t know. I know friends of faith whose definition of God is such that it allows them to marry their faith with the understanding of nature. Their approach may be the best of both worlds.

  3. Hmm, at 3 it is hard for kids to really understand. I think you did a good job with this. I am so very literal in my household it’s almost disturbing to my sometimes. But I would have said that the girl/boy was born this way–with a booboo–and it can be fixed and that is that. It’s just the way things are. I find that trying to explain the WHYs and WHY NOTs to little kids this age is just really tough. They can’t really comprehend it, you know?

    Now if my 7-year-old had asked about it we would have gone into a bigger, deeper conversation. We may have even pulled out the laptop and done a little research. Kids need facts and truths and information. They need to hear your opinions, but I believe they need to learn how to make their own. (Hmm, tangent here? Sorry!)

    Anyway, job well done, Mom. I guess my point is that as she gets older, you can teach your daughter more and more. Answering the Whys and Why Nots will ALWAYS be tough though, to be sure, especially from the “humanist” perspective. (We have a tough time here because we are not at all Western Religion Church-Goers. How the heck do you teach your kids when you are still trying to figure it all out?)

    Sorry for the ramble. I’m in relaxed mind Saturday mode…obviously!


  4. Great comments, and I would like to add that it’s okay that right now she thinks the world is safer/kinder/more magical than it really is. The under 5 set really need reassurance that bad things may happen, but they’re going to be okay (even though as parents we know that’s not 100% true).

  5. I’m very matter of fact about these things with Linc, and am continually surprised by how little he notices/remarks upon, in comparison with my anticipation. It’s a lovely exercise for me to give simple answers, and to let him do the rest. I reassure him if it seems that’s what he’s looking for, but often his questions feel simply curious, so I give small answers, and let him ask more if he wishes.

  6. Lyssa

    I came to your site via Tucson Mama. Your daughter is really observant!

    My younger son was born with a cleft lip. His brother was just two when was born and didn’t notice the cleft until we pointed it out right before the surgery (when the little one was 3 months old). At the recommendation of a craniofacial clinic social worker, we used the words “open” and “closed” to describe cleft and regular lips. Clefts generally don’t hurt, so “owie” was out, and we didn’t want to give our older son the message that there was anything defective about his little brother. Also, to him at the time, the word “fix” meant something was broken. To us, nothing about his little brother was broken, even though obviously no one wants to go through life with a cleft.

    So we said that most babies are born with their lips closed, but sometimes babies’ lips don’t finish closing when they’re in their mama’s tummies. When babies are born with their lips open, they have to go to the doctor so the doctor can close it for them. We talked about how that would make it easier for his baby brother to eat (nurse, at the time) and talk.

    Our older son is now 3.5 and is just starting to ask about the younger one’s cleft in baby photos. We’re using basically the same language and answering his questions as they come up. It will be really interesting to see how the conversation changes over time.

    • Lyssa,
      Thank you so much for stopping by. The way you approached this issue with your eldest is beautiful. I will try to remember that approach. Open and closed. And yes, so important to think about how they view terms (fix equates with mending something broken). I’m not sure I always think of what a term means to her developmental age.

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