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Different Is the New Normal

What I've learned through my own experiences is that pretty much everyone I know has a child that is different. Every mother and father out there have experienced the heartbreak of knowing your child doesn't "fit in". In a perfect world every kid would be "normal". But this is not a perfect world. Not even close. Being different is normal.
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I have a friend who is changing the world. One kind gesture at a time. Her name is Kerry and she is an absolute inspiration to me as a woman, as a mom, and as a friend.

I met Kerry at a play school class for kids with special needs. My son was born with 22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome. 22q is a chromosomal disorder that results in poor development of several body systems.The syndrome can cause heart defects, poor immune system function, a cleft palate, and low levels of calcium in the blood.

Kerry's daughter was born with Apert Syndrome. Which is a genetic disorder characterized by the premature fusion of certain skull bones. This early fusion prevents the skull from growing normally and affects the shape of the head and face. In addition, a varied number of fingers and toes are fused together.

Children with 22q have distinctive facial features, such as an underdeveloped chin, low-set ears, wide-set eyes or a narrow groove in the upper lip. Children with Apert Syndrome have even more distinctive facial features. A head that is long, with a high forehead. Wide-set, bulging eyes, often with poorly-closing eyelids, and sunken middle face.

Since the day Mary Cate was born, Kerry has made it her mission to educate the world on how to treat others who look different. Her straightforward plan of attack is to simply #CHOOSEKIND. It applies to everyone, everywhere. And it's spreading like wildfire.

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Kerry and I are very similar. We now know we were given these children for a reason. And we handled our situations the same way. After the initial shock and pity party, we got the hell up and started fighting for our kids and kids everywhere.

I always say that if you want something done and done right, have a mom do it. There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING that can stand in the way of a mom who is fighting for her child.

When my son was a baby he developed a flat head. Because he was my fourth and we never picked him up. He ended up wearing a corrective helmet for eight months. It was adorable. But it amazed me the reaction we got in public. Kids at the park would come up and ask why is he wearing that? And a mother would run up and grab her kid and apologize for her child being rude. But the kid wasn't being rude. They were just innocently asking a question.

I would just say, it's not a big deal. It's just a helmet. It's the modern day scarlet letter of bad parenting.

If I only knew then what I know now. How much harder things would get. How my kids would garner attention everywhere we went. How perfect strangers would think it's okay to make comments to us. The heartache of not wanting to go to a new place with people that don't already know our story.

Kids think, something is different about that kid and I want to know why. Adults need to follow their kids lead. It's perfectly acceptable to ask. There's nothing wrong with asking.

People are afraid of the unknown. Children that look different or have special needs or don't fit the gender norms are scary. Because everyone is afraid of things they don't understand. But as moms, we want you to ask. We want to educate the world so that people start seeing our kids the way we do.

I was the same way. Before I had a child with special needs. Before I had two gender creative children. Before I met Kerry.

Kerry is single handedly changing the way people think. There is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. Let's talk about it. Ask questions. Once people understand the way things are, they will no longer fear anything.

Yes that is my son and he is wearing a dress. Let's get on with our lives. Yes that is my daughter who cut off all of her luscious curls to look more like a boy. Move on. Yes this is my daughter who has distinct facial features. Are we done yet?

It's okay. They are just kids trying to be kids the only way they know how. They just want to be loved and accepted. Like every other freaking kid in the world. Like every other adult in the world.

Kerry and her husband Chris were dealt a huge blow when Mary Cate was born. They did not know Mare would be born with Apert Syndrome. It's a lot to digest. They not only accepted it, they freaking rocked it.

Kerry is on a mission. She has a child that requires many surgeries and therapies that most parents of healthy children cannot even fathom. Kerry and Chris are taking care of business and so much more.

Kerry and Chris have paved the way for Beau and I. Having children that don't fit societies gender norms is also very hard to deal with. People are ignorant. People are scared. People need to know that it's okay. People need to get over it. We learned all of this from watching Kerry and Chris. These were the cards we were dealt and we're going to freaking play them.

Kerry started her #choosekind campaign and never looked back. She's a warrior. She took it upon herself to change the world. And that's exactly what she's doing.

Kerry takes Mary Cate to schools all over the state to educate people on choosing kind. She educates people about Apert Syndrome. She lets everyone know that it's okay to ask. She has been opening peoples eyes to something we have never seen before.

There are no longer whispers. There are no longer people looking the other way pretending not to see the obvious. Kerry puts it all out there. This is my daughter and she looks different. She's never hidden that fact. She's embraced it.

Kerry made it okay for me to let my kids be who they are. She has shown me that what's on the outside doesn't matter. That's just the wrapping paper. The gift is inside. Once you tear off the facial features. Once you tear off the hot pink bedazzled dress. Once you tear off the catchers mask. You will find the same thing. A beautiful little life that just wants to live.

What I've learned through my own experiences is that pretty much everyone I know has a child that is different. Every mother and father out there have experienced the heartbreak of knowing your child doesn't "fit in". In a perfect world every kid would be "normal". But this is not a perfect world. Not even close. Being different is normal.

The new normal is to #choosefreakingkind. All you have to do is make a conscious decision to be nice. It's so simple, yet it took someone like Kerry to make us all realize this.

Whether your kid has a learning disability. Whether your kid doesn't do well at sports. Whether your kid is socially awkward. Whether your kid has ADD, ADHD, WXYZ, or any other acronym. Or whatever other label society has chosen for your child. It's okay. We're all in this together. The only label that really matters is #choosekind.

Like Kerry always says, "When given the choice to be right or be kind, choose kind."

And like I always say, "Just choose freaking kind."

Eileen O'Connor lives life to the fullest. With her unapologetic love for wine and honest humor, she looks at life through rose-colored glasses. Check out Eileen O'Connor at No Wire Hangers, Ever

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