As parents, our No. 1 goal is to make sure our kids are happy and healthy — that they feel loved, accepted, confident, and safe. We want them to embrace life, even when it’s difficult. And if anything or anyone tries to harm them, we are ready; our mama-bear instincts in full force from the minute our babies exit the womb.
But those of us who have kids with any difference — whether physical, mental, or emotional — have protective instincts that are maybe a touch more highly attuned than most. We know that the world can be a cruel place to people who are different, and we want to teach our children as early as possible that they are beautiful and strong, no matter what anyone else tells them.
That’s exactly what Katie Crenshaw, a mom of three from Napa, California, is aiming to do for her daughter Charlie. The darling 2-year-old was born with a birthmark called a capillary hemangioma that covers her right cheek, giving it a dark pink color. Crenshaw decided she wanted to help normalize the birthmark at an early age for Charlie, and soon came up with a fantastic idea for how to do this.
Crenshaw, who writes about her family, as well as her experience with Charlie and her birthmark on her blog Typical Kate, teamed up with Etsy doll-marker Kayla Baker of Little Plain Jane to make a “look-a-like” doll for little Charlie. The doll has Charlie’s same cute blonde pigtails, happy-go-lucky grin, bright eyes, and also, her birthmark.
The idea was for the doll to help Charlie embrace and celebrate her birthmark. For it to feel normal, not a “big deal,” and one of the many amazing parts that make Charlie who she is.
“The reason we wanted to do it is to start normalizing [the birthmark] for her as early as possible now that she’s just starting to be conscious of herself,” Crenshaw recently told People. “So that she always understands that some people have differences and it’s just normal.”
And boy oh boy, Crenshaw’s efforts seem to be paying off. Crenshaw reports that Charlie absolutely loves the doll. And although the doll’s birthmark isn’t the only thing Crenshaw noticed, it’s certainly part of what she loves about it.
Her mom says she’s named her “Princess Cheek,” and won’t let the doll leave her side — sleeping with her, taking her along everywhere she goes, And yes, even getting all manner of food spill all over her. (Now that’s a sign of love!)
Crenshaw tells Babble that she’s not sure yet how deep an understanding Charlie has of her own facial difference, but that doesn’t make the lessons the doll is teaching her any less valuable.
“I think she realizes she has a different color of skin on her face than most people, but I don’t think it goes beyond that at this point,” says Crenshaw. “She actually showed ME that the doll has a ‘pink cheek.’”
Unfortunately, as Crenshaw notes on her blog, Charlie’s birthmark has already garnered a fair number of annoying and sometimes tactless comments from strangers. But that’s all the more reason that Crenshaw wants to start giving her daughter as much confidence and strength now, at this young age.
“I always tell parents to embrace their child. Instead of hiding them/their differences to avoid the comments (believe me I know it’s tempting), celebrate it,” Crenshaw tells Babble. “Show them off. And TALK about it with them.”
Crenshaw shares that she has actually spoken to grown-ups who have birthmarks like her daughter. Their biggest piece of advice is not to shy away from the subject — not to make it something unspoken or taboo, but to discuss it out in the open, and accept it for what it is.
“So many adults who had large facial defects or birthmarks as a kid have reached out and said that their childhood might have been so different if their parents hadn’t avoided the issue or hidden it,” says Crenshaw. “We don’t pity her or have sad reactions when it comes to her noticing her hemangioma. We recognize it, talk about it, and tell her she’s fabulous inside and out.”
Perhaps what’s most inspiring about how Crenshaw is dealing with the reality of raising a child with a facial difference is the larger life lessons she hopes to impart on her daughter — and how she sees her daughter as someday become an advocate for anyone who is different.
“I hope as she grows that not only will she be confident in herself and who she is (aside from physical appearances), but that she will also be an advocate for anyone with differences and change the face of beauty,” Crenshaw tells Babble. “I also hope that people don’t immediately jump to pity for her and assume she will be at a disadvantage.”
Let’s hear it for this incredible mom and her awesome kid. It seems clear to me that Crenshaw is doing a top-notch job at this parenting thing, and that Charlie will grow up to to be a fierce and beautiful person — both inside and out.