This is an actual conversation that happened with actual strangers while I was actually at Target. Actually.
I went into the bathroom at Target to change Ruthie’s diaper. It smelled awesome (details are important). A mom, her 4 year old son (I’m guessing here…I don’t actually know kids ages. I’m hoping that my awareness sharpens over time) and infant baby are in the family stall. I can hear her tell her son she needs to change the baby’s diaper. So I set up shop on the changing pad and try to hurry while they eventually wait behind me…
Little Boy: *Whispers* Mom…why does that baby have that thing on its head??
Mom: (without missing a beat) that baby gets to wear a special helmet, like a superhero. What superheros wear helmets?
Little Boy: Like Iron Man!
Mom: Yep! Like Iron Man. What other super hero’s get to wear something special?
And so continued their conversation about superheros. After I finished, I turned around and thanked the woman. I told her this whole helmet thing was new and we were still getting used to it all. I thanked her for her sweet and simple answer. She replied, “Oh, of course! Kids ask all sorts of questions. I just try to keep it positive and simple…and move ’em right along!”
Initially, I braced myself when I heard the little boy’s question. I didn’t know what the mother might say, or if I should turn around and chime in. I could feel the mama bear in me tense up, ready to explain or defend my little girl’s helmet–whatever the case may be.
But it turns out I didn’t need to do a dang thing because she had this whole thing handled. I mean, more than handled. It was one of the most incredible interactions with a stranger I’ve ever had. She compared my baby to a superhero.
I walked out of the target bathroom, crying. Because sometimes mom’s just win.
The journey of Ruthie’s helmet hasn’t been an easy one. I know there are far worse things that can happen, but when it’s your baby, you are free to feel. And I’ve had all the feels, that’s for sure.
We noticed something was off around the time she was 2 months old and took her in to see an Occupational Therapist. We found out she had torticollis (a stiff neck), preferring to look to the left, and was beginning to get a flat spot on that side.
With months of stretching her neck muscles, re-positioning, checking her head, moving her while she was playing, napping, ect. we realized that nothing we did was helping. So the doctor and the OT diagnosed her with plagiocephaly (a type of head deformity) and referred us to a cranial specialist to get her fitted for a helmet.
There are lots of little details in between, but that’s the long story short. Ruthie is now 6 months old and has a helmet that she has to wear 23 hours a day. The helmet also needs to be taken off and scrubbed clean EVERY diaper change. Whew. And we now do baths every night because her head smells like the inside of a shoe.
The upside is at this age, she may only have to wear it for 4 months. Their bones are so soft that correction is fairly easy since their heads are still forming.
One of my concerns was that this would slow her down from crawling, but the doctor assured me that wouldn’t happen. Rue is beginning to get mobile, but she’s not actually crawling yet. She’s mostly just planking and farting, trying to figure out what muscles do what. And steam rolling herself around the room.
I’ve battled internally the last four months on the road that led us to Rue’s helmet. I’ve felt like a failure, wishing I would have noticed something was off sooner. That maybe if I had done something differently I could have prevented her from having to go through all of this.
And if I’m being totally honest, I also feared what people might say or think about both Ruthie and me as a mom. That they might assume neglect, or say something unkind about how the helmet made her look. I feared all sorts of conversations, commentary and corrections, both with strangers and with people I know.
But fear is a terrible thing, because it holds you captive to something that’s never even happened. Just like when I braced myself, expecting the little boy in target or his mom to say something I would need to defend.
Instead I received tender kindness from one mother heart to another. And a little girl that sat there smiling the whole time.
Rue has adjusted to this helmet like a champ. I am constantly learning lessons from this tiny girl. She is happy and easy going, ready to take on whatever comes her way.
Like a superhero.