September 19 is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. It’s a silly day to enjoy saying “ARRRR” and “avast!” And in recent years, it’s also been a day to raise money for charitable causes such as Childhood Cancer Support. I’m a big fan of silliness, and a huge fan of supporting worthy causes, but as Nicola reminds us in her wonderful story of her son and his eye patch, pirates are not always cause for celebration for our kids. – Ann Z
No! My son is not a pirate!
Today is International Speak Like a Pirate Day, which is a fantastic awareness and fundraising day for Childhood Cancer Support. It’s a day when people are encouraged to speak like a pirate all day in an effort to help this very worthwhile charity.
But I have to admit, every time Giggle and Hoot have come on the tv in the past week promoting the day, I’ve groaned inwardly a little. Just a little. Okay, a bit more than a little. I’m sure it’s fabulous fun for all those people who love shouting ‘yar’ all day but as the mother of a child that has to wear an eye patch for medical reasons, it’s just not jolly, Roger.
My three year old son Dane has been wearing an eye patch since he was 7 months old. He had a congenital cataract which led to his lens being removed and a contact lens having to be used every day for the rest of his life. He has to patch his ‘good’ eye to make his ‘bad’ eye work better. And he has to do that for four hours every day.
Just like any kid that looks a little bit ‘different’, he’s been stared at, pointed at and laughed at. And the sad thing is, it’s usually adults that are the worst. I had to use all my self-restraint one day when a father pointed Dane out at the shops to his young child and said ‘oh look, doesn’t he look weird’. Seriously? What kind of parent highlights another child’s differences in a negative way like that? I was furious!
I have no problem explaining to any child that asks (and it’s usually the children that are brave enough to ask) why he’s wearing a patch, and once you tell them, they’re totally fine with it and get on with whatever it was they were doing. What frustrates me is adults that constantly call him a little pirate and follow it up with a laugh (it’s the laugh that tips me over the edge). The joke’s getting a bit old people, not just for me but for my son as well. What you need to understand is that you are not the first person in his life to make the connection between a pirate and an eye patch and feel the need to comment on it. It pretty much happens on a daily basis. So I’m sorry if I give you a forced smile/grimace and not a standing ovation for your outstanding wit and humour.
I usually give this forced smile and then explain that he has to wear the patch to strengthen his eye and that it’s not a fashion statement or a costume. And just for the record, I do it super politely. But a few weeks ago, I was mentally fist pumping the air when Dane shot back at a pirate commenter ‘no, I’m not a pirate. I’m just a boy and I have to wear a patch to make my eye better’. Good on you buddy!
I’m sure adults just don’t know what to say and they think they’re making light of something they don’t understand or don’t know how to respond to. I get that. But put yourself in the shoes (and take note that he’s not wearing pirate boots) of the child and imagine how you would feel if every single day of your life perfect strangers told you YOU looked like a pirate. And then laughed at you. Doesn’t make you want to go ‘yo ho ho’ does it?
So what can people say to a kid that’s wearing an eye patch? Well, here’s one simple comment that could easily replace the ‘pirate’ one – ‘wow, what a great red eye patch!’. And I don’t even mind if it’s followed up with ‘why do you wear that?’. Dane’s only three but he knows why he has to wear his patch and will happily explain it to anyone that asks.
I’m sure this type of commenting or questioning could be used for any type of ‘noticeable difference’ that a child has. By turning your comment to a child that has something a little bit ‘different’ – no matter what that difference is – into something positive, that child might just feel good about their eye patch, their glasses, their wheelchair or whatever it happens to be. And that’s the way a child should feel.
So this International Speak Like a Pirate Day, if you happen to see a kid wearing a patch maybe just say ‘what a cool patch’ and not ask him where the treasure’s buried.