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Sometimes it's better to keep your mouth shut, mind open
Heed your mother's advice: If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all

Date published: 4/2/2010

By Cathy Dyson

DECADES AGO, when my nephew was a baby, strangers would look at his curly red hair and ask: "Is that natural?"

So many times, I wanted to answer: "No, we get his hair permed and dyed every three months."

I mean, really. How else would an infant get ringlets of fire, if not from his DNA? Did people really think we'd take him to a salon and pour chemicals on his head?

But as I've come to realize, many of us engage our mouths before our brains, at one time or another. What comes out from some is just more stupid than others.

What comes out from some is just more stupid than others.

Recently I met the Chavonelle family of Stafford County and they've run into their share of thoughtlessness. Angel and Thomas Chavonelle are parents of two boys: Blaze and Jacoby. Blaze, who's 5, has a rare form of childhood cancer, and the chemotherapy used to kill the tumor also claimed his hair.

Blaze's mother said people at Stafford Head Start and in the Fredericksburg area seem to recognize the reason for his baldness.

But whenever she takes him to the VCU Medical Center in Richmond for treatments, gawking begins.

The 5-year-old feels the stares and is uncomfortable. And that makes his mother mad.

"My child should not feel like he has to hide from you," she said.

Or be ridiculed when he's already going through a horrible time.

I wrote a story about that, too. Six years ago, a 29-year-old woman with breast cancer was devastated when her long ponytail fell out in clumps.

Like little Blaze, she was equally upset by the strange looks she got from people--and the mean things they said.

It got so bad that her mother shaved her head to share her daughter's pain. So did four other females in their circle.

So, if one little bald boy is stared at, imagine the kind of looks that six hairless women got.

The females fielded plenty of snide remarks, too, until they told people why they had shaved.

The strangers' attitudes changed immediately, but why had they been so quick to judge in the first place?

And to comment?

As bad as those examples are, they probably pale in comparison to what pregnant women hear. Nothing brings comments out of the woodwork like the topic of pregnancy.

Strangers seem to think a round tummy is community property. Everyone can touch it and share an opinion about it, in their minds, when just the opposite should be true.

Pregnant women already have enough on their minds, so the last thing they need is unsolicited advice--and a long-drawn-out story of labor that lasted a fortnight.

If people feel the need to say something to a pregnant woman they pass on the street--or a bald-headed boy or a group of women who've shaved their heads--comment on how wonderful they look.

Rave about their radiance and keep the rest of your opinions to yourself.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425
Email: cdyson@freelancestar.com