Stacey Jackson Gagnon has six beautiful kids. One of them is Joel, who was born with a cranio-facial impairment known as Goldenhar syndrome. He is missing an ear and some bone structure. He looks different. She knows that.
But just over a week ago, something happened that hurt Gagnon and Joel. It led to the Arizona mum sharing her pain on social media, in a post that has been shared more than 20,000 times.
Gagnon took her children to a new church because her oldest son was speaking about his experience on camp. She led her three youngest into a meeting room full of kids.
“The minute we walked inside, the room became silent and every child stared or pointed at my son, Joel,” she wrote on Facebook. “I stood at the door and watched every child look with eyes wide and mouths open at my child.”
Gagnon was about to address the group of children about differences, but changed her mind.
“I stopped and looked to the back of the room where my son had fled to hide. He had buried his head in his arms because you cannot hide in plain sight.
“My heart sank and the room remained silent as I walked back to Joel. I touched his shoulder and he raised eyes shiny with tears and a face red with shame. I knelt down and asked, ‘Do you want to leave?’
“‘Yes,’ he whispered, and he stood and ran from the room.”
Gagnon held her son in her arms during church. “He drew ‘Joel loves Mom’ on my palm. Tears welled in my throat. My beautiful and loving son deserves so much more than stares and pointing.”
In the past, Gagnon has always stepped into the role of teacher and spoken to kids to educate them about differences, but that day she didn’t.
“Today, I did not teach someone else’s kid because I was too busy holding my broken-hearted son.”
Gagnon doesn’t think the children were mean. She just thinks no one had ever taught them about differences.
In her post, she made a plea for parents to teach their children about differences – to show them pictures of people with different coloured skin, people in wheelchairs, children without hair or an ear or an arm.