The Heartache I Didn’t See Coming

Here in Mayberry, the kids wear uniforms to school.

Uniforms are a parent’s dream. No grousing over what to wear in the mornings, no arguing about what to buy in the store during back-to-school shopping, and it’s pretty easy to find inexpensive tops and bottoms that fit the dress code.

Because we live in a warm climate, Sarah Kate has worn khaki skirts (with undershorts) and navy polos almost exclusively for the past few years (I learned the hard way to avoid white shirts when she was in kindergarten, though now that she’s a fourth grader I’ve relented somewhat). The nice thing about skirts is that they’re cool when it’s hot and she can pair them with tights on cooler days. We always had a backup pair or two of pants for the rare day when it was actually cold, but otherwise it was all skirts, all the time.

When Sarah Kate moved from an SMO back to an AFO a couple of years ago, the foam caused her to break out, so we had to buy knee socks to wear with the braces. Instead of basic white, I bought her a few pairs of brightly colored ones with patterns, which she loved. She became known around school as Crazy Sock Girl and she was proud.

Back in the spring, Sarah Kate had to get new braces, and she opted for a design that made me cringe a little: Tweety Bird. Instead of the typical decorative ribbon sewn onto the straps, Cascade DAFO began transferring designs onto the plastic. It wasn’t my first choice – especially with the coordinating “caution-tape yellow” straps – but I’m not the one who has to wear them and I figured she should be able to get what she wanted.

It’s been cooler here the past few weeks (which is to say that our mornings are cool…most days it still hits 70 or better by the afternoon), and I noticed that Sarah Kate was wearing pants every day – including some corduroy pairs that were handed down to her by a friend (I can assure you that it’s not cold enough for corduroy here yet). That’s not such a big deal, but I also noticed she wasn’t wearing a sweater or jacket most days. I didn’t think much of it at the time.

Then one day last week she asked me if we could get her some new shoes to go over her braces; the ones she wears most days are the only pair she can get on without help (shoes are the final symbol of independence, as evidenced by the recent Nike story). They are a Mary Jane style of athletic shoe so they’re easy to get on and off, although the strap on the top of her foot bulges out of the top of the shoe.

She also tried to wear her lace-up boots (that also zip up the back – another bonus for fitting over the braces) for weeks before it turned cool, but I put my foot down. They’re lined with fleece, for goodness sake! But on Tuesday afternoon, when we were at therapy, it dawned on me what was going on.

She’s embarrassed by her braces.

I asked her if that was why she’d been wearing pants every day, and she admitted that it was. She told me she’s tired of people asking questions and commenting on them. My heart broke for her, because I know the braces are just the beginning. She’ll turn ten next month, and the hormones are starting to kick in. She’s approaching the age where kids don’t want to be different, and it’s harder to fit in when you’ve got a highly visible difference that’s the first thing people notice when you walk into a room.

So on Wednesday morning, right after car line, Nathan and I headed to Target to buy her some new school pants and look for some shoes that might work. I found a pair of purple Converse XX-high tops (with a zipper, hallelujah!) for $37.99. We didn’t need those things, and with the Christmas holidays coming up, I’d normally be reluctant to spend any extra money right now (and I have never spent that much on shoes for Sarah Kate, because she’s very hard on shoes). But the new pants and purple shoes are like the Tweety Bird brace design.

Since there’s no way around wearing the braces, I owe it to her to make the experience as painless as possible.

Have I completely confused everyone with my posting schedule this week? Mr. Andi, for one, was perplexed that there was a Monday post but no Tuesday post, so in case you missed Wednesday’s post, too, check out What I Want, Bonus Edition: To Burn the Pedestal. I’ll be back to my regular Tuesday/Thursday (plus Snippets and Sun-Beams) schedule next week.


  1. says

    The only advice I can give you with this is just let her wear the pants. I’ve been there, and in Catholic school, so there was no buying fun socks or shoes. I wore my winter uniform from the day we were allowed to to the day we couldn’t anymore (braces or no braces).

  2. says

    Not sure if this is helpful, but know that she is not alone in this feeling – this is something we hear somewhat often, especially as kiddos get older. Passing along a couple of tidbits:

    One solution (from a parent) for the warmer summer months: extra tall socks worn inside-out and pulled up and back down over the braces. Photo here:!/photo.php?fbid=365348016860017&set=a.172214082840079.44245.147361445325343&type=3&theater

    Sarah Kate might be a bit too old for this, but this is a nice children’s book that talks a bit about “Special Shoes”:

    Best wishes to you all. :)

  3. says

    I agree with Sarah just let her wear pants and brace yourself this is the first of many heartaches my early teens were the hardest years of my life I got over wanting to fit in at about 16

  4. says

    Growing up is tough, isn’t it? I think it’s a universal thing – braces or not. There is always something that a child likes that she feels she needs to change for others. I think it is wonderful you are letting her wear the pants. Why not make growing up a little easier while kids are still figuring things out, ya know?

  5. Kathryn says

    I wear a hearing aid and always had really short hair that is until I turned 11. I grewout my hair to hide my hearing aid so I could fit it. I cut it off a year ago. I am nearly 15 now and relize that having a hearing aid and using an FM system(which I stuck in bag while in the halls during my long hair years) is a tiny part of who I am and I am not a different person for it. (but still hate the questions) But yeah preteenagehood can be so hard on girls special needs or not.

  6. Natalie says

    I just wanted to second Sarah and Nisha here… let her wear the pants. I’ve also been through that stage of wanting to fit in- there’s a certain point where you begin to get tired of other people staring at you and you just want to be “normal.” When I was in SMOs, I didn’t really care, even when I was 13 or 14- they were low-profile enough that they were less noticable. But after I got a GRAFO, I wore jeans to school every day, and I still do, most days- high school is a pretty tough place to fit in. However, I will say that there is light at the end of the tunnel; as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gradually become more comfortable with people asking me questions or staring, and I’ve even begun to take a certain “pride” in having a disability; now I don’t really care that much what other people think of me. That’s probably just a part of my personality, though- I’ve always been pretty headstrong and independent. Anyway, just let Sarah Kate know that she isn’t alone, and that if she’s confident in herself and who she is, people will focus more on her and her personality, not the braces or how she walks.

  7. Shelly Souvenir Cowan says


    You truly amaze me. I know you have two amazing children that bring you so much joy and I can’t imagine the challenges you face but you sure shine as a Mom! You make my world look easy. Thank you for shining light back on the world as a bright place and looking at difficulties in a better light. I’m not sure this is coming across right but I just admire you very much for your dedication and love for your kiddos!

  8. says

    Hi! I’m new to this blog and just saw this post. I wear HKAFO brace every day. Just thought little Sarah would be encouraged to know that I’m 18 and have butterflies all over mine. :) At first the stares from people in the grocery store or wherever hurt really bad because I knew I looked different, but then I looked at it this way…. God made me special so why not just be proud of it. I was created for a special purpose and so was Sarah! It’s really hard sometimes when people make comments or just stare at me as if I was just so odd, but I have to just know that they don’t understand and sometimes they really don’t know they’re hurting you. Tell little Sarah that I’m rootin for her and praying for her! :)

    Allison ~ The Robo-Girl <3

  9. says

    Have you heard about the Preemie Growth Project? If your daughter has CP-Spastic Dip, those children in particular are seeing VERY GOOD results. We are no longer taking children into the project, but the intervention is extremely easy to administer (directions at the web page), there is a parent group on Facebook to consult with, and it isn’t expensive. It is helping 83% (at the moment). Maybe she could be one of the lucky ones?

    • Andi says

      I have heard about it, a few months ago, and I’ve been considering it for her. Since she just turned ten, she may be beyond the window in which it might be effective, but it shouldn’t hurt, right?

      She’s starting to enter the pre-pubescent time period and we are already seeing extreme tightness in her hamstrings due to the rapid growth. It concerns me a great deal.

      • says

        The younger they are, the faster they respond. We aren’t sure if it will help post puberty (growth plate issues/long term deficiency), but the project only worked with children through age twelve. I highly recommend the parent group on Facebook. One of the mom’s has a great page chronicling her daughter’s two month (so far) journey here: If your daughter responds, you should know within a few weeks – increased appetite, (healthy) weight gain, decreased spasticity, increased strength. If she isn’t one of the 83%, then you can just chalk it up to something that you tried that didn’t work. Hopefully she will be, and six months from now…? Good luck! (Excellent, very moving writing, by the way!)

  10. says

    Thanks for this post. We are going through the same with my 7 year old. I posted on a Facebook cp group and was directed to this post. I think most of the people on that group have younger kids. Nice to be able to see she isn’t alone! Happy New Year!

    • Andi says

      I suspect the next few years will be challenging ones for us. She needs and wants to be completely independent, yet she’s like the boy who recently got the special shoes from Nike – she can’t put on shoes that lace up by herself because of the braces. Unfortunately, she will also need to wear them now more than ever because of the rapid growth she’s facing.