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We'd noticed that Annabelle hadn't been on top form since starting back at school after the Summer holidays. Not completely her usual jolly self, at times. A little subdued, even.
Finally, after half term, she told her mother what the problem was; other children had been making unkind remarks about the birthmark on her right cheek. Up until now, her playmates had been pretty much oblivious to it. But in the third year of schooling, children seem to notice differences more, and will pick on others that stand out in any way, if allowed to get away with it.
Her mother had been briefed about this possibility and had a solution to hand:
"You remember we talked about this a long time ago?" Katey reminded Annabelle. "We said if you wanted to, we could get some special make-up to cover up the birthmark so people won't notice it."
Annabelle would have none of this.
"I don't want to cover it up, mummy," she said, determinedly. "It's part of me. If I covered it up, I wouldn't be me anymore. And anyway," she added for good measure, "I like it!"
Her mother made arrangements to speak to Mrs Cottsworth, the headmistress, to see what could be done. Perhaps she could talk to the children and encourage them not to make unkind comments about people who are different in some way.
But Annabelle had her own ideas! At an early morning conference with Mrs Cottsworth the next morning, mummy and nanny also in attendance, Annabelle asked - even demanded - to be allowed to speak to the whole school at assembly. She wanted to tell all the children that she was very happy with her birthmark, there was nothing wrong with it, and people should stop asking questions about it. And she wanted to tell them right now at assembly that very morning.
Impressed, the headmistress agreed to give Annabelle the stage as part of assembly that morning. Mrs Thornton, Annabelle's favourite teacher, came with her on to the stage for moral support.
Mrs Cottsworth gave a short talk about what is inside a person being more important than what is on the outside. "And now," she announced, "here is Annabelle who has something to say about that."
Stepping up to centre stage, Annabelle let rip! This was her birthmark, she told them. She was very proud of it. It was not mud and it was not poo. It was part of her and people should stop asking her questions about it.
"And anyway, " she concluded, "my nanny told me it's where an angel kissed me."
Mrs Cottsworth took up the theme, asking who else had a birthmark and where it was.
"I've got one on my back," said one little girl.
"Mine's on my leg," said another.
"I've got one as well, miss," said a lad at the front.
"And where is it?"
"It's on my bum!"
Annabelle had carried the day, but her sister, Leila, raised her hand to add a bonus.
"Yes, Leila?" asked Mrs Cottsworth, as the laughter subsided.
"Please miss, and nobody plays with Annabelle because of her birthmark and she has to stay on her own all the time at playtime and that's not fair, is it, miss?"
"It certainly isn't," said the headmistress, "so who is going to be Annabelle's friend now?"
A sea of little hands shot up.
Later, Annabelle told us she was quite exhausted by the social whirl that her playtime and lunchtime had become.
So here is Annabelle, seven years old, but demonstrating the self-knowledge and confidence that most don't achieve until well into adulthood (and not a few never achieve at all), not only standing her ground, but doing it in such a way as to open the path for every other child with a visible difference who might otherwise have been picked on, ostracized or bullied. The world will benefit from having Annabelle in it, I believe.
Annabelle, with twin sister, Leila,
visiting their Great Great Grandmother
on her 100th birthday, November 2006