By Mary Ann Bird
I grew up knowing I was different, and I hated it. I was born with a cleft palate, and when I started school my classmates made it clear to me how I must look to others; a little girl with a misshapen lip, crooked nose, lopsided teeth and garbled speech.
When schoolmates would ask, “What happened to your lip?”I’d tell them I’d fallen and cut it on a piece of glass. Somehow it seemed more acceptable to have suffered an accident than to have been born different. I was convinced that no one outside my family could love me. Then I entered Mrs. Leonard’s second-grade class.
Mrs. Leonard was round and pretty and fragrant, with shining brown hair and warm, dark, smiling eyes. Everyone adored her. But no one came to love her more than I did. And for a special reason.
The time came for the annual hearing tests given at our school. I could barely hear out of one ear and was not about to reveal something else that would single me out as different. So I cheated.
The “whisper test” required each child to go to the classroom door, turn sideways, close one ear with a finger, while the teacher whispered something from her desk, which the child repeated. Then the same for the other ear. Nobody checked how tightly the untested ear was covered so I merely pretended to block mine.
As usual, I was last. But all through the testing I wondered what Mrs. Leonard might say to me. I knew from previous years that the teacher whispered things like “The sky is blue” or “Do you have new shoes?”
My time came. I turned my bad ear toward her, plugging up the other just enough to be able to hear. I waited, and then came the words that God had surely put into her mouth, seven words that changed my life forever.
Mrs. Leonard, the teacher I adored, said softy, “I wish you were my little girl.”
[Condensed from Guideposts Magazine, January, 1985, p. 115]