Friday, May 4, 2012

Grace Under Fire

Please welcome guest blogger Erica Crabtree Mossholder! 

>> Erica is a 20-something living in Huntsville, Alabama. She works at the University of Alabama in Huntsville as an executive secretary and is currently pursing an MBA. In her free time,
which is scarce, she enjoys reading blogs, working out, crafting, and various and
sundry other hobbies. Roll Tide! <<

Today is Friday and I am so glad! The end of the work week is a welcome relief to us all and Friday night with a Domino’s Pizza and a date with Mr. Clean sounds just perfect to me.

All week I’ve been looking forward to my Friday night roasted-red-pepper-and-spinach pizza but I have also harbored a bit of dread because the last time I went to Domino’s to pick up my tasty pie, I was met with a Negative Nate. A Negative Nate is simply the male version of a Negative Nelly: someone who is able to co-opt my positivity and instantly put me in a bad mood. 

It all started when I arrived at the store to pick up my pizza wearing workout clothing and running shoes (I had just finished a quick run). The young man behind the counter asked me, “So, did you just leave the dentist?”

You see, I actually get this question a lot. My craniofacial condition causes one side of my face to appear “puffier” than the other (à la Ashley Judd). Additionally, my lip has a bump on the right side and both are more pronounced when I’m flushed (my face turns redder on the puffy side) and with my hair pulled tightly back in a ponytail.

As soon as he asked that question, I internally groaned, “Again? Really?” And then I thought to myself, “Does one usually dress this way and sweat quite so much after leaving the dentist?! Srsly!” 

Sure the question is innocent enough, but it assumes a lot. I liken it to asking a woman wearing an empire-waist dress if she’s pregnant: People, it is just not a safe bet! If you’re wrong, you’re inevitably going to hurt that person’s feelings. But I knew in that moment, I could either let it get to me or try to handle it gracefully. Honestly, I failed on this occasion at being graceful, because I meekly sighed, “No,” with what I can only imagine to be a look of defeat on my face, grabbed my order and barely made it out of the store before letting a single hot tear drop out of my eye.

Of course I knew my response was not how I should have handled it. It was not empowered and frankly, not acceptable to who and what I want to be. 

So, I’ve asked myself, what will you do the next time it happens? I am slowly learning that grace under fire does not mean that I resign myself to eeking out an apologetic “no” – which I genuinely used to believe would guilt the offender into realization that (s)he hurt my feelings – but rather I should be prepared, especially as an adult, to combat questions, comments and stares head on and face first. 

Grace under fire means being ready with a polite, positive, and firm answer that returns agency to me as an individual. What I should have said was, “No, I didn’t just leave the dentist. (Pause) Say, have you heard of CCA Kids? We help kids with craniofacial differences find support and acceptance. I’ll bring you a poster next Friday and maybe you can hang it up.”

As a cranio adult, I find it is much easier to speak on behalf of someone else, but when it is me, I think, “Oh, I’m not different enough to make it an issue,” or “I’m not a good enough representative to speak for CCA,” but that’s a cop out. Every representation of difference has to face questions from the world and thus, I realize I need to challenge myself: promoting acceptance does not just happen in September or when organizing a fundraiser; it includes, and even requires, answering the tough questions with grace, dignity and decisive action. 

Being prepared with a chipper segue and a sincere call to action simultaneously eases the sting of the unexpected comment and demonstrates acceptance to someone clearly lacking in the tact department. At the very least, turning the conversation to something larger than my looks empowers me and rebalances the dynamic of the conversation. 

As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” and likewise, no one should be allowed to ruin my runner’s high. Feeling good about myself isn’t simply a matter of appearance, it is how well I handle life’s tough situations.

Please comment if you have other suggested positive responses I could use the next time someone asks, “Hey, did you just have dental work done?”


  1. Thanks so much for sharing Erica! I think your "what you wished you'd said" would have been a perfect response. Sometimes I come up with ideas after the fact too, but then I know I will be more prepared next time. Maybe you could bring the CCA poster in when you visit the pizza place again and just simply ask to hang it up. Might be a subtle way to make that employee understand without having to address it full-on. Or if you were comfortable, the next time he is working, you could remind him about this encounter and then give a short explanation and share the poster at that time.

  2. Thanks Erica. I think having a short, rehearsed response is a important tool for both adults and children. And, following it up with an awareness action is a great idea. Also, thanks for sharing Eleanor Roosevelt's quote. What a good concept to remember for all aspects of our daily lives.

  3. I think your response was from your heart and a whole drag explanation seems like a waste of time however if he ask more or seems interested. After I got my wisdom teeth removed. I actually thought I look good. My cheeks were even. One of my cheeks swelled up to even out. I don't have rehearsed responses. I'm pretty much know what to say to any scenario. It doesn't seem one size fits all. BTW I love Ashley. I can't see any difference between her before/after picture. I think she is beautiful.

  4. I really enjoyed reading your first Blog! I really love your awareness idea. Not only will this get your point across in a nice way, but hopefully it will make the person stop and actually think before speaking. Hugs!

  5. I am a CCA Adult. I get asked the same question all the time. It depends on my mood how I respond to this question. Lady Gaga said it best. " Baby I was born this way." And after I give the random person the Lady Gaga quote. The person saids o ok. Then I smile. Because she is right I was born this way and I am proud of it.

  6. Thank you everyone for the comments!

    The suggestions are great. Sometimes, it's hard to share but I think it's important and empowering.

    Anonymous: Love it, "Eh, born this way." Very nonchalant and cool as a cucumber!

    And I agree, Meg, I think it could vary by situation, too, and probably certain times call for much different responses. In a quick passing interaction, the cool Gaga way is a confident, polite way to handle it.

  7. Erica, you are my sister and although I am not a CCA adult, you are truly an inspiration to me everyday! We all go through self doubt and self esteem problems and you have been strong for the both of us. I love you so much. Keep inspiring!


We welcome and encourage all readers to post feedback, however, we reserve the right to remove any comments that are deemed offensive or unrelated to the topic of discussion. Thank you for understanding and for helping us to foster a healthy environment for the families that we serve.