One mom's essay about hiding her children's HIV status went viral after it was posted on the Scary Mommy blog.
In 1965, Kurt Vonnegut reminded us earthlings that there is only one rule for living on this planet: You’ve got to be kind. In God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Vonnegut wrote: “Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”
It’s a rule that bears repeating, especially when stories like Jenn Mosher’s are making the rounds, reminding us all what an un-kind world we live in. Mosher wrote a brutally honest, powerful and thought-provoking essay at Scary Mommy about feeling that she must hide her children’s HIV positive status. The story went viral with 37,700 shares on Facebook and 637,725 likes. “My HIV child is playing with your child, and you don’t know it,” she bluntly wrote before going on to explain that her children have no sign of the disease in their blood, take medication every night and live the happy go-lucky lives of happy go-lucky children. But Mosher is worried that if her children’s HIV status is known, her community, friends, even school will shun her and her children.
When Mosher writes about fears of her children being stigmatized, it’s not the children on the playground she is worried about. Kids don’t know or care about such things, but their parents do. It’s the mothers and fathers who simply don’t understand that HIV isn’t a viral boogeyman lurking on toilet seats or playground swings. (In fact, it never was.) Now, as Mosher writes, HIV is a manageable illness that is not contagious through normal contact:
“Modern medications render the virus powerless. Every four months my child has her blood checked, and every time the results are the same: the sensitive lab tests detect no virus in her bloodstream. She is healthy, happy, and hilarious. I bandage her scraped knees; mop up bloody noses; share food, water, and kisses; and deal with boogies—all with no risk and no worries about contracting HIV.”
Parents who haven’t kept up on advances in HIV (and who has time, what with modern parenting being the all-hands-on-deck enterprise that it is?) may not know or understand that modern medicine has rendered HIV inert and Mosher’s essay addresses that. “Please, fellow mommies, know that HIV is nothing to be afraid of,” she writes and encourages parents with questions to seek answers from their own pediatricians. “Please look online, google it, and talk with your pediatrician. Learn and research so that you know the truth, too. You don’t have to take my word for it,” she wrote.
Still, Mosher has her own fears, but hers are not so much for her children’s physical health, but their mental and social well-being. “Fear that my children will be disinvited from birthday parties,” Mosher explained to Buzzfeed, “uninvited from gymnastics teams, kicked out of private school, and excluded and despised because of misinformation and baseless fear — as some others we know have been.”
Why would a school or a gymnastics team kick out a child with no sign of disease but a specter of a once-scary virus? Why would a parent disinvite a child to a birthday party over something they were born with? The combination of a lack of education and unfounded fear are a deadly cocktail, which can wreak far more damage on a child than an inert virus. But there’s something even more basic at play, too— the fact that many parents have forgotten one of the basic tenets of life on earth: kindness.
One silver lining of Mosher’s story is this: While internet comments are normally the antithesis of kindness, Mosher told Buzzfeed that she found thoughtful moms offering support, advice and even friendship. “They encouraged me, invited us on play dates, and made me realize that our tribe is definitely out there,” she told Buzzfeed. “They made my husband and I want to be braver.”
Essays like Mosher’s are important, because they teach from a place of kindness. They strive to inform, not yell or name call. They make people want to listen and become informed. Her essay reminds us all how far we have come since the days when Ryan White was shunned from his school, forced to eat with disposable utensils, use separate bathrooms, and skip gym class. But the essay also reveals how far we as a society still have to go to learn to live together on this round and wet and crowded planet.
I try to teach my son to be kind and his school reinforces those lessons of inclusiveness. If one of his schoolmates is HIV positive, I hope he learns about the differences that make up this melting pot of a country. I hope he learns acceptance of those differences, whether skin color, weight, ability or boogeymen lurking in their bloodstream. And I hope most of all that he learns to be kind to everyone, no matter how different, while he learns how we are all very much the same.