STANDISH, Maine — It does not seem to matter that Patricia Simon and Abigail Grady are more than 50 years apart in age. Their friendship has been built across the miles, based on a challenge they have in common. And they are such good pals, they’ve written a story together.
It all started when Patricia wrote an email to NEWS CENTER Maine: “Dear Newscenter Team, I live in Chicago and developed a wonderful friendship with Abigail Grady who lives Standish Maine. I’m 60 and she is 9 years old. Both Abigail and myself were born with a cleft lip and palate. We wanted to write a children’s book about the impact of wearing masks.”
It is an unlikely connection, one that blossomed in a rather improbable way.
Abigail remembers it this way: "So it was about the beginning of first grade. I had to do timeline of my life. And I really didn’t want to do it."
Abigail was born with a cleft lip. Two years ago, when her first grade teacher asked her to create that timeline, she wanted to leave out the earliest months of her life, when she’d had surgery to correct her condition. She didn’t know how to create a timeline that could help her classmates understand why she had that operation.
"So my Mom reached out on Facebook and asked people how to help your kids understand and how to explain it to your children," she said. "And then, someone commented on her post, which was her (referring to Patricia) and then she reached out, a couple days later, my Mom called her, and we were talking for like… an hour!'
Their connection was immediate and the two new friends had plenty to talk about on Facetime.
They found a way to have fun, despite only connecting online. Abigail taught Patricia how to use filters on Facetime; together they practiced tongue-twisters.
"Facebook brought us together, even though we’re far apart. So it was really quite incredible, actually," Patricia recalled.
To raise awareness about cranio-facial issues, Patricia has written a series of children’s books, based around the character of Simon, a bird born with a gap in his beak.
"One, led to two, to three, to four, to five, to six. But the whole theme throughout these books are about acceptance, and kindness, and just being who we are. What do we call our scar?" she asked Abigail.
"Our badge of courage," Abigail responded with a smile.
Patricia has created these books with messages that are universal.
"It’s not just specific to kids born with a cleft lip or palate or any other cranial facial issue," she said. "The message is really – we are all beautiful, we are all different, and that’s what makes everything exciting in this world. It would be really boring if we’re all the same!"
Patricia self-publishes these books and distributes them where they can most help.
"Its really to get the books out there to cranio-facial clinics and to parents and kids so they can read these books knowing that it’s okay. Everything will be okay. Growing up, there were no books for me," she said.
The latest book in the Simon series, "Simon Says Mask On Mask Off," tackles the topic of mask-wearing and is a collaboration between these two friends. Mask-wearing has divided people and been even more challenging for kids like Abigail.
Abigail was hesitant to take off her mask this year in school.
"I didn’t like it, but I had surgery this April and I wanted my mask on. Because I was afraid of what other kids would say to me. So I did not want to take my mask off out in public," she said.
When the time came to take off her mask, she was helped by support from others.
"People tell me that it would be okay and that they wouldn’t make fun of me because people knew what I’d been through," Abigail said.
Patricia and Abigail finally met in person this past June, and our conversation took place during Patricia’s second visit to Maine. They are already planning future collaborations.
"Meeting Abigail has changed my life. So much!" she said.
The two agreed: Abigail gained a big sister and Patricia gained a little sister.
Patricia brought boxes of the new book with her on this visit so that Abigail could sign them, and after Patricia and Abigail talked with 207, they left to go to Abigail’s old school and do a book reading of "Simon Says Mask On Mask Off." Abigail and Patricia plan to continue to collaborate on stories and spread their message of acceptance and kindness.
To learn more about the "Smile With Simon" series, click here. For more information about cranio-facial differences, here are some resources. Click on each name to learn more.