Dr. Justine Green entered the world fighting an obstacle that would define her life’s course. She was born with two conditions: Atresia and Microtia. These conditions rendered her deaf in her left ear, and, after multiple reconstructive surgeries, her ear lays flat on her head giving the appearance of missing an ear.
Growing up, Justine never let her disability get in the way, instead using it as a motivation. She learned to read lips, and used other methods through school, to excel despite her challenges. She didn’t stop there, instead Justine continued her schooling, earning a doctorate, and has dedicated her life to inspiring others, advocating for education and the disabled, and much more. She says, “People with disabilities are talented, strong, and important and they want you to treat them as so. Never have low expectations for someone else’s ability.”
Dr. Green used this passion, and her own life story, in writing her first children’s book, Completely Me. Completely Me is a powerful story about a little girl who never noticed there was something different about her, until others pointed it out. When she stands up for herself, the people around her learn the important lesson of self-acceptance, that everyone is different in their own unique ways, and that those imperfections are ultimately what make you perfect. Justine poured her own story into every page in the book, and it yields an incredible and empowering story that resonates with every child and parent.
We were lucky to speak with Justine about her new book, growing up with a disability and why our uniqueness should be celebrated! Read on for more:
Completely Me is a story about a little girl who is struggling with “being different.” Why is this such an important message, especially these days?
Justine Green: As society continues to work to increase inclusivity regarding gender norms and marriage of same-sex couples, the disabled community deserves similar recognition. The issues that students with disabilities face on a daily basis make their academic success and employment goals less attainable than their peers, but these are institutional, individual, and societal issues that can all be addressed. Students with disabilities do not develop self-advocacy skills until they come to accept their situation and feel comfortable in their own skin. That developmental milestone is usually not reached until adulthood.
I am an advocate for people with disabilities because it is hard being different because you don’t know otherwise. It’s not fair for people to impose the feeling of incompleteness onto others.
What is Atresia and Microtia?
Justine Green: I knew that I was different. I always knew that I had a “special ear.” It was never made into a negative, in fact, my family made it into such a big deal that my cousin wanted a “special ear” too! I remember going to a lot of doctor’s offices from a young age as well. I think that my disability can be broken down into two parts: no ear canal, deaf in left ear and appearance of the outer ear.
I remember all three surgeries and the recovery period. I remember that my parents brought balloons into the hospital for me when I woke up and the nurse said that balloons were not allowed and popped them right in front of me. After my first reconstructive surgery, they removed cartilage from my ribcage and created a new ear behind my original ear on my left side. My ribcage recovery was one of the most painful recoveries, especially for an 8-year-old. I remember after that first surgery that I was upset about something, so I started crying, then my ribs hurt from crying, so I started crying from pain. It was a cycle that night that I couldn’t stop for hours. I’ll never forget that. After that first surgery, I technically had 3 ears. Kids were not very nice at this time.
Luckily for me, my mom kept a journal for each child in the family. On February 7, 1999 she wrote that “Over Thanksgiving weekend, you threw me for a loop. On your way into the bath you ran over to me (in your nudity) and said, ‘oh by the way, I decided to have the operation so just make the appointment.’
Growing up knowing you were “different,” but never feeling different, and learning how to love yourself – how do you plan to instill this idea that everyone is perfect just as they are in your own two kids and your students?
Justine Green: It made my heart drop the first time my son, Theodore, noticed my left ear. I knew I had to talk to him about it. Children understand more than you think, and they deserve to be spoken to with high expectations. Even as a teacher, I always bring up my ear early on in the school year. I want them to know I am proud of who I am and that I am not trying to hide something that makes me different. I am not ashamed of my ear or my disability. Children benefit from being with a diverse population in an inclusive classroom. I hope that my children and my students grow up to be understanding, compassionate, and accepting individuals who recognize that everyone is different. I have a schtick with the word “normal.” What is normal? Everyone is different, even identical twins. If everyone is unique by nature, why would we want to ever compare ourselves to some type of normal that does not exist.
While attending school, how did you manage to adjust to be able to keep up despite being deaf in one ear?
Justine Green: My parents would meet with my teacher before the school year would start to make sure they understood that I needed to sit in the front left corner of the room to have my ear to everyone. When I got to middle school, my need for accommodations grew. Throughout my educational career my accommodations have included written notes, seat preferences, and CART captioning. I was really fortunate to have my parents be such strong advocates for my success. My mom said “I will not let you start at a disadvantage.”
Tell us more about Atresia and Microtia – are you continuing to learn more about the conditions as an adult? Is there more research being done on the conditions from a scientific standpoint?
Justine Green: Over the past few years, my right ear’s hearing has gotten worse as well as very sensitive. I found an amazing doctor who helped me see that there are hearing aids available for people who are deaf in one ear. It was amazing! We tested it out and I was able to hear her whisper something behind my left shoulder. It was something I never thought would happen. It brought tears to my eyes. I paid for a custom-made earpiece for my left ear and unfortunately, no company or designer was able to create something that fit my ear. Apparently so many people tried to make one for me that I was known as the “atresia patient.” Not only was this disappointing for me because I am unable to improve my hearing with hearing aids, I had a taste of what it would be like if it was taken away, and that my ear was so unique that no one could figure out how to make a mold that would work for me.
What are some of your personal life lessons that you have brought with you in your experience as an educator?
Justine Green: My personal use of accommodations motivated me to be as responsive to each student’s particular needs as possible. Utilizing accommodations to level the playing field as a federally protected individual should never be something other people make fun of or speak poorly about. I made sure that anyone who needed accommodations had them and that the other students in the class understood what was going on.
Bullying is a serious issue in schools today. Did you ever experience this as a child growing up? If so, how did you deal with it, and how do you help your students deal with it?
Justine Green: Of course, I was bullied! Kids can be mean… really mean. Most of that meanness is attributed to lack of knowledge. I remember someone stopping in the middle of the lunchroom at my public high school cafeteria and said, “Hey! You’re the girl with the fake ear, right?” I had people run away and scream when they saw my ear.
In my mom’s journal for me, she wrote that I was always a “closed mouth” child. She would ask if anyone teased me or made fun of me and my response would always say “not really,” but she knew I was lying.
You are a working mom of 2, a school principal and now, an author! What are 3 tips you can share with working women who want to accomplish their dreams?
Justine Green: 1. Use your time wisely. Time management is key. I don’t like to push things off to another day if I have the time to do it now.
2. Set goals, small, attainable goals. I learned from all my schooling that things can seem overwhelming if you look at EVERYTHING that needs to be done. Instead, make a list of what you want to do and break it down into small, attainable goals which helps organize your time and turns big mountains into little hills.
3. Be confident. You are a strong, independent woman and you are capable of anything. Your uniqueness, ideas, and abilities are wanted and needed. Be confident and trust yourself. Do what makes you happy and own it. No matter what, you were true to yourself and that’s what’s important.
Tell us more about your motivation for writing this book based on your own life and struggles?
Justine Green: I wrote this book because I needed this book growing up and if my story helps just one person, then this whole endeavor was worth it.
What are 3 things you hope your readers take away from Completely Me?
Justine Green: 1. I hope they learn to notice the good before they notice the unusual.
2. I hope that readers learn to accept people just the way they are because people’s unique qualities are what make them special. That no one is ever missing anything.
3. I hope that they see a diverse group of characters when they read Completely Me and recognize that everyone deserves to see themselves in books and on TV.
How do you de-stress after a long day?
Justine Green: HA! I don’t. Just kidding, kind of. My husband and I try to always eat dinner as a family with our two children, Theodore and Amelia. We try to be present for dinner until bedtime, which is important to me.
Completely Me launches tomorrow, July 15th online at greenrosepublishing.com. For more on Justine Green, visit: drmommygreen.com and follow Completely Me (book) on Instagram at: instagram.com/completelymebook!