I have been tossing this topic around in my head for the last couple weeks or so. Since Jack “graduated” from having to go back to the orthopedic surgeon for any future checkups, we really haven’t had any issues or incidents with his hand. Not to say I don’t notice when others stare at it – both children and adults and a natural reaction, one I have had myself – or that we haven’t talked with people about it (something I absolutely don’t mind doing because education and pride are the two things we can do to open other people’s minds about limb differences), but nothing out of the ordinary. But at some point in December, both Liam and Jack expressed a desire for Jack to have two big hands. Liam said it first and thankfully Jack did not overhear him saying it to me. And then we were in the checkout at the grocery store when Jack said it to me. It cuts right through my heart to hear either of them say something like that, but especially Jack because despite all the times we tell him he is special and that God made him that way and that his little hand is no different from how God made other people different, he has measured himself by the standards of others and found himself lacking, wanting more. It does not surprise me that those feelings are there, but it still breaks my heart.
Both occasions were random occurrences, we hadn’t been talking about Jack’s little hand or hadn’t witnessed Jack having difficulty doing something because of his little hand, they were just out of the blue comments like kids often make. In Liam’s case, I asked him why he thought that – he responded because most people had two big hands. And I matter-of-factually reiterated that God made Jack that way and that while it was true that most people had two big hands, there were plenty of people who had other differences that made them stand out like being very tall or very short, or having to wear glasses or hearing aids, or not having legs, etc… And then I reminded him that Jack would be able to do almost anything with his two hands as they were, just like Jim Abbott who we had met during the summer. Oh yeah, he said, I guess I just wish it was different. I gently told him that I hoped he never said that to Jack because it might hurt his feelings.
In Jack’s case, I simply reminded him that God didn’t make him that way and that instead he chose to make him special with a lucky fin, or a lucky little hand. And then I told him that I love his little hand and that he is going to do anything he wants to in life. And then I smiled broadly at him and at the man behind us in line who was intently listening to our conversation because I will not miss the opportunity to make sure Jack knows that I think he is awesome and to make sure that other people know as well. But, goodness, it’s not easy navigating these waters.
And then yesterday, on the way home from daycare, Jack was doing his usual routine of how no one plays with him at daycare… which, for the record, he says all the time and his teachers assure me that he is the ringleader of their activities – something I have witnessed myself when he doesn’t know I am watching – but I still feel myself getting all mama bear in those moments, thinking of the possibility of those other four-year-olds hurting my kid’s feelings. But this time, he said, “They didn’t want to play with me because of my hand.” Gulp. Who knows if this true, or a perception that Jack has, or just something he has made up because he knows it will get a reaction out of me. Whatever the reason, I think there is something I need to do here, but I am not sure what. What would you do if you were in my shoes? A letter to the other parents explaining Jack’s limb difference and giving them some talking points for their own kids to help educate them about how it is not anything wrong with him or a reason to not be his friend? Suggest a class viewing of Finding Nemo and prompt the teachers to talk about how Nemo didn’t let his smaller fin hold him back and that he helped make him awesome, just like Jack? At the very least, I’ll be talking to his teachers and getting their thoughts/observations. But this is just the tip of proverbial iceberg, as these occurrences will happen more often as he grows up and is in school full time, and he will become more aware of his difference and the attention it draws from other people.
So do me a favor, if you are a parent, please talk to your kids about differences in people and how they should react to and treat someone with a difference, which is: NO DIFFERENT THAN HOW THEY WOULD TREAT ANYONE ELSE. Explain to them that all people are different in one way or another. Prompt them to think about how they would feel if someone didn’t want to be their friend because they have curly hair or freckles, or perhaps were missing part of their hand. Reiterate that some differences can be a challenge for the person, but that the possibilities are limitless. Look up videos and articles on the Internet about people who have limb differences so your kids can see how awesome they are: Tony Memmel, Jim Abbott, Nick Newell, Kevin Laue, Kevin Connolly, Oscar Pistorius, are just a few. And if your kids (or you) have questions about Jack’s hand, ask them, because it’s natural to be curious and we don’t mind. Plus I want to make sure that Jack grows up talking about his hand and not hiding it his sleeve or ever being ashamed of it. I never want him to find himself lacking, but instead to be assured that God has given him more than enough to succeed in life.
My advice is to do nothing, dont contact the other parents, dont contact the school, just let what happens happen. Jack is a tough kid, and no matter what you do, at some point he will have some kid(s) give him a hard time about his hand, and he will have to deal with it. (I personally favour teaching him to give them a smack in the mouth with his little hand but I dont think you guys, or the school, or the education department would agree) If you contact the school and make Jack the focus of attention I suspect it would probably do him more harm than good with the other kids. Those that want to be his friend will be, those that judge him and dont want to know him can go to hell!
You’re right – we probably won’t go the route of hitting kids in the mouth (though it is tempting and he does have quite the powerful job with his little hand). 🙂 Certainly anyone who judges him definitely isn’t worth our time, but they also don’t know better because their parents haven’t taught them the importance of seeing past differences (at least not at 4 years old) which is why I advocate for parents to teach their kids and hopefully when they are older and adults they won’t end up being judgmental because then, all bets are off.
For some reason I feel inclined to share the sibling perspective. My brother was adopted from Bangladesh and was in a wheel chair (so 2 “stick out” factors – the darker skin in a caucasian family and the wheel chair). My mind and heart still remember what it felt like to see others staring and looking, knowing/thinking they were wondering “what’s wrong” (pertaining to the wheelchair). I felt protective and wanted to yell, “nothing is wrong with him!” In those moments, I wanted to get as close to him as possible to show he was fantastic and loved. At the same time, my heart broke for him b/c I could only imagine how it felt for him. In that sadness, I wanted life to be “fair” for him. I also felt so stinkin’ proud of him b/c he was a trooper, a fighter and was special. These are the feelings I felt early on (memories of specific times as early as 2nd or 3rd grade). Maybe Liam is feeling some of these things towards/for Jack? It is hard being an older sibling who wants to protect the younger one but don’t know how (just like a parent I guess). Michelle, you’re doing a great job! You’re being thoughtful, attentive and intentional. Keep it up!
I am a mother and as you know similar shoes to fill one day. I don’t know how I will react. I only know that the very first time a child noticed AOI’s little hand we were at the library and the little girl’s mom told her to ask me. It was the first time so I simply told her “When she was in the belly something wrapped around her hand and it cut it off” I didn’t know if that was a good answer or not. The second time three different children noticed I told them the same thing. I later started to say that she was born like that. I sincerely preferred telling them the whole story about how come AOI has a little hand. The last time we met with these children, they were playing with AOI and though they know that she has a little hand, they know the reason.
I guess when the time comes I will try to let her know the difference between the good friends and the one to send to hell. I better start writing those deep letters.
As for the teachers, maybe we can encourage books with diversity to bring focus on accepting and being tolerant to all humans
I find with kids they are more curious if something happened to the little hand and if it hurt, otherwise, they are mostly unphased. This will of course change as they get older and start to think that different = wrong or bad; so I hope to fend that off, promoting the idea that different is just different, we are all different. 🙂 I pray we both are given and can show grace as our kids grow.
I’ve been thinking about what we can do as parents and I feel we can use this platform to do something together. What do you think? I want to feature this post on my blog before the end of the month. Just let me know.
I agree… education and spreading the word is the answer. A friend posted on FB that she had dealt with similar things because her son had a kidney replacement when he was very small and has life-long effects from it but she said in another comment that unless you have a child with a difference or a close friend who deals with it, you seldom think about broaching the subject with your kids. But I think celebrating and promoting diversity of all kinds can only improve the rest of life. Let’s do something! And yes, please do share on your blog!
Im 28 and have a similar condition as your son.
I’m not going to sugar coat this: it is tough going. Kids are very cruel and I was bullied very much.
But here is the best part: I survived. I thrived. And I never let anyone discourage me from being the amazing person that I am. It took me a little while to come to terms with it (sometimes it is still a sensitive spot), but I have never let it stop me from going after the things I really wanted. And it’s also helped me steer clear of people who have no buisness being in my life. If they cant accept me for who (as well as how) I am, they shouldn’t be around. It’s like a bad seed detector in a sense. 😀
With his strong familial support system, there is no reason that your son won’t be able to make it. Just keep encouraging him and doing what you are doing.
It’s in our differences that we find so much beauty and grace. You seem to realize that.