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.