I was working on a trip recap post but something happened today and now you get this instead.
To set the stage for where I was mentally, I read a post last night about a guy who was born with one hand and what it's been like for him to cope with the staring and attention his limb difference has brought him over the years. It's not a whiney post. It's actually hilarious on spot-on at the same time--which seems to be the general tone of his blog. Read the post here. But what stuck with me most about this post was the fact that even after 33 years, Ryan--who is married with children--still finds it difficult sometimes when people, even children, stare at his missing hand.
So that's what I read last night.
This morning a friend invited me and my girls to a free kids movie with several other moms from her ward. Ward = Mormon congregation....we're all on the same page right? This is an acquaintance/growing friend I know from our NYC days who just moved here about a month ago with her family. They happen to live in a ward with many thriving young families. We don't. Therefore, it would seem that in one month she has a amassed a healthy amount of friends while after a year I'm still trying to find my posse. Did I mention it's been a hard move? So my point being, I was excited to get out this morning and meet some new moms.
To recap: life-long limb difference and staring = still sucky and I have no friends. Capiche?
So we go to the movie. Afterward everyone is going to Chick-fil-a for lunch. And so we decide to go. And so we eat and it was good and fine. It turns out it was a pretty big group of people--even some dads met up for lunch, tons of kids and probably like 8 or 9 moms. So it just wasn't the best atmosphere for "friendship building opportunities" if you know what I mean. But it was still a fun outing and I was glad we went.
Naturally the girls wanted to go play in the play area. It was small and mostly vertical, so I pretty much stayed on the ground with Lamp while PSP went bounding up the play structure. It wasn't long before kids starting taking notice of Lamp. Which happens. One little girl in particular (who had pink eye I'd like to point out for the record and while limb differences aren't contagious pinkeye is dammit!) came up and asked What happened to her arm? I put on my best mom smile and told her She was just born that way.
Which is the absolutely worst explanation to the under-5-year-old mind. In fact, as I'm typing this I'm realizing that I really need to come up with a fantastic story of alien abduction and lazar arm removal or a shark coming up our toilet and bitting it off because believe me when I tell you either of those scenarios is MUCH more believable to the average kid than telling them she was born this way. They just can.not. wrap their brains around it.
So as per usual, little miss pink-eye kept staring. And I kept smiling. And as usual, she asked again. But...what happened to her arm? And I smiled and said, She was just born this way.
To be clear I tried various born-this-way talks, like she didn't have an arm when she was born, and everyone's different just like you have brown hair and she has blonde hair, blah blah blah.
At some point, some other kids joined her. Well that's not entirely accurate... all along from the second we walk in the play area kids stop and stare at different intervals. Some up close, some far away, some for shorter amounts of time, some for longer. That is just the norm. And I get it. I do. They're kids. They've never seen anyone like Lamp before. I get it. But, it wears. Anyway, the little girl was the first one to be vocal, but there was an ebb and flow to the children coming to check her out. And usually it's just an ebb and flow.
But sometimes, like today, we were suddenly surrounded. And kids asking questions and staring and pointing. I heard one boy say something about her robot arm. I kindly said, It's not a robot arm. And Lamp echoed, not a robot arm. And yes it was cute, but I sorta wanted to karate chop the moms who sat in the back and chuckled because they thought that was adorable but did nothing to come and talk with their kids and help bridge the understanding gap that I was clearly struggling with. I talked to them about her prosthetic. And then I noticed it slipping off--like it do--and found myself having to take her arm off in front of a room of curious children like she was some sort of science fair project. I hated it.
At some point, I had to stop, take a breath and gather myself. It was really an overwhelming moment. And with the perspective of someone with just one limb difference echoing in my ears from the previous night, I couldn't help by think, this is the rest of her life. And as she sat there so innocent, beautiful and still mostly oblivious to what all the commotion was about I also tried not to think about the fact that her awareness of why children and adults gawk and stare at her is slowly starting to erode little by little.
And for some weird reason the fact that I wasn't there by myself made it just a little harder. Not by myself, but not amongst friends either. I don't know how to explain why this made it more difficult--not even to myself. I guess when we're on our own I can handle myself without fear of judgement from strangers or something. But being there with people I kinda know or am trying to get to know but having no actual support just makes it harder. Or the fact that I just want to blend in and make friends and I want my daughter just to be able to play on the play-thingy without having to hold a debriefing session for the gathering preschoolers.
A couple months ago I was at a party and was introduced to a woman with an upper limb difference. She was my age-ish and married with a kid. She told me about dating and what being single was like for her. Since she too had just one arm affected she told me how she always, no matter what, wore long sleeve shirts whenever she went out with her girlfriends. Eventually she turned to internet dating and she would try to hide her right arm for as long as she could. She said that while she did struggle with her own body image that wasn't the reason she hid it.
I said, I know why you did. Because they would count you out.
Exactly, she said. If a guy saw her arm before she even had a chance to talk to him they couldn't focus on anything else. But if she could get through even one conversation, she had a chance...
At some point, I felt a renewed burst of strength amongst the curious band of kiddos. I found some common ground and tried to build on that and eventually the storm passed.
In one sense Ryan's post about still getting his feelings hurt was hard to hear. Part of me was really sad to realize that a man with "just" one missing hand still dealt with that. How would it be for Lamp? And like talking to that woman above one of my biggest fears is having people count Lamp out upon first glance. On the other hand, Ryan's post was good to hear because while he acknowledges that children and their innocent curiosity are natural, it's also natural to still struggle with the pain that can come from being different. I need to know that. Lamp will need to know that. Which leads me to my final thought...
From almost the beginning, back when I was still pregnant with Lamp, I have felt and continue to feel the importance of handling these situations with kindness and respect. I want to give people, especially children, the benefit of the doubt and model positive response behavior for my girls. I truly feel that this idea is part of the bigger picture and purpose.
But sometimes, I just want to punch little kids in the face and tell them to go away.