“You probably noticed what’s different about me,” I said recently to a group of second- and third-graders. Their Unitarian-Universalist Sunday School class is celebrating differences this quarter and I was invited to talk to them about my difference.
I had two main points I wanted to share with the kids. It’s OK to notice and it’s OK to ask. But kids always have their own concerns. This group wanted to know how my fake arm worked and how I could do stuff with it.
“Are you left handed?” “Can you ride a bike?” “Can they make a robot arm for you?”
Yes. I wish!
It’s funny how the concerns tend to correlate with ages. Younger kids – the preschoolers and kindergartners in my daughter’s class – are less concerned with the mechanics of my prosthesis and how I live my life. They stick to the basics. “How did this happen?” “Are you OK?”
These are more difficult questions to answer because the answers seem so incomprehensible to them. The idea that someone can be born without a body part just doesn’t make sense. And it often takes some convincing to get them to believe that my little arm doesn’t hurt.
“Everyone is born differently,” I tell them. “This is just another kind of different. Like hair or skin.”
Sometimes kids will ask the same question again and again with slightly different phrasings. Parents cringe with each question, but I keep smiling. I’ve been through it before.
“Harry and Willy and Carrothead” (by Judith Caseley) is about a boy who was born with one arm, too. He’s a regular kid, of course. He even plays baseball. It’s odd at first, but by the end of the story, his limb deficiency is no different than another kid’s red hair. It’s my “go-to” book for normalizing my difference.
I recently found another book to add to my first choices to talk about being different. Maybe next time I find myself in front of a group of kids I will read “Jacob’s Eye Patch ” (by Jacob Shaw and his mom, Beth Kobliner Shaw). It is essentially the book I’ve always said I would write one day. Instead of being about a little girl with one arm, it’s about a little boy who wears an eye patch. He gets lots of questions and usually he’s happy to answer them. But this one time, he’s in a bit of a hurry. I’ve been in that situation and I always feel bad when I can’t answer a question.
It’s a great book, but I especially recommend checking out the Jacob’s Eye Patch website for the extra material aimed at teachers and parents. It’s an insightful resource for potentially avoiding the awkward situations when kids notice someone’s difference in public and you want to sink into the floor because they’ve pointed and loudly asked “What’s wrong with that lady’s arm?”
Now that I have a kid myself, I’ve been on both sides of that situation, so there are no hard feelings when it’s me the kid is pointing at. I promise.
It’s OK to notice, and it’s OK to be curious. Everyone is different in some way. My difference is just a little more obvious than most.
Mindy Rhiger lives in Minneapolis.
Editor’s note: Republished with permission from Rhiger’s blog, Proper Noun Blog, propernounblog.wordpress.com
FFI: Jacob’s Eye Patch: www.jacobseyepatch.com