I was so relaxed. There was nothing like the feeling of getting a facial. Not that I get a chance to bask in this type of joy so frequently, but usually around my birthday I make a point of it. I love every bit of it: the creams, the steam, the special lavender or vanilla scents. Not to mention how nice it is to simply lie back let someone else completely focus on just you and enhancing your (skin’s) appearance, at least for the hour. On this particular day of indulgence, the woman that typically gave me a facial was away, and so for the first time I was trying out someone new, yet still highly recommended.
Somewhere about half-way through the facial, the esthetician grabbed my hands, carefully and intently massaging from the base of my small hand right up to the end of each fingertip. She then began to move each hand into a pre-heated “glove” to allow the special creams to further silken and soften the skin on my hands. Quickly, I sat up from the warm bed. “Wow, did you just get these? I’ve never had a hand massage or experienced these awesome heated gloves before!” I said excitedly. “Really?” she remarked quizzically. “We have had them for years. All our clients have always been treated to a hand massage when getting a facial since we opened fifteen years ago.”
“All but one,” I thought to myself.
Recently I took my close friend Johanna for a facial for her birthday. We hadn’t seen one another for a long time so some time alone spent treating ourselves felt especially luxurious. We ran into some traffic on the way, and rushed in through the doors. “Sorry we were a few minutes late,” I apologized to the man behind the counter. “No problem. You should still get most of your one hour facial in!” he offered with a smile. “Just quickly fill out this paperwork and you both can get started with your facials!” As we walked down the small corridor, we were immediately introduced to our estheticians. “Hi, I’m Jennifer!” an attractive young woman said in my direction. Once I was lying on the warm, comfortable bed, I thought briefly about leaving my hands inside the covers. But, reminding myself of how important it is to flaunt my difference, I kept them out, noting as she walked in the time was already 4:15. As Jennifer focused on my face, I noted that at one point she began massaging my shoulders and upper arms. However, not once did she touch my forearms or hands. “Okay, we’re done!” I looked at the clock, it was 4:51. “Wow, I thought this was supposed to be an hour facial?” “Well, you were late, and I have to run to my next appointment. I am sorry about that.” Jennifer had not even looked up at me. And so, I went outside, paid for our facials and walked across the street to get both of us some coffee, texting Johanna to let her know where I was.
When she arrived about twenty minutes later, she looked radiant. “How was it?” “Awesome! Thanks so much, Meg. I wonder why your person didn’t give you a full hour?” I nodded with frustration. “I guess she had another appointment.” While I was tickled to have treated her, I needed to press her on something. “Hey, did your esthetician give you a hand massage?” “Yes, it was fantastic—I loved it!”
I wasn’t shocked. It was clear that, at worst, Jennifer was so repulsed by my very differently-shaped hands and arms that touching me was a non-starter. Or at best, she wasn’t sure whether I would enjoy a massage in the same way people born with a fully developed hand would. She might have even feared hurting me unintentionally. I would like to give her the benefit of the doubt and believe that her intentions were more than good. But regardless, there was a better way for her to have acted, if only she understood.
A few days later I was in a grocery store, after returning from our awesome trip to Texas. I reached to grab the final item in my cart (a pack of gum) to put on my conveyer belt. A woman who worked for the store said, “I know you probably don’t need it, but can I help you unload that item onto the belt?” I took a breath, smiled, and said “No thanks.” After that, I posted the incident to my DHIFI Facebook page, interested to hear other opinions. Should I have said something that definitively made her realize that I, in fact, did not need the help? Could I use this to educate her so that she wouldn’t jump to conclusions about what people that look different may or may not be able to do? The overwhelming majority of commenters agreed that I did the right thing by smiling and appreciating her offer to help. I noted the comments were remarkably consistent: “You should respond with grace like you did. You know what you are capable of, she does not.” Others chimed in that she was trying to be thoughtful, and still others continued how it is best to give people the benefit of the doubt. Another thoughtful comment was, “I ask people if they need help all the time; and it’s not because I think they can’t do it on their own but to show there are still kind people in this world.” All of these comments resonated with me, and I appreciated being reminded of why people always want to offer so much help, with the best of intentions.
But then one person wrote something that took me aback. She interpreted my description of receiving unneeded help as something that makes me angry. I thought about this for quite some time. In fact, so much that it inspired me to write this new post. Anger? If I am really honest with myself (and therefore all of you), I suppose I really have felt angry, at least in the past. But I have grown from that, though. And still, I think what lingers more than anything when people react to my difference is the sense of feeling “less-than.” When you walk in my shoes, and people (for whatever their reasons) are afraid or at least unwilling to even touch you in their normal course of business, it is tempting to shout, “Hey, world!” “I am actually not so different than all of you than you perceive. Yes, I may look different. But I would love to just go through the day without people reacting to my difference.” While my anger is basically gone, I’ll admit sometimes it still hurts.
By sharing my recent experiences I hope I can provide insight into what it is like to be treated differently, even when there was the very best of intentions. And trust me, I understand that people usually mean well.
The point, however, is to help people understand the impact of their actions, even well-intentioned ones. As one grandparent weighed in about her grandson during our vibrant Facebook exchange, “He is very independent and loves to be able to do for himself. We rob him of that “self-worth” if we try to do too much for him.
Another suggestion that I loved even more was the following: “It would be great if you had a quick, humorous, yet educating comeback for situations like these. It would give the ‘help-offeror’ something to think about and you the ability to just keep moving forward. With smiles left behind.” I thought that sounded great, even if I didn’t know what to do with it.
Then, the next day, our daughter Savanna handed me the answer. After spending the morning opening water bottles, tying shoelaces and just generally helping my kids out as they prepared to rush off to school while simultaneously preparing myself to head to work, I said, “Have a great day, cutie pies.” Savanna, who had watched me do it all, replied, “Fingers Schmingers, Mommy. I love you.”
The next time someone decides, presumes, assumes…fill in the blank…. that I may need help when I don’t, I will simply smile and say, “No, thanks. I can do it myself.” And then I’ll follow up my reply with a genuine and heartfelt, “Fingers Schmingers!”
Feel free to use it.