(In my Mother’s words from a journal)
It is clear, even at this early stage that Meggie will always want to have five fingers on each hand. She knows now that she can’t have them, but beautifully accepts the fact. However, there were all kind of questions in the beginning. She first became aware ofher physical difference at age 2 ½ , and even more so at age 3, when she entered a fairly verbal nursery school class. The kids questioned her and she questioned us. We told her that she had one finger because she was born with one finger. Meg seemed to accept it. But then there was the day she started whining in frustration that she wanted five fingers. I told her that people can’t always get what they want, and she stopped.
There were repeated questions on her part and just as many assurances on ours. But from the beginning, whatever inner questions she had herself, she handled the other children’s marvelously. Sometimes the kids acted hostilely, for there is fear for their own possible loss upon seeing hers. However, hostility she transformed into friendship.
One of her techniques was to simply drown out their questions. She always had a big mouth. I recall once being annoyed at the many “whys?” on every subject and decided to subject her to the same line of questioning. She answered all of my incessant whys. It was I who had to stop, fatigued. And she was just three.
“Mommy, you are so lucky. You don’t have to trim yours all the time.” Savanna and I were sitting on the bathroom floor in the house we were staying for the week in Nantucket. We had just finished a long bike ride together. John and the boys were downstairs in the basement, playing ping pong. One by one, I was trimming each of her finger and toe nails. I turned to our daughter and smiled, was once again overcome with Savanna’s spirit– so sweet and gentle. Often I note her efforts in somehow trying to comfort me in my difference, to explain to me all the benefits. For example, just this past summer she had mentioned that I was so lucky to have a small wrist since that meant I could wear her bracelet, if I wanted to.
I have been thinking a lot about the fact that Savanna has just entered Kindergarten. Even with her older two brothers already in grade school, this period will be new for both of us. By contrast, when Ethan and Charlie arrived at Kindergarten and children noticed their hands and then later saw their mom, my difference somehow made sense, even to a five year old. Not that it stopped the stares or the curiosity, but once a child encountered me, there seemed to be less of a surprise after spending time with our sons. Before they started school I reminded our boys that people stare at strangers, not friends; how crucial it was for them to make the effort for kids to appreciate there was more to them than their difference.
But that advice worked for our sons. Savanna’s own difference is invisible. She is adopted, and even though it is an open subject in our household, whether and when she chooses to mention this to her classmates will be up to her. Given her age, it will most likely not happen this year anyway. Even so, she will be confronted with my difference more immediately than her own. Therefore, I must admit, I have been quite nervous about how things will go with Savanna’s classmates upon seeing me. Savanna’s birthday is at the end of September, and I will soon come to the class to read a book. Although there will be at least a couple of kids from her nursery who know me, I am anticipating the rest will be confused, and in the worst case scenario, may even tease our daughter afterwards given the way her Mommy looks. Even if they don’t, one thing is certain–it and I will be a subject of conversation for her to grapple with on her own.
So my stomach tightens. How will Savanna handle their reaction? Can she handle the unwelcome scrutiny of her family, of her own Mother? The thought that she is not ready for this has been like an unwelcome intruder.
And so recently I decided I needed to prepare her, at least on some level, that the inevitable questions were forthcoming. While still on vacation, I decided to broach the subject directly. “Honey, when some of the kids in your new school meet me, they might ask you a lot of questions. After all, my hands look very different than anything they have ever seen before.” I waited with apprehension, and our daughter grabbed my small hand. At only five, hers is now bigger than mine. “Mommy, I will simply tell them you were born that way. And I will also explain to them if they want to be my friend, how your fingers look is not important.”
Savanna looked at me, her inner beauty shining brightly in my direction. “Besides Mommy, there are much more important things for us to talk about.” My eyes teared and I laughed as we embraced. In that moment I reflected back to the time when I was a small child, discovering my own difference. It occurred to me that just as my parents did with me, it was time for me to do the same. It was the best option. I will simply follow my daughter’s lead.
It has been our experience that having a physical handicap has nothing to do with emotional insecurity. If anything, it may further emotional development by teaching the child very early that no one can have everything they want. It would be wrong to say that it has taught her that life is not a fairy tale, for her precious little life contains as much magic for her as any child I’ve seen. When I remarked to Meg once that the trouble with her was that she was just too pretty, she replied, obviously annoyed, “No, I am just right.”