Mojo: a power that may seem magical and that allows someone to be very effective, successful (Merriam-Webster)
September 7, 2010
“Let’s go kids!” I feigned joy but actually felt an inner tremor. With Ethan already dropped off at his elementary school, it was time for me to take Charlie and Savanna to their nursery school at our local Jewish Community Center. Already in the “four’s” Charlie was quite familiar with the morning drill of getting out of bed early, rushing through his breakfast and brushing his teeth (with help from me or his Dad). It was the third year that Charlie had been at the school, and strangely enough, I had happily discovered that because he (and his older brother Ethan) shared my genetic condition, his classmates were quite unfazed about my own hand difference.
But today Savanna was to embark on her own adventures as a JCC student and, rather than being the excited and proud mother walking her daughter to meet her teacher and fellow classmates, I was filled with dread. Not being born with my condition, Savanna was the image of normality, even perfection. What would her new, unsuspecting friends make of my condition? As we walked in I couldn’t help shoving my hands deep into my pockets. As if pointing to her cubby using my nose rather than my finger, I feigned a smile and said, “Look! There’s your name on your own cubby. Go ahead and hang your (Dora the Explorer) backpack there.” I looked around and noticed that all the other Moms were helping their children not only hang up their bag, but remove their lunchbox as well.
Feeling anxious, I hesitated when it was time to leave, wanting to embrace my daughter knowing that would require me to display my misshapen hands. As Savanna approached me I took a deep breath and gave her a quick, warm hug, simultaneously glancing to see if any other kid had noticed. The stares that followed felt like daggers. Mostly, I was concerned about other students questioning Savanna after I left, putting her on the spot about the fact that her Mommy only has two fingers. As I got ready to go I stuffed my hands in my pockets, hoping the kids would soon become distracted by something, anything else.
September 15, 2010
There was something about the morning I couldn’t put my (one) finger on….I just felt different. It was as if a new jolt of unexpected confidence had overtaken my body from the moment I woke up. Getting the kids ready for school, I made a mental note to purposefully let go of my fears and show my hands at the JCC drop-off to Savanna’s class. I wasn’t quite sure where this new confidence was coming from.
At school I shepherded Charlie to his own class and then purposefully grabbed Savanna’s hand and walked into her class, waiving. Although the teacher was unfazed, a fellow classmate began to stare and walked over to get a better look at the oddity (er, my hands). Only this time, I felt a strong sense of self take over and smiled broadly. “Hi, how are you this morning? Are you Shabbat girl?” The girl looked at me, then to Savanna who was off taking her backpack at her special nook, then back to me. “Why do you have one finger?” I had heard the question a zillion times, and yet I felt fully prepared to respond. “Great question! I was born like this, just like you were born with your beautiful brown curly hair.” The girl hesitated, then smiled back. What else could she say or do when I was standing there feeling proud and smiling?
Later that day at pick-up, Savanna approached me and pointed to the same little girl. “Mommy, she wants to come to our house for a playdate…..pleeeaaase?” Once again, I gave my daughter a big, unabashed hug.
This past weekend I was attending Ethan’s basketball game with John. From the moment the team walked onto the court we felt the energy. Moment after moment, Ethan and his teammates dominated. At one point, at 19 to 5, the score was so disparate, I actually felt somewhat sorry for the other team….well, a bit. And then, as if something had sucked the energy from their collective group, one of Ethan’s teammates made an unfortunate foul and the other team scored a three-point shot and then scored again…repeatedly. By the time the game was said and done, the final score was practically a joke given then way the game started, with the opposing team crushing ours by more than ten points. I turned to another parent and let out the only thing that came to mind, “I don’t get it, it’s as if our team had some incredible mojo but lost it and never recovered.”
Later that evening, the founder of a terrific non-profit organization called, “The Lucky Fin Project (“LFP”),” contacted me about a parent with a limb difference seeking advice who had posted on the LFP Facebook Page. The parent was the one affected with a physical difference, but was concerned that her young children, once in school, would be teased about their mother’s appearance. The situation was immediately familiar to me given that Savanna doesn’t share her brothers’ and my condition called ectrodactyly.
Before responding, I decided to check out the LFP Page directly and saw the mother’s post:
“I was born [without] fingers or toes and [have] lots of scarring from surgeries throughout my life. I also have two children: a two-year old daughter and a four- month old son……I fear that when my children go to school they’ll be made fun of or be poked at because their mother doesn’t “look” normal.”
Other parents on the LFP Page had similar worries and all seemed fully cognizant of the simply truth—that some people simply were not comfortable around them. Others worried openly about the way their children would be treated as a result of the parent’s difference. According to one woman, “I have a daughter now and am a little concerned about the same thing happening. I don’t want her bullied because of me.” Some parents shared how other kids had teased their own children ‘in the beginning.’
However, I quickly noted others who seemed to have arrived at a different perspective. One person, a primary school teacher, described her difference but stated matter-of-factly that, “The children aren’t even slightly bothered by my hands. They find them fascinating, they ask questions about them but they are always happy with a straight answer.” Still others reinforced “tricks” that were familiar such as, “Kids can be a cruel demographic, and they don’t need anything spectacular to make fun of if that’s how they’ve chosen to treat someone. I do like sharing the advice my dad gave me when I was teased in grade school. He told me to respond to ridicule with a sincere compliment, and it worked.” Finally, still others discovered another solution, suggesting the mom proactively go to the school and, “meet the new kids, talk to them, let them ask questions.”
It occurred to me I had written about this subject in the past, in a blog post “Shame is a Wasted Emotion.” In it, I described how just last year I was coming to Savanna’s class to read, and despite all the flaunting I do on a day-to-day-basis, the ‘hider’ can still rear its ugly head. Fortunately for me, she was much stronger than I gave her credit for. “My heart swelled, and I immediately felt foolish for having John hold up the book to read to the class. Clearly our daughter was already stronger than I had realized. And as I drove home, I became moved on a deeper level. Savanna had known full well I was coming the following day. Not only was she willing to flaunt her own personal difference, it never occurred to her that having a Mommy that looks like me was even worthy of an advanced explanation.” But actually, as much as it is true that shame is a wasted emotion, Savanna’s strong and positive attitude doesn’t really just happen. Like several of the parents on the LFP page described, I am convinced that my conscious decision to claim my power rather than hide has led directly to my children’s own discovery of their strength.
Meeting new people, especially my kids’ friends, invariably creates moments of anxiety. I realize now that when I push through my fears what I am doing is consciously grabbing hold of my own personal ‘mojo.’ But unlike in sports, the appearance of mojo doesn’t seem like luck or whimsy. My mojo is a power that doesn’t happen unexpectedly.I choose to seize it and, thankfully, the magic that is released when I use it also rubs off on my little teammates.