Just to set the record straight, I haven’t always embodied my mantra, “Don’t Hide It, Flaunt It.” Rather, it took me years to get here. Although I was generally a happy kid, I always aimed to blend in so that my two fingers and two toes never defined me. It would have worked better if I had lived in a bubble. But I didn’t, of course. As I mentioned in my December 2011 article in Parents magazine, I didn’t mind people’s questions when they emanated from natural curiosity. “Why do your fingers look like that?” “Why do you have two fingers?” “Why are your shoes so small?” As a young child I even heard, “Meg, will you grow more fingers when you are older?” That one actually prompted me to check-in with my father, just in case. Given my experience, my standard and simple reply was invariably, “I was born this way.” Then I’d try to change the topic. “Oh, I was just born like that, but more importantly, I love your [hair, outfit, smile, or just fill in the blank with anything…]. However, on what I considered a bad day, when the stares or whispered comments just seemed too much, I would feel the pain physically, not just emotionally. A look of pity or awkward pointing in my direction would produce a stabbing feeling. Not deep enough to do major damage, but painful nevertheless.
On the worst days, which were mercifully rare, I would go in my room, plant my face into my pillow, and cry my eyes out. I remember on one occasion my parents following me into my room as I shouted, “It’s just not fair! It’s not fair that I am the only one whose hands and feet look different from everyone else. Even Peter and Ted have ten fingers and ten toes!” While he was always supportive and sympathetic, my dad used to refer to these outbursts as my “pity parties.” On that occasion, my mom rubbed my back and offered her thoughts which stayed with me. “Meggie, life isn’t fair. That’s the truth for all of us, no matter what we look like. Someday you will understand that. Your brothers will need too as well. Believe it or not, I see kids that are really shy and who clearly envy how naturally social you are. I bet they believe it’s unfair that they cannot interact with others as easily as you can. Expecting total fairness for yourself in this world can only lead to unrealistic disappointment. You’re going to have to accept your lot in life and make the most of it. It’s not a punishment. Quite the opposite, you’ll learn to thrive because of it. My darling Meggie—we all eventually need to learn this lesson. Not just you.” Although I heard my mom, I was not yet mature enough to absorb her words.
Years later I’m still wondering, if life is unfair, what can we do? It’s always easy to take the path of the pity party, – anger, resentment, embarrassment, and in its simplest form —the notion of “why me?” But thankfully that isn’t our only option. Consider Samantha Garvey, an eighteen-year-old from Long Island, New York. Samantha is an aspiring marine biologist. Unexpectedly last year, both of Samantha’s parents were seriously injured in a car accident. As a result, her parents could no longer work and the Garvey family fell behind in their rent and became homeless. Talk about unfair. Samantha didn’t opt for a pity party. Rather, she gained national attention last month competing for a $100,000 national science prize while attending school and simultaneously living in a shelter with her family. As part of an outpouring of support in response to Samantha’s story, she was invited to Washington, D.C. to watch President Obama’s State of the Union address and people donated money so she and her family could secure a home.
These days I wonder whether or when my children will be tempted to indulge in their own pity parties. Admittedly, I am surprised that there have been few to date, but I am waiting. In fact, I thought Charlie was about to crack last week. As I was putting him to bed, he said, Mom, “It’s not fair!” Here it comes I thought. “What honey, what’s not fair?” “It’s not fair that you got to be on the Chit Chat Live radio show this week, and we only got to be on the TV show!” I smiled and said, “Charlie, life is unfair.” I got off easy that time, but I know all three of them will come back with their own versions of “life isn’t fair” and it may not have anything to do with fingers or adoption. But I am confident they’ll get through it, just like I have.
After all, if life is unfair to everyone, doesn’t that seem fair?