1969. Urbana. “We think she may walk. Not sure what she’ll be able to do with one finger.” My father turned to the doctor. “Ok, but how is her brain?”
1970. Tehran, Iran. Street beggar takes a look at the me in pram and runs the other way, in disgust, possibly fear.
1971. Urbana. “She’s nearly twenty months. Will she walk?”
1972. Urbana. In the bathtub: “Ok, Daddy, I now understand why I have one finger. But why do I only have one toe?”
1973. Jerusalem. Playing with family friends in a bomb shelter during the Yom Kippur war. “Let’s play more tag!” “Hey, what happened to your hands?”
1974. Kabul. Alman Academy. “Will she be able to write?”
1975. Urbana. Yankee Ridge School. “Can she write?”
1976. Urbana. “Meggie! You and Jen made it in the News Gazette for the bi-centennial!” I tensed at the thought my hands were visible in the photo.
1977. Islamabad, Pakistan “Tsk, tsk, tsk.” Repeated sounds from locals who noticed my difference when I was in public with my family.
1978. Urbana. At the County Fair, I have no words in the face of the “Freak Show” exhibit that portrays a person missing limbs.
1979. Urbana. High school music class: “I think if we make you a special extension you could possibly play trombone, but that’s it.”
1980. Urbana. On a walk with my mother: “Meg, the man that marries you will be extremely special.”
1981. Cairo, Egypt. “Want to Dance?” Boy who noticed me, but not my hands, at the school dance. That was the last invitation from him, or anyone else.
1982. Cairo, Egypt. “Tsk, tsk, tsk.” Repeated sounds from locals who noticed my difference as I walked home from school with my brother.
1983. Urbana. “They look like moon boots! I won’t wear them to school.” In response to a pair of orthopedic shows designed for my deformed feet.
1984. Florida (Epcot). “I’m not sure your daughter can hold on properly to go on this ride.”
1985. Urbana. At a shoe store: “Please can I buy them?” e The Candees high-tops didn’t fit. No store-bought shoes ever fit.
1986. Camp Interlochen. Michigan. As one camper to another: “Oh, you play trombone too? I figured all you could do was sing.”
1987. Madison (over the phone). “Meg, what was wrong on our date last night?” (long pause, then tears). “I kept my hands in my pockets because I was born with a birth defect.”
1988. Camp Interlochen (as a counselor). “Girls I really am looking forward to a great summer with you. I just know it is going to be awesome. If I had a thumb it would be up!”
1989. Madison. On a flight to New York next after chatting for hours with a cute boy, “Meg, what you have is not a birth de-fect. To me, you have a birth A-ffect.”
1990. Homecoming Court at University of Wisconsin-Madison football game: (Announcer)“Introducing…..Meg…Weinbaum …from Urbana, Illinois.” My one-fingered hand waves to a crowd of thousands.
1991. Chicago. Lobby of my apartment building, rushing past the doorman to my summer job: . “Hi Carlos, good morning. Do you mind zipping up my dress? I have trouble reaching this one.”
1992. Manhattan. From a boyfriend’s mother: “I don’t think someone like you and my son should end up together, given his brother’s mental disability and your physical one. What if they are both genetic?”
1993. Manhattan. From a law firm human resources officer: “Can you only use a computer? What are all the special accommodations you’ll need to work here for the summer?”
1994. Manhattan. “Meg, I think he’s gay.” I turned to my friend. “I don’t care, I may never have another chance.”
1995. Manhattan. In a subway as I was pushed down to the ground by someone laughing: “You don’t have any hands.”
1996. Manhattan. Another boyfriend’s mother: “Men in our family don’t tend to marry early so you’d best move on from my son.”
1997. Manhattan. “Meg, I have someone incredible for you to meet.”
1998. Manhattan (Central Park). “Will you marry me?”
1999. Westchester, NY. “I’d like a wedding gown that has sleeves that covers my arms.”
2000. Manhattan. “I don’t care what the geneticist advised about the 50/50 odds. Our children won’t have my condition. I just know it.”
2001. Westchester. Reading a fortune cookie after dinner on the day we learned our son would be born with my condition. It read simply: “He is smart.”
2002. Westchester. “Oh, I see your son is a special needs case. Don’t worry, I am sure when he starts school he’ll find friends in his own way.”
2003. Manhattan. “Please don’t ask to help me. I am a grown woman and attorney! How would it make you feel if someone tried to help you do the things a five-year-old is capable of doing?”
2004. New Jersey. From the doctor on our prenatal full anatomy scan: “Your baby has two fingers, not one like you and Ethan.”
2005. New Jersey. “Dear Puma. Can you please make extra-wide cleats so my son can play soccer like everyone else?”
2006. New Jersey. From the adoption agency: “I am sorry, your fingerprints have been rejected again by background security service.”
2007. New Jersey. “Dear Principal, please just treat our son like any other kid. He doesn’t need anything extra, and if you give him the help, he’ll grow-up believing he needs it.”
2008. New Jersey. “Mommy, why do I only have one finger?”
2009. New Jersey. “Mommy, why wasn’t I made in your belly?”
2010. New Jersey. “Mommy, why do I only have two fingers?”
2011. New Jersey. “John, I think I want to start writing and doing public speaking about my difference. I feel like I have something to share, especially for parents who find themselves with children that are different.” My husband turned to me in support. “Let’s call your first talk, “Don’t Hide It Flaunt It.”
2012. New York. My appearance on theToday Show (Seven million viewers). “If you whisk your child away from us, then fear rather than natural curiosity will govern.”
2013. New York. “Can I help you?” Warm smile, “No thanks, but much appreciated.”
Recently on my way back from a business trip, I watched the 2014 movie “Chef” written, directed by and starring Jon Favreau. The film was a culinary comedy. Its protagonist Carl (Favreau), quit his job at a Los Angeles restaurant after a public altercation with a food critic. Divorced and in a creative rut that consumes his every moment, Carl neglects his only son, Percy, who lives with his ex-wife. However, encouraged by Percy’s Mom, Carl invites his son on a road-trip. Percy treasures the adventure and records parts of the trip, both bitter and uplifting, on his iPhone in 60-second clips. Given the opportunity to reflect on those moments in time, Carl gained perspective about his life and past neglect of his son. By the end of the film, the videos provided him the clarity he needed to learn from his mistakes and re-commit to what was most important in his life, his family.
With this in mind, I couldn’t help but think about my own life’s events, and what if I had had a video that captured the highlights? Lacking that, this week I chose instead to jot down the first memory of each year of my life that came to mind. The exercise revealed a life of struggles and accomplishments, experiences that I have come to both regret and cherish. But, mostly, the snapshots suggest to me that every key experience seems to have been necessary in my journey toward unconditional self-acceptance. And the same goes for our kids– I am reminded that anything they might struggle with is simply a moment in time.