September 27 2013
“Come in, Mr. and Mrs. Zucker!” It was Savanna’s first grade teacher and we had come to read to the class in honor of Savanna’s seventh birthday. Although I didn’t bother sharing it with John, I was somewhat apprehensive to meet her class. What would they think of me? Unlike the kids in her brothers’ classes who wouldn’t have been surprised to see that I look somewhat like the boys, Savanna’s peers would never expect her mom to have only one finger on each hand. These first graders were still too young to understand and I can’t blame them. When it was time to read our favorite, “Strega Nona” to Savanna’s class, who were seated together on a rug, I let John hold up the book and read the story. It’s not that I hid my hands in my pockets or anything. And I definitely chimed in throughout. But yet, somehow I wasn’t ready. It’s not that I wasn’t prepared for a child to stare or ask questions directly. That is a no-brainer—I can more than handle that. Rather, I wasn’t quite sure if Savanna yet had the strength to manage all the curiosity that would inevitably come. And although that event is inevitable, somehow I didn’t want it to ruin her birthday.
I didn’t want her to have to feel ashamed of her Mom.
September 29 2013
I was more than sick. In fact, I could tell I was about to faint. We had just returned from a birthday dinner for Savanna and,within minutes of arriving home, I ran to our bedroom and curled up on the floor. “John!” I screamed from the upstairs bathroom. Only he was giving Savanna a bath, and Ethan was in another bathroom taking a shower. “What’s wrong, Mommy?” It was Charlie. My next memory was waking up and seeing paramedics and a police officer in my bedroom. Apparently, I had passed out and, unable to revive me, John had called 911.
After receiving oxygen, I stayed in my bed, not opting to go to the hospital. I wanted to make sure Ethan, Charlie and Savanna knew I was okay before going to bed so I asked John to bring each to me individually. When it was finally Savanna’s turn, she climbed up on my bed and reached to hold my finger. “Mommy! What did they want from you?” “Hon, they just wanted to ask me a few questions.” Instantly, Savanna relaxed. “Oh, I get it. They wanted to ask you about your blog!”
Recently, I braced myself before watching the ‘Glee’ (FOX) episode dedicated to the memory of Cory Monteith (“Finn”), the actor who died this past summer from a drug overdose. When I first heard the news that the multi-talented 31-year old had died in a hotel in Vancouver, I was instantly depressed. “It’s not like you knew him, or anything,” John remarked when he caught my reaction. Of course, he has a point. It does almost seem silly for me to grieve over a person I have never met. Nonetheless, I watched the tribute episode prepared with my tissues in hand (okay, in-finger). And then came the line from the character that played Finn’s brother that nailed it:
“One thing I learned about Finn dying is that shame is a wasted emotion.”
I was struck by the poignancy of this simple sentence. I had spent so many years of my youth hiding my hands and feet when encountering new people. As I sat on my couch crying watching Cory’s co-star and real-life girlfriend, Lea Michele (“Rachel”) sing Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love,” I couldn’t help but think how much time in my life I wasted feeling ashamed of my physical abnormalities. I felt one thing was certain–I needed to help my kids to not repeat my behavior, and not waste a minute of their precious lives feeling embarrassed about who and what they are.
My thoughts immediately went back to the morning that we read to Savanna’s class for her birthday.
After John read to the class, Savanna began passing out pencils and stickers in honor of her birthday and her teacher motioned for us to come to her desk. “Mr. and Mrs. Zucker, I must share a story with you.” I stared at my husband, uncertain where this was going. Her teacher continued. “Yesterday, I was reading a book about differences to the students. At one point, there was a reference to similarities and how although people can look different, when they go home they can look at their family and see similarities. I purposefully glanced over at Savanna, to see how she was reacting. You would have been SO proud of her! Within seconds, she raised her hand and asked if she could come to the front and address the class. At that point, she proudly announced that she had been adopted, explained what that meant, named her birthmother, and wanted everyone to know that this was her difference.” She paused. “It was like she needed to clear the air and have all the kids appreciate what made her unique, why she was okay with it and why they should be as well.”
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. Although sometimes I wonder if Ethan is the only kid absorbing my efforts, and to some extent Charlie, now I’m pretty sure the impact has reached our daughter, too.