In 2017 the Chinese Horoscope includes the Zodiac sign of the Goat. The Goat has the qualities of her defects, and the defects of her qualities; she’s very intelligent, insightful and visionary. Though the Goat may seem weak at first, she’s actually robust, especially when it comes to defending her own interests. Naturally charming and deeply gentle, the Goat needs to be well accompanied in order to fully blossom.
Recent memories from my mother: “About 6 weeks after you were born, I went to see the doctor who had delivered you. He asked, “How is the baby,” and I burst into tears. I did not understand why you were born without the usual 10 fingers and toes, for I had not taken anything, not even an aspirin. Luckily, you were a very bright-eyed baby, quick to learn and to communicate. And such determination! One of your favorite expressions was, “I do it my selfie.” And you learned to do just about everything on your own. From the very beginning, I remember in nursery school, you had a close circle of friends. And you had a wonderful ability to give advice. Your father and I determined very early on that if you were going to have a successful life we would not overprotect you but allow you to make your own way. We would always be there to advise you, and of course your brothers helped a lot as well.”
“I couldn’t do it Mommy. I went over to the chicken coop instead to collect eggs.” I was with my mother setting the table for dinner, responding to her question about my day at the Farm Lake Day Camp in Champaign, IL. I had just described how one of the counselors took us over to see the goats and even allowed us to milk them. “Girls, hand-milking a goat isn’t difficult, but you do have to practice to be efficient at it. Some goats are like cows and have teats that are large enough for you to use all fingers on them, while others are so small that you can only use three fingers.”
My friend Maia was thrilled to try, running over to wash her hands. But when it was my turn, I came up with the excuse that I needed to collect eggs before anything happened to them. I was only eight, young enough to be excited by experiencing new things for the sake of their newness, but old enough to fully recognize my physical limitations. Although too ashamed to admit it, I felt the opposite at home with my mom. I could confide in her about anything, including my fears that extracting the milk from a goat’s teat was likely impossibile for a one-fingered girl like me. Her response was matter of fact. “Well of course you should try it tomorrow. Just use both hands for leverage.” And so I did.
Today is my mother, Francine Schneider Weinbaum’s birthday. The occasion has caused me to think about the importance of having a loving and supportive mother when facing a life with a physical difference. I have so many memories of my mom challenging me to accept myself and persevere:
- She was the one that encouraged me to dance in her ballet class when even walking on one-toed feet seemed like an outlandish impossibility.
- She was the one that reminded me how blessed I was when strangers in Middle Eastern countries would encounter me and express their pity.
- She was the one that rode me around in a seat on the back of her bike until the day I was old enough to long for independence. When I pleaded for her to teach me to ride on my own she with my father embraced the task and didn’t flinch when I’d fall. “Just get back on—it’ll be fine,” she’d call after me.
- She was the one that came up with the idea of my trying the trombone, when playing any other instrument seemed improbable. Her own father was a gifted trombone player and my mother made certain I could play his jazz trombone. She helped cement my commitment to music.
- She was the one that unconditionally supported my desire to become a cheer leader in High School, knowing full well I had never worn a sneaker.
- She was the one that encouraged me to go and play basketball with my brothers and the rest of the neighborhood kids. The fact that neither of us really knew how I’d handle a large ball was irrelevant—it was assumed I would figure it out, my way.
- She was the one that would constantly remind me that one of my strongest assets was actually my social, bright personality, a quality that required no fingers and toes.
- She was the one that reassured me when I cried worrying that no man would ever want to marry me. She advised that although it might take a bit longer, the man that would commit to me would be undeniably special with an inner beauty and kindness that was guaranteed.
- She was the one that told me, when we learned that our oldest son Ethan would share my genetic condition, that there was no reason for disappointment and sorrow; that in fact she was convinced the joy I had brought her meant my life experience now would be touched in the same way.
Often people comment to me about how impressed they are with Ethan and Charlie, in light of their physical difference. Ethan learned to play tennis, basketball and soccer and to ride a bike. Charlie plays baseball, piano and percussion. He’s a terrific artist. As their mother, I take pride and remember my own mom’s style to hang back and let them flourish. I’ve learned so much but mostly to love them unconditionally and not overprotect. Overall, that was the key to her success as my mother and I am grateful to have such an important role model. She therefore taught me the importance of having self- esteem, to stick to my principles, to not assimilate, and to always follow my fiercely independent instincts. It is no wonder that my Mom concluded her memories to me with a quote from William Shakespeare: “To thine own self be true, and it cannot be that you will be false to any man.”
–Happy Birthday Mom. I love you, respect and honor you.
Your grateful daughter, Meg