Ben suggested that we should decorate the nursery with a Finding Nemo mural after we found out about Baby’s hand. I was horrified. He’d already made jokes about having framed pictures of famous one-handed characters on the nursery wall, from Luke Skywalker (pretty tempting in fairness) to Jamie Lannister (less so).
In those early days, shock still running rampant, I thought that I would raise my daughter to see herself as nothing other than the same as everyone else. Not to see herself as ‘different’. I was determined that she would have the exact same upbringing as every other child, and surrounding her with pictures of one-handed people or fish was going to seriously hamper my efforts.
Yet, if my first baby retail-therapy spree is anything to go by, I’ve changed my mind somewhat as the weeks have gone on. As I’ve trawled the internet, blogs and forums for stories and information about upper limb differences in children, one thing cropped up again and again: Finding Nemo.
I didn’t get it at first. Why all the fuss? Nemo’s “lucky fin” hardly seemed to feature in the film. If you’re asked to recall the story, I’m pretty sure his fin difference would hardly enter into it. Nemo has a damaged fin, he’s protected and closeted by his well-meaning father who frets that his son just isn’t able. However, it turns out that there isn’t a damn thing that Nemo can’t do. Nemo’s different, sure, but he’s not disabled. As the Reach charity would say: It’s his ability, not his disability that counts. Slowly I started to realise that the very fact that it wasn’t a prominent feature of the film was the entire point. That’s why people in the limb different community love it so much. That’s why I’ve found myself obsessing over Nemo baby paraphernalia and caving in at almost every orange be-finned opportunity, when I’ve managed to resist buying just about anything else baby-focused.
Bit by bit I’ve begun to accept that my daughter is going to be different and, for her sake, I need to enable her to see that for herself. She’s different, and that’s so damn OK. I never want her to feel she has to hide her arm up her sleeve. That she needs to explain things to others. That she needs to justify her own independence or that she has something to hide. It’s becoming more and more obvious to us that it will be Ben and I, as her parents, who need to take a step back. It’ll be us who need to resist the urge to wrap her in cotton wool, to protect her from any hardship, like poor Marlin tried and failed to do at the start of the film.
I’ve been fretting about how she’ll open a bottle, how she’ll use a pair of scissors without another hand to hold the paper, how she’ll do something as commonplace as washing her hands. Now I realise that I don’t need to research it. I don’t need to panic on her behalf. She’ll find a way and it’ll be the best feeling in the world when she does, because it won’t be anyone else’s way. It might not even be the ‘right’ way, but it’ll sure as hell be her way.