Kids can be so cruel.
As a primary teacher at an all-girls school it’s a phrase I hear often. Sure, kids can be cruel sometimes. But in my experience more often they are honest and open and full of wide-eyed care.
Despite this I was still a bit nervous when I took Hero into school to meet my students last week. I’d started my maternity leave early, half way through the summer term, so my girls knew that things hadn’t been entirely straightforward with the pregnancy. I was really keen for them to see that everything was all ok.
I’d decided not to prepare the girls before I took Hero in to meet them. Their gasps of delight and joy at seeing her were spectacular. Their excitement was punctuated after a few moments by the startled question: “What’s happened to her hand?”
And there it was, the elephant in the room evaporated instantly in a poof of smoke. The elephant that lingers so often when adults are taken by surprise. After the first girls asked, the others started to notice her lucky fin too and repeated the question.
I explained that we’d found out about her paw while she was still in my tummy and that sometimes things just don’t develop the way we’d expect them to. That’s life, that’s just nature.
“Will it grow?”
“Are those fingers?”
“Does it move?”
It was so wonderfully refreshing to be asked questions and to answer without any awkwardness. As soon as they realised that it was all ok; that I was OK and that Hero was OK, their attitude to her lucky fin changed from curiosity and concern to wonder and joy.
“Can I touch it?”
“It’s so cute!”
“I love it; it looks like a teddy bear’s paw!”
“She has teeny tiny nails! She’ll be able to paint them when she’s older!”
One of my girls, who is just nine years old, looked up at me as she held onto Hero’s lucky fin and said with such honesty and integrity: “She is such a special little girl! A real one of a kind.”
Often the difference between children and adults is that children aren’t afraid to ask. And if you’re not afraid to ask then I’m not afraid to answer. Of course I can’t speak for any other parents with a limb-different child, or for the children themselves, but for me I welcome the questions. There’s no such thing as a silly question. Once they’re asked, once we’ve said farewell to that elephant, we can get on to talking about other things.
Being different is nothing to be ashamed of and in approaching differences with curiosity we can open our mind to a whole new world. My girls showed me that last week as they sent Hero and I on our way, our hearts bursting with happiness.