Levelling up our limb-difference comfort zone

Levelling up our limb-difference comfort zone

Without even realising it, we’ve been quite happily ticking along in a comfortable little bubble where Hero’s limb difference is concerned. Actually, that’s not entirely true, I’ve written before about how I felt we were in the golden years of her childhood where her difference is concerned; about how she’s too young to even know she’s different. And yet it’s amazing how quickly you can start taking that comfort for granted and accept it as the norm.

Yet it’s often the moment that your happy boundaries are pushed and tested just a little that you become aware of your comfort zone at all. It’s the breaking, the growing and the adapting of those edges that make you appreciate their existence most.

I feel like we had a bit of a limb-difference level up a few weeks ago. If I’d written about the experience back then, all of a month ago, it would have been a very different post indeed. It would have been a lot more emotionally fraught, it would possibly have been a bit tearful. But times have already changed, and what once took me weeks, months or maybe even years to acclimatise to, now takes mere hours or days.

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The golden years

For the last year or so we’ve been blissfully unaffected by Hero’s difference. Aside from a few minor stares or comments we’ve had no negativity. She took to RugbyTots like a nerd takes to Comic Con. She might drop the ball a little more often than the others, but aside from that you would have absolutely no idea that she was at any kind of disadvantage, and it’s been that way since the very start. So there we were, Hero thriving at nursery, excelling at RugbyTots and just all-round smashing it at life.

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Then gymnastics happened.

I skipped along to toddler gymnastics way more excited than Hero, as always with these new enterprises of mine. I had added a note onto the paper work mentioning her hand, with the vague feeling that it might be useful for insurance purposes. I mentioned it briefly to the receptionist too, I always like to make new class leaders aware so we can avoid that awkward “oh!” moment when someone tries to help her with a task and realises. But when we arrived for our first session, it didn’t occur to me to say anything else.

We took our seats in the circle and took the two little wooden sticks we were offered as part of the warm up. To start off the toddlers had to tap the sticks together. No problem; Hero just clamped one of the sticks against her body with her little hand and tapped the other one against it. Check!

Then they had to roll one of the sticks along their outstretched legs. A little trickier, but still, after a bit of readjustment; no problem. No warning bells.

But then they were asked to stretch up high and tap the sticks together above their heads. The kids all leapt to their feet and duly obliged. Hero also leapt up, attentive as usual, and then just frowned a bit as she watched everyone around her doing a task that she just couldn’t adapt for this time. She brushed it off but next they were asked to tap the sticks together behind their backs and my heart dropped a peg or two. There was a little warning bell ringing in my head now.

Seeing her just stand there and watch her peers, wanting to join in and not really registering why she couldn’t was tough. I even had a moment of anger, one I’ve not had since the early days. “Really? Above their head? You get that she only has one hand right?!” I don’t expect the world to adapt to her difference, as rare as it is, but there are moments every now and again where I feel a little more inclusivity wouldn’t go a miss. After you noticed the kid that couldn’t tap them above her head, could you not have skipped the behind your back bit? But it was our first time and I suspect there was a little bit of sensitivity coming out in me, I’m not used to seeing her struggle after all.

 

Your hands don’t fit here

The warm up ended. I beamed and smiled and, as she returned the sticks back to the box, we brushed ourselves off as we skipped off to our activity. When we got there the first thing we were confronted with was two hand prints, set in contrast against the bench, showing the kids where to place their hands whilst practicing this particular move. Now I’m absolutely not complaining, but it did come a little hot on the heels of the Stick-gate Scandal and my heart lost another rung on the ladder.  Look Hero, your hands don’t fit here. I buried the feelings again, as I’m pretty expert at doing (and I know I’m not alone in that) we were really enjoying ourselves despite these little stings along the way.

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Next up was the parallel bars, at toddler height, where the kids were asked to hold onto each bar and lift their feet from the ground. I wasn’t sure how Hero was going to go about it, but I didn’t doubt that she would. As we approached, however, the helper waved a hand dismissively and told us that Hero could “just walk across instead”.

There wasn’t time to reply as we were swept along in the line but inside I felt a bit tumultuous. I was angry at her dismissal, I was frustrated at the immediate suggestion that an activity should just be avoided rather than tackled and of course, the edges of my comfort zone were wobbling dangerously in the breeze. This could have been one of those hypervigilance moments from me; she could have simply meant it because she knew it was Hero’s first session. Maybe. Perhaps. But either way, the result was the same and I have to confess to feeling a little disappointed that Hero didn’t even want to try that activity. I’d wanted so bad to prove that lady’s doubts null and void! Maybe next time!

 

Shaking the boundaries

It might not sound like it, but we actually had a wonderful time at gymnastics, despite the blips, and we’ve definitely been back since. We both had our comfort zones irrevocably shaken. Her’s physically, as she tried to master using her body in ways she’d never done before, and me emotionally as I watched her do just that. As I watched her come up against the very first thing in her life that she simply couldn’t do because of her hand. There was no working around it, no finding another way; she wasn’t about to tap those sticks above her head.

Having your comfort zone shaken, while painful at the time, is not really a bad thing. Instead your boundaries settle back into place, only this time they’re wider and you’re comfortable with just a little bit more than you were before. So when we went back the next week the handprints on the floor didn’t upset me. Mercifully, there weren’t any tapping sticks in the warm up either. Annoying really, as I had an EazyHold cuff in my pocket ready!

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When we started the warm up at the latest session she needed two hands again. Only this time they were using a rope. No problem, we simply folded the rope and hooked the loop over her little hand and held the other two ends in her left. She too could hold it high above her head this time, just like the others. Boom!

So here we are. Three sessions later and we’re pretty cool again. That didn’t take long, did it? I remember a time, when I was pregnant with Hero, when she was a little baby, when the mere sound of “if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands” would make my heart shrivel up for days on end. There was a time when I could feel sensitive about something someone said for weeks, maybe I’d even carry it around for months.

We found that first gym session tough. But we bounced back, we levelled up as a limb-difference family and we learnt that we could cope with a little more than we had before. We came marching back in and now we look for the next challenge. We puzzle out how we’ll overcome it before we get there. We watch how each activity should be done, and we have a rapid power think so that I can offer a strategy for Hero to try if, and only if, she needs it.

They had to hang onto the bar with both hands today and walk their feet up a wall. We gave our shoulders a shake, preparing for the fight, and in we dived. Hook an elbow over the bar and off we go.

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Three weeks ago we were knocked for six a little bit, for the first time in a long time. Three weeks ago is so last season! Three weeks ago we were sheltered in our wonderful world where Hero didn’t find anything particularly hard. Today we know that we can problem solve on the spot. We know that there are things out there that she will struggle with and some things that she simply won’t be able to do. But we also know that we – and she – will be ok. We know that we’ll work hard to brush those moments off and to throw ourselves into the next task without losing heart and without losing our confidence. We got this, she and I; roll on next term’s challenges.

 

 

 

 

What does awareness matter anyway?

What does awareness matter anyway?

We use the hashtag #limbdifferenceawareness a lot. We share Hero’s successes and hurdles so openly in the hopes of giving a little reassurance and solidarity to others like us and also to raise awareness for those less like us.

But why? Even I have asked myself why raising awareness – of any difference or minority – is so important.

Symbrachydactyly, the condition that caused Hero to be born with only one hand, occurs in around 1 birth out of 32,000.

If limb differences are so rare, why on earth do the other 31,999 two-handed and ten-fingered babies need to know about it? It’s entirely possible that they will go through life without ever coming across someone with a congenital limb difference after all.

“Oh my god! That kid’s only got one hand!”

Today in the soft play Hero was passed by two young girls, around about seven and nine years old.

Oh my god!” The youngest shouted, causing the other kids near by to look round. “That kid’s only got one hand!”

I tensed. My hackles go up in these situations and I start frantically trying to remember all the brilliant one-liners I had inevitably come up with long after these kind of situations have been and gone. I wasn’t at all angry, it was sheer curiosity. Sure, the girl could have been a bit politer about it, but she’s only seven after all and clearly Hero’s hand – or lack thereof – was a big “wow” moment for her. Despite not being mad, I’m always wary and I do find these occasions difficult, more so because Hero is very shy around her peers and doesn’t like to ever be the centre of their attention. She’s not old enough to understand their curiosity yet, but I really don’t look forward to the day when she is.

The older girl stopped and turned to look at Hero, who was hovering warily by the entrance to the tunnel.

She’s only got five fingers!” The youngest girl continued, pointing.

Oh yeah,” the oldest said, with a supreme lack of surprise or any real interest. “One of my friends only has three fingers on her hand.”

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Heart to heart and hand to hand

And there it was; over. She passed by on her merry way and the youngest girl followed, asking about the three-fingered friend without so much as a backward glance at the kid who’d caused her to stop short a mere moment ago.

The older girl’s cool and calm response, her awareness that not everyone comes from the exact same mould, led to a complete lack of shock or fear and diffused the younger girl’s reaction immediately. It allowed Hero to carry on with her day unbothered by their stares or questions.

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That girl’s comfort in the face of an unusual difference, her complete lack of fear, is why limb difference awareness, and awareness of any differences, is essential. That there is why all babies need to grow up knowing, not just about limb differences, but about anything that might single someone out.

They don’t need to know how. They don’t need to know why – heck, most of us don’t even know why! But they do need to know that it exists. And that it’s totally, completely ok.

The Limb Difference Battle Cry

The Limb Difference Battle Cry

There’s been something of a battle cry raised amongst the limb different community this week. In the wake of a particularly rubbish week for discrimination against people with limb differences many have been raising their voices in a wave of solidarity.

The interesting thing is, while some of the comments our limb different compatriots have received have been pretty appalling, the response has overwhelmingly been one of empowerment and positivity. There’s been a healthy dose of anger, but it’s been channelled into uplifting those around, into raising awareness rather than into resentment and bitterness.

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Check out our buddy Alexis at Stump Kitchen, beautiful inside and out! https://www.facebook.com/stumpkitchen/

It’s not always easy to be the better person. Taking the high road isn’t always simple and sometimes we might want to rage and hurl abuse at those rude enough to share their ignorant and misguided opinions.  And yet that’s the best thing about this fierce and passionate community of limb difference advocates; it’s never about the hatred. They might be handed incredible negativity, but it’s transformed and directed back out into the world as pure, punching positivity.

It’s been a week of mixed feelings as a parent of a limb different little one. I’ve cried as if these insults have been directed at me or mine, and in truth, they have been. In reality, a comment against one person with a difference is a comment against them all and the team has responded accordingly.

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Mother of two-year-old girl born with half an arm told to ‘cover it up’ – DailyMail

Reading all of these posts from such thoughtful, talented and inspiring people at first filled me with a dread I’d not thought about in a while. Over the last three years on our limb difference journey, my biggest fear has gone from all the things I thought she wouldn’t be able to do (if I’ve learnt anything at all, it’s that there’s nothing she won’t be able to do if she sets her mind to it) to fearing the reactions of other people. It hurts like hell when someone passes an insanely insensitive comment about your perfect baby with a difference, it hurts when people stare or, worse, when they point or mock.

But I’m not sure anything will prepare me for the day when someone says something to my daughter’s face, or behind her back, and she understands their intent. I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready to see her face crumple with doubt and hurt. To us, to her family and her friends, she’s perfect. She’s the way she’s supposed to be. She’s talented, she’s tenacious and she’s strong. We tell her this every single day and I can only hope she sees the truth in it and radiates that sense of self-assurance and inner beauty throughout her life.

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If you’re different and you know it, do a dance!

And yet I fear that a single badly judged comment, a single jibe or stare could unpick all of that self-belief. It could tug on a loose thread of doubt and unravel the whole thing. And if that happens, when that happens, when the words of her parents are no longer enough to fill her world, then there’s a whole army out there ready to pick her up again.

There’s an entire community of adults and children alike who are putting themselves out there, who are shouting the loudest, that they – and she – are perfect just the way they are. They’re standing up in the face of the judgements, refusing to hide away and they’re singing from the rooftops that they are capable, beautiful and unencumbered.

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No hand? No worries!

There was a time, not so long ago, when to be different meant you were alone. There are people alive today, some not even as old as me, who once felt like they were the only one. Social media might get a bad rap, but to those with any kind of difference it’s quite possibly the single most powerful tool for building confidence and self esteem in our young people.

The very fact that people like Stump Kitchen, Abshow, Brian the one-handed drummer , The One Arm Wondermom and countless more (I won’t list them all for fear of missing someone out) are brave enough to publish their stories, their successes and their challenges is changing the lives of those who follow in their footsteps. Thanks to them our children will never know what it’s like to feel like she’s the only one. Thanks to them she has behind her the most incredibly loyal and empowering team of cheerleaders. She’s got mentors, teachers, guides and role models surrounding her as she grows.

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When you’ve got powerful friends behind you…

In the glare of these bright lights I hope the naysayers and the hurtful ones are slinking away to hide themselves for a while. I hope they’re thinking about what they said, I hope they are realising that these powerful posts are aimed at them. I hope they’re considering that maybe they were wrong to give voice to their thoughts; I hope they come to learn that good intentions alone don’t negate their hurtful actions.

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We’re looking at you, haters!

There’s been something of a battle cry raised amongst the limb different community this week. The catalyst for the outcry has been painful to read for parents everywhere and yet those ignorant people, the ones who sought to hide or shame our children’s differences, have spectacularly failed. They’ve caused parents, limb different adults and lucky fin children all around the world to shout out louder than ever. They’ve caused a wave of images of celebration, lucky fins held high and taking centre stage.

I hope that one day in the future my daughter is proud enough to shout just as loud. I hope that one day her voice, and her perfect difference, joins the very battle cry that’s already changing lives.