Christmas time is synonymous with crafting when you have a young child or a toddler. Making paper chains, baking festive cookies or making the obligatory hand and foot print Christmas cards for the family.
I had a lot of fun this year working out how to incorporate both Hero’s left hand and her lucky fin in her handprint Christmas cards. Looking at the shape of her gorgeous little nubbins (I still don’t like that word, but neither have I found a better alternative!) I decided that her little handprint would make an excellent crown. Embellished with my appallingly childish artwork (I can’t wait for her to be old enough to draw for herself) we put three lucky fin prints, side by side, and lo! The Three Kings were crowned. Her left hand then took the place of the star. It looked really quite cute, until I tried to add the rest of the detail, that is!
We also attended a festive craft session for the under fives in the weeks before Christmas. Of course, no Christmas craft session would be complete without turning your handprints into Reindeer antlers! When I came to collect her I couldn’t help but notice that everybody else’s reindeer had a left and a right hand print atop their heads. Hero’s had two lefts. That made perfect sense to me. I’d obviously have preferred a lucky fin reindeer, but I felt that the minor ruffling of my feathers probably had more to do with my own sensitivity than with the choice they’d made to only use one of her hands.
However, as I was chatting with the leader afterwards, I admired the artwork they’d done with the toddlers and he said to me:
“We decided to do Hero’s with just her left hand as we weren’t sure if you’d want her other one printed.”
He said it with genuine concern. I smiled and laughed, as is my go-to reaction in these situations and I reassured him that we loved both her handprints. I told him all about our own Christmas card adventures. Despite leaving the group a happy bunny, the comment turned out to be one of those insidious thoughts that return to you again and again long after the conversation has ended. I’m always a bit of delayed processor of emotions, but by the time I’d gotten home I was feeling the hurt. I was just crushed by the idea that her little hand could somehow be something shameful and that her own parents might not want to see artwork with it on.
Now please be assured, I know with all my heart that that certainly wasn’t the intent of the leader’s decision. But I wasn’t preoccupied with the intent; I was preoccupied with the message that a decision like that might send to my increasingly aware daughter. A message that said: “You’re different, and we should probably hide that.”
If I’ve learned anything over the past two years, from our twenty-week scan to the running toddler I have before me now, it’s that being different really is awesome. I’m fiercely proud of Hero’s uniqueness, her abilities that blow us away every day, and I can only hope and pray that one day she will feel the same way too.
Parenting is all about learning on the job. Add a difference or a disability into the mix and that sense of flying by the seat of your pants is increased. We’re not only getting to grips with our ever-changing child, but we’re also learning all about a world of different abilities that we knew nothing about before. I’ve learned from my chat with the craft leader that maybe I shouldn’t assume that everyone else has the same levels of confidence and comfort around her difference.
I now know that the message I need to spread to her future teachers and caregivers is: please don’t be ashamed of my daughter’s difference. Instead, celebrate it. Celebrate it in artwork that is as one-of-a-kind as she is. If that means her reindeer has wonky antlers, then rest assured that that’s the only reindeer her parents really want to pin on their wall. The reindeer that is as special as she is! And if you still have any doubt at all: ask! Don’t ever be afraid to ask. The differences of our children aren’t as new to us as they might be to you, and we’re highly unlikely to be offended by any kind of polite curiosity. And, while I’m not speaking for every parent of a child with a difference out there, I’m speaking for myself and maybe even for a few more: Celebrate, ask and then celebrate them some more!