The hypervigilance trap: a cautionary tale

The hypervigilance trap: a cautionary tale

I almost threw a man overboard last weekend and, alas, I’m not talking figuratively. I almost grabbed the poor guy and hurled him from the top deck of a 19th century war ship.

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HMS Victory: aka HMS Hypervigilant

We were visiting the HMS Victory, a stunning ship with a spectacular past, currently parked up in a dry dock in Portsmouth, England. The ship has been restored to as close to its original set up as it can get (only considerably cleaner, quieter and less smelly I should imagine). We had chosen the top deck of the Victory for our lucky fin’s inaugural outing with her walking reigns and we weren’t disappointed. She cruised from bow to stern and back again and only stopped here or there to poke a stationary cannonball or to stroke the shiny plaque where Admiral Nelson fell.

A little history, to help me set the scene: In 1797, on the island of Tenerife, Horatio Nelson received a musket ball to his right arm, just above the elbow. Medical necessity at the time meant that his arm was amputated right then and there. A few years later, during the infamous Battle of Trafalgar, the Lord Admiral wore the right sleeve of his naval jacket pinned up against his chest, as if he was simply resting a hand there in thought. (Incidentally, and largely unrelated, I find it really difficult and a little hilarious to imagine Horatio Nelson referring to his missing arm as his ‘lucky fin’ or his ‘little arm’!)

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Horatio “Nemo” Nelson

Back in the modern day, as we trod in the footsteps of a famous lucky-finned forefather, we hadn’t actually given Horatio’s limb difference a moment’s thought. If I’m being honest, I hadn’t really given the ship a huge amount of thought either (anyone who knows me will know that it takes a lot to distract me from such a significant historical artefact), because I was enjoying watching Hero too much. It’s an odd thing, now that she’s walking, I seem to have returned to that completely besotted newborn stage, where I just can’t get enough of watching her in action. She’s simply awesome!

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Lucky Fin Love!

Anyway, as we made our way towards the bow of the ship in search of the stairs to take us back below deck, I heard a fellow visitor cry out:

“Oh my goodness! What happened to your arm? Did you lose it like Nelson?”

The guy was laughing his head off and talking loudly enough for the entire crew to hear. Now, I tend to avoid conflict like the plague, as followers of my blog will probably have guessed. However, for some reason, this time I swelled up like the Hulk. How dare he bring up her limb difference in such an appallingly callous way. How dare he point it out to us, completely out of the blue, when it was the very last thing on our minds right then.

My shoulders hunched, my fists clenched, I spun around with the full intention of seizing the guy by the shoulders and lunching him bodily over the gunwales. There was going to be no comical splashing into the waters below for this guy, oh no; it was the litter-strewn concrete of the dry dock floor for him!

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That was me, second from the right…

As I turned, catching a look of surprise, horror and amusement on my husband’s face as I did so, I noticed another kid on the deck. This boy was about eight or nine and had pulled his arm into his shirt and tucked up the sleeve like Horatio Nelson. As rapidly as my rage had erupted, I seemed to turn back into a human again, my clothing maybe a little torn and my husband a little terrified after an otherwise uneventful transformation. This awful human being, the one who had no idea how close to imminent death he had just come, was actually talking to his son about something entirely unrelated and separate from our daughter (who was still toddling, totally unawares, about the deck).

It took me a few minutes to calm down from this entirely non event. My heart was going like a sail in a storm and I had so much adrenalin in my body that my hands were almost shaking. As we descended below deck, and away from the innocent and unawares father-and-son duo, the word ‘hypervigilant’ came to mind. It’s a term I’d not really thought of before, but had come across at our recent Reach family weekend during a talk from Orla Duncan, a psychosocial nurse who specialises in supporting children with a physical difference and their families.

Orla had talked about how people with a difference of any kind, and parents of children with a difference of any kind, can sometimes become hypervigilant when they are out and about in public. She explained how they can feel so insecure or vulnerable that their subconscious is almost looking for that stare or listening for that comment.

She talked of an experiment involving actors with large fake scars drawn across their faces. The actors looked in the mirror at their difference before heading out into the busy streets. However, just before they stepped out, a make up artist came forward under the pretence of touching up their makeup, instead they actually removed it completely. Upon their return, despite looking entirely “normal”, every single actor reported feeling like they were being stared at and that they were being judged and victimised by other people.

The end result being, of course, that because they were aware of their difference they were expecting some kind of reaction from those around them. They felt that their difference made them stand out from the crowd and it gave them a ‘me against them’ mentality. In short, they created their own reality by looking around at people, catching others’ eyes and acting on edge. People probably were staring at them, but not at all for the reason they were expecting.

I’m not for a minute suggesting that we go out all day every day and glare at unsuspecting bystanders, daring them to make a comment or even to notice Hero’s hand. We certainly don’t. There’s been plenty of occasions of late where, because her difference is so normal to us, people have looked and I’ve genuinely wondered whether she had food on her top and that’s why they were curious. I even had to lean round to check at one point.

Yet Orla certainly has a point. If she didn’t that man would have passed me by without a second glance, let alone an impulse to kill. When you get to the point where you are a second away from committing a very messy and a very public murder in full view, not only of your own child but of the victim’s as well, you’ve got to wonder whether your subconscious is perhaps a tad more wired than you give it credit for. Interestingly, it’s not something I think I had really experienced before the “Macdonald’s Incident”. Being as how we’ve encountered nothing of the sort since then, I’d like to hope that my subconscious will be able to chill and enjoy this time of genuine peace, happiness and excitement that the rest of me is feeling as our little lucky fin lets loose her sails and finds her own heading with flying colours.

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Simply a matter of perception

Simply a matter of perception

There’s a huge difference between “there’s nothing we can do” and “there’s nothing she needs”. As I touched upon in my last post, the difference between the two phrases might not be all that profound, the end result is the same after all. Yet I’ve come to discover that while there might be only a word or two different, there’s a massive disparity in their meaning.

Nowhere was this more obvious to me that at our first appointment at the limb centre this week. The whole experience was entirely different from previous appointments we’d had elsewhere, from the moment we stepped into the building to the moment we left. And it was different for the better.

At previous appointments in numerous different hospitals, Hero has always been different. We’ve sat in waiting rooms full of two handed people, more often than not she’s been an object of curiosity. I don’t mind that so much, nobody has been rude to us there. Yet when we grabbed a seat in the limb centre waiting room, we found ourselves opposite a little boy with a hand just like Hero’s. Perhaps she’s too young to notice the similarities just yet, but I was very aware of it, and so was he. The little boy immediately engaged with her, he started making faces (using his hand and his little arm to pull a wide smile) and she started following him around the room, enraptured. It was such a beautiful but simple moment, I hope it was the same for the little boy’s mum too, to see our kids playing and comparing with no need for questions or staring.

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Having a blast in the waiting room!

In the appointment room it was pretty toy-tastic. Hero was very clearly comfortable in there and wasted no time in cruising up and down the walking bars and even admiring the brightly coloured artwork on the walls. She absolutely loved meeting her two doctors, Hero is a big fan of adults and children (babies, not so much). They were so incredibly positive about Hero and particularly about her ability with her little hand. She chose a good moment to demonstrate her Duplo skills; how she carefully positions one block between her little hand and her chest before clipping on a second block with her free hand.

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Admiring the artwork

The appointment was only ever a meet and greet and I was neither surprised or dissapointed to be told that we don’t need to see them again for another year. Because this time, exactly as I’d hoped, there was no “well, there’s nothing we can do”. They’d not come into this appointment with a “how can we fix this” attitude. Instead they agreed wholeheartedly with me that trying Hero out with any kind of prosthetic would really hamper her development at this stage. And why bother when she’s already finding her own ways of using her hand so effectively?

Previous consultants have talked about how her little fingers wouldn’t ever have any functionality. About how she wasn’t a good candidate for toe-to-hand surgery and about how there was very little to be done to improve her hand’s function. At the limb centre, however,  it was simply a wonderful appraisal of all of the ability she does have in her little hand, with n’er a mention of what she doesn’t.

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Showing off her skills for the consultants.

As the Reach tagline says; it’s ability not disability that matters and I couldn’t help but feel that the folks at the limb centre, be they staff or visitors, really and truly understood that and wanted to ensure that everyone else did too.

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Hero has left the building. Thank you very much.

Myth busting: Last year’s fears

Myth busting: Last year’s fears

I thought that Hero’s first birthday would mark some kind of huge emotional landmark for us, at least where her little hand was concerned, but I never had that lightning bolt moment. However, now that she’s fourteen months old something feels like it’s finally falling into place.

There have been many points over the past year or so where I’ve thought that I was totally at peace with her limb difference. There were times when I thought it didn’t bother me any more, only to find the odd little spanner being flung into the works, be that unsavoury characters at a road side restaurant or an insensitive comment thrown our way. Now I’ve realised that emotions aren’t a one-way street, where all you can possibly do is go forward. Mostly, you’re headed in the right direction, but every so often you might hit a bit of a pothole. Happily for us right now, we’re cruising in the right direction on a currently smooth and empty road.

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The king of the swingers, oh, the jungle VIP!

A change of perspective

This time last year I simultaneously craved and loathed medical appointments for Hero. I craved them because I still wanted something to be done for her. I don’t know what I hoped that ‘something’ would be, but with all the appointments we were having surely there was a specialist somewhere that could “fix” this. We were referred to both orthopaedic and to plastic surgeons within the first three months of her life, one of them must surely have the answer. When each appointment letter came through, none them requested by us, my expectations would start to rise, even if I didn’t realise it at the time. I would be snappy and waspish in the waiting rooms and I would march into the meetings like I was preparing to do battle. Yet, each time they said there was simply nothing to be done.

I knew there was nothing to be done. Short of reversing time and repairing whatever kink in the development stages resulted in her missing hand, there is simply nothing to be done. I knew that. Yet it still angered me each time we were told the same. I was frustrated at having numerous referrals, which built up a sense of tension and expectation, only to be let down each time and reminded again that there was nothing to be done.

A year later and we’ve been told there is another referral in the pipeline sending us back to the gloriously insensitive plastic surgeon who had been so frustrating in the early days. A year ago I would have clung to that appointment, unconsciously hoping still for that something unknown. Yet this time I just grimaced at the letter and wondered why on earth we are heading back down that path. Only this time my reaction wasn’t bourn from a sense of pointlessness, a sense of ‘there’s nothing they can do’. This time my disinterest is because there’s nothing they should do. This tenacious, problem-solving and downright clever kid, just doesn’t need anything. She doesn’t need help. She doesn’t need adaptations. She doesn’t need to be fixed because nothing is broken.

I’ve had a year now of watching her smash through her milestones, of finding out her own ways of getting things done. You can’t watch Hero in action and genuinely think there is a problem to be fixed.  She’ll spend over twenty minutes trying to clip a harness together, never giving up or getting angry. She’ll keep working those Duplo blocks until she can hold them in just the right position with her little arm to be able to clip them together before pulling them apart again. This kid is walking everywhere and carrying things as she goes, something in each arm.

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All hail the Duplo Master!

This girl doesn’t need to see a plastic surgeon and, at last, her mother doesn’t need her to either. Realising this was the landmark moment I’d been waiting for. Here is that moment: She’s ok and I think I’m ok too.

The new normal

Meanwhile, Hero also has her first appointment at our local limb centre this week. Unlike the trips to surgeons that she doesn’t need, I’m genuinely excited about this one. Not because I’m expecting anything more than a meet and greet, nor because I want anything more than that. I’m excited because this isn’t going to be like the other appointments. Annual visits to the limb centre will be our new normal. These are the people who will be making sure her little hand is growing as it should be. These are the people who will craft her first bike adaptation to stop her messing up her back by leaning on different length arms. These are the people who, a few years from now, might help her find a way of playing the violin with her dad and of joining us both on the archery field.  These are the people who will help her to do whatever she wants to do, on her terms and when she wants it, with no promises or expectations of changing her. In short, these are the appointments we want, the appointments we didn’t even know we needed a year ago. These appointments are all about acceptance and embracing things as the normal, the everyday and the downright amazing.

Monkeying around

There was another landmark moment this week that took me all the way back to one of my first blog posts: ‘Trying to find a little peace of mind’. In that post I was frightened as hell about this journey we were on. I listed a number of thoughts that, at the time, caused me a lot of heartache. I’d like to reach back through time and tell myself how it’s actually going to be. So far none of those fears have been realised. Not one. Not even a little bit. Of course, we’ve had a few difficult bumps in the road, and I’m sure we’ll have more to come, but that is all they are: bumps. They’re no longer insurmountable mountains, they’re no longer blocking our way.

One of the things I worried about back then was that we wouldn’t be able to both hold  her hands at the same time, that we’d not be able to stand side by side and swing her up into the air between us. I just couldn’t see it then, as ridiculous and laughable as it sounds to me now. And as if to prove a point (long may she continue to do so!) Hero was having an absolute blast this weekend being swung high into the air between her dad and her gramps, loving every single moment and not even knowing that she was defying all of our fears.

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#LuckyFinsRock #ItsAbilityNotDisabilityThatMatters

Finding the perfect response to an imperfect situation

Finding the perfect response to an imperfect situation

A few weeks ago we had a pretty unpleasant experience when a group of people laughed at Hero’s little hand. It was a group of adults, and they actually laughed. What made it worse was that they had a child with them who, following their example, strained across to stare as well.

Hero had been sucking her little hand like a dummy. It’s happened before, when someone reacted with innocent wonder at the idea that she could somehow fit her entire fist into her mouth. It’d certainly be some party trick if it were true! Only, on that occasion, the person in question had the decency to be deeply apologetic when they realised that she didn’t actually have a fist to fit in.

Unlike that previous time, this one was a whole different kettle of fish, causing a cascade of emotions that knocked me for six for a while and seemed to encompass a whole spectrum of bewildering feelings.

Disbelief

When I first noticed them laughing and pointing I just stared in horror. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Surely, surely, people don’t still do that kind of thing? The world’s moved on from the medieval times, when being different singled you out. Now we have disabled presenters on TV, we have a whole raft of paralympian role models. We have no room in our lives for ridicule and prejudice like that anymore.

And then of course you have to ask, what exactly was funny? What could possibly be funny about child who was born without a hand? It’s not tragic. It’s not terrible. It’s not even bad, despite what they might think, but it sure isn’t funny.

Rage

This one is obvious. I couldn’t just stand by and watch someone ridicule my daughter. I was obviously going to march right up to them and say… what exactly I would have said in the theatre of my mind, I don’t know, but it involved a lot of gesticulating and unrepeatable words.

Needless to say, I didn’t march across the restaurant and start swearing blue murder at these people (although a tiny piece of me wanted to). My intense hatred of conflict aside, I tried to picture Hero doing that. I pictured her marching up to someone, her face contorted with rage, reeling off a load of swear words and giving them what for.

What a horrible thing to imagine. That aggression and that anger is the last thing I’d want Hero to parrot. And we are, despite not having a clue what we’re doing, her biggest role models. She will look to us for how to react in these situations and I won’t teach her manners as poor as those who were laughing. We don’t want her to have to live in a world where feeling that level of rage is the norm. Right now, she’s so innocent and sweet and lovely. To see that level of anger and rage mirrored in her face would feel like the end of her wonderful childlike innocence.

Heartache

I’m not sure what word to use in this context. It’s not grief, but I’d be lying if I said my heart didn’t ache. It did. A lot.

It was heartache at learning that someone could be so utterly cruel to my beautiful, talented and just all-round awesome child, that they could be so cruel to anyone’s child. It was heartache at realising that, despite having been lulled into a false sense of security, she is going to have to deal with incidents like this throughout her life from time to time. I dread the day when our wonderfully happy child, who loves almost everyone she sees, realises that somebody is laughing at her or judging her unkindly. It was the understanding that she will have her own demons and insecurities to overcome and that, no matter how much we build her up, idiots like that might be able to knock her down in a careless second.

Understanding

After a ten-month honeymoon period, after ten months of hearing nothing even slightly unkind, to learn that this stuff will happen was frightening. And worse than the knowledge that this kind of thing might happen, is the fact that we will have to deal with it when it does. We can’t deal with it how we might want to, as over protective and instinct-driven parents. We have to deal with it in a manner that we’d like to equip her with. We need to model a response that shows her how to take the moral high ground.

Although we might want, even if just for a second, to leap hell-for-leather off of that moral high ground and drag any unkind and insensitive soul into the mud – we just can’t. Although we might want to just cry hysterically and let those people make us feel  less than we are – we just can’t. We have to be better than that, because she deserves better role models than that.

We want her to know that it’s ok to feel upset, that it’s ok to feel angry from time to time, but that you cannot let those emotions rule you and dictate your actions. You can wallow when you need to, but you shouldn’t make decisions that you might regret based on those flashes of red.

What happened next…

In the end we chose to walk away. I hung back, allowing the party to depart before us so that we didn’t have to bump into them on the way out. By the time we got to the car I was shaking and crying as all of the above started to rush about my head. I didn’t know how to react then and I still don’t now, because I’m not just responding for myself anymore, I’m responding for Hero as well. That complete immobilisation is something we as a family now need to find a solution to. Will we come up with some choice educational phrases or will we simply learn to ignore it? Is there a perfect response to an imperfect situation?

Finding an answer to this is made a little more complicated by us both approaching the situation from entirely opposite directions. My husband wasn’t as upset as I was and, from his foundation of self confidence, he won’t ever be as upset about that kind of experience as I will. He’s much more able to separate himself from the unwanted opinions of unknown people, whereas I will always take them deeply to heart. His upset will come on the day Hero understands what’s happening, the day she is upset is the day he’ll be upset, where as I will feel it all in advance as well.

It’s taken me a few weeks to process what was a few short minutes of experience, to distil it into something I could put into words. I too wanted to follow my own advice; I didn’t want to commit my flash of rage and deep upset to the pages of time. I wanted to slow down, to take a step back and to understand what had really happened. Initially people told me to feel sorry for the people in question, but a few weeks ago I simply couldn’t do that. Time is a miraculous soother, however, and I now see the point people were making. How much poorer their lives must be, as well as the life of their child, living in the world of intolerance they’ve created. At the end of the day, it’s their loss and not ours. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.

Perhaps more helpful to remember, both for Hero and for myself, is that for every one person who is mean or insensitive, there are hundreds of thousands, if not more, who are are accepting, curious and kind. May the odds be ever in our favour!

 

 

 

A letter to when I was a limb-difference learner

A letter to when I was a limb-difference learner

As Limb Difference Awareness Month has ended, so too has another chapter of my life. But endings are not necessarily sad things. To quote a popular cliché, ‘when one door closes, another door opens’, and this particular opening door is one most welcome.

April has been a big month in the Though She Be But Little household. Our lucky fin baby has gone from crawling, to standing to thinking about trying to walk (albeit with a lot of wobbling and support) and, perhaps the biggest of all, she’s also learnt how to hold objects with her little hand. These massive milestones have closed the door on a chapter that, for me, started just over a year ago. It was a chapter I never saw coming and it was a chapter of worry.

All these wonderful changes have got me thinking back to the old me; large, pregnant and beside herself with fears and emotions she didn’t even understand. Now that I’m here, I wish I could reach back over the past year, back to the Spring of 2016, and tell my old self some things. Some things I know that she wouldn’t be ready to hear just then, but that she would be ready one day, in the not too distant future.

  1. You won’t regret your choices.

For the rest of your pregnancy, you won’t shake the notion that there could be something else wrong with your baby, something they haven’t picked up on the endless scans. All these scans (you’ll lose count of how many by the end, but it’ll be somewhere near 20) tell you that the doctors think there might be something else to find. Each time you go for another scan the news will be different, one day she’ll be too small, one day she’ll be fine, one day her arm will be tiny, the next day it won’t. Worst of all, these scans are happening because you rejected one invasive but conclusive test. When you’ve been told your baby is 1 in 32,000, the 1 in 100 odds of a miscarriage caused by an amnio test seem frighteningly high. Despite all the subsequent investigations, scans and consultant visits, you won’t regret not having that test. You know it could have taken away much of your stress just like that, but right from the moment you first saw her jumping about on the screen, your baby’s safety was and always will be worth far more than your own fear and worry. You are right to follow your instincts, they are the best and most comprehensive parenting resource you’ll ever have.

  1. The emotions you’re feeling now are ok. 

You’re new to this whole limb difference thing, you’ve never even seen anyone with a limb difference before. You’re about as limb different unaware as it’s possible to be. You don’t know what’s in store. Your mind is full of all the other ‘what ifs’ and near misses. You’re terrified that your daughter will struggle through life. You’re devastated to think of the challenges she might face, both socially and physically. And yet you spend so much time feeling guilty for how you feel. Compounded over and over by well-meaning comments. They’re trying to make light of the situation for you, but you’ll feel sometimes that your emotions are being undermined. You will come to understand all of the things they’re saying to you, but you’re not quite ready yet. You’ll learn that the only people who can really relate to you are other parents in the limb different community. Find them, join them and talk to them; they will understand what you are going through better than you do yourself right now (you can check out our links page for some fantastic resources and blogs). You’ll keep comparing your own worries to those of others. You certainly know how much worse it could have been. You’ll worry that because your problems aren’t as severe as others that they’re not worth a damn. Let me tell you now, even though you’ll carry on doing it, that you should not compare. Some people have things far worse, challenges far greater and higher mountains to scale. Likewise, some have things a little easier. Neither side of the equation invalidates how you’re feeling right now. Right now it’s ok for you to fear the unknown and for you to be a little heart broken for your baby. You’ll trawl the Internet for information and you won’t be ready just now to hear the positive news from parents all around the world, but you will be soon.

  1. Telling people is absolutely the right thing to do.

You’ve agonised whether to ‘announce’ to your friends and family that your baby will be born with a difference. Right now it feels like the biggest thing in the world to you. Maybe to others it’s not so huge, even to you, just a year from now, her difference will hardly matter. But right now, at this very moment, it’s pretty huge. Telling people will end up giving you the chance to celebrate her birth without worrying about their reactions. It’ll ease your anxiety once people know. When she’s born, all you’ll see on their faces will be joy and love and happiness. Telling people now will allow you to make the most of those precious months of knowledge that you were given. So many are shocked to discover their baby’s difference at birth. You’ve been given the gift of knowledge; use it in whichever way is right for you.

  1. When you get to meet her for the first time you’ll relax, but only a little bit. 

You will be so utterly relieved in the wake of her birth that her time in intensive care will not stress you out as much as you’d expect. You’ll know that she’s going to be ok. You’ll know she’s safe. You’ll know she’ll be well. However, all that relief and joy won’t quite mask that residual underlying fear. You’ll still worry. You’ll hold your breath every time you spot another consultant around her cot and you’ll chew on your nails whenever you receive a hospital appointment for her in those early months. You’ll feel fraught when she refuses to gain weight and the consultants are looming yet again. You’ll still bristle a bit when people make light of her difference. You’ll still be caught unawares by the little break in your heart when she tries to hold your finger with a hand that isn’t there, or when you see her try to reach out for a second toy only to give up in disappointment. You’ll feel that way for a little while yet, but not forever.

  1. She will blow you away. Every single day she will make you proud. 

Once she’s home, you’ll watch her every movement, you’ll agonise over how she is using her little hand. You’ll fret that she isn’t using it. You’ll stress. You’ll encourage. You’ll cheer. You’ll cry. Then one day, around about a year from now, all that will change. Around about a year from now she’ll climb up onto her knees and she’ll crawl. She might have a few bruises on her head where she’s toppled over her little hand. But you know what, she toppled over and then she got up. Again and again, she got up. This moment will close the chapter on your worry. It’ll close the chapter on your fears for her future and there you will be, sitting beside those other proud parents of limb different kids, and you’ll know in your heart of hearts that she’s going to be ok. You’ll at last understand what they’ve been telling you all along. That one simple act of moving herself forward across the floor, of getting bored almost instantly of the crawl and pulling her self up to stand instead, will change your world. Those two little milestones will shout and scream to you that there is simply nothing this kid won’t be able to do. She wants to play hockey, like her Dad? She’ll make that happen. She wants to turn cartwheels across the floor? No problem. She’ll find a way with your help if need be, but she’ll probably neither need nor want it. You’ll turn around one time and there she’ll be, sat on the floor, holding onto two toys. Two of them. One will be clamped in her fist the other tucked against her body with her little hand. And she’ll have no idea how intense and all consuming your pride is, how immense your relief and how great your joy, at seeing this one seemingly insignificant act. She’s showing and telling you, with every new thing she learns, that she is going to be A-Ok and that it’s time for you to stop worrying.

Listen to her: she’s right.

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One hand, two toys!

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Learning a limb-different language: Part 2

Learning a limb-different language: Part 2

Yesterday our lucky fin baby worked out that she could move herself across the floor. At the moment her arms are more engaged with the world than her legs are, so there’s a lot of shuffling backwards and confused expressions while she tries to work out why the toy in front of her is getting further away despite all her efforts. I simply love the fact that I’d heard a few people tell me not to worry if she doesn’t meet her milestones on time. And here she is, using both her arms to shuffle herself across the floor! I’m torn between thinking this is the best thing ever, and wishing she’d stop growing up quite so fast and would always stay my little baby. Either way, I think it’s time to start putting the house on lockdown…

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*BEEP* Stand well clear; baby reversing. *BEEP*

In the meantime, I’m having to start being a bit careful about what I say. Language is something I’ve not thought about much since the early days after her birth. Back then I felt completely sensitive to everything and a round of “if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands” sent me into an emotional tizz. I now have only very mild flutters when I hear that song, and no issue at all with the phrase: “That’s handy!” or any other reference of the like. Isn’t it funny how things, that once seemed so important, just pale into insignificance with time?

The one word I still cannot abide in reference to Hero’s lucky fin (and suspect I never will), however, is ‘stump’. I can’t fully explain why I dislike it so much and it’s unfortunate that it’s a word my husband chooses to use often when referring to her hand (although he’s getting much better!). It’s a sure fire way to kill any joke when I’m in the room and you might need to be careful discussing the remnants of felled trees around me too as, even when completely unrelated, it still makes me flinch. How odd that such an innocuous word can conjure up such intense feelings of protection and make my mother lion hackles go up like a shot. Go figure.

It swings both ways, however, and there’s one phrase that I’ve used a lot over the last six months that my husband doesn’t approve of. It’s the complaint of parents of young babies everywhere: “I can’t do that, I’ve only got one hand.” Being encumbered with a baby, especially one of the clingy variety, can make carrying out everyday tasks tricky when you’re not used to doing things one-handed. I’ve even read a few blog posts about the subject. But stating that, in front of a wholly competent baby who’s apparently on the verge of crawling, does seem a little churlish. Is that the language we want her to adopt? A steady stream of ‘I can’ts’?

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#tenfingersareoverrated because I most definitely can!

It’s time to take ownership of some of the things I say. It might not be offensive, it might even be true (it certainly is trickier getting stuff done as a two-handed person when you find yourself without the use of one). But there’s no escaping the fact that I’m making excuses we’d rather she didn’t make. Sometimes that ‘excuse’ will be appropriate for her, maybe even necessary. But we’d like her to be thinking about what she can do, not talking about what she can’t. On this one the husband might be right, Mummy might need to cut the ‘I can’t’ crap, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still bring her a drink and a snack from time to time!

Perpetuating the myth

Perpetuating the myth

I had a bit of a parenting epiphany the other day. There I was, bobbing about in the pool for our second swimming lesson, trying to get Hero to hold onto the side. It was going well; I had lifted her good hand up and she was gripping onto the tiles like a pro. Meanwhile her little arm sat, where it often does, clamped to her side. I was just going with it, I wasn’t encouraging her to use it at all.

As she’s started to develop coordination skills, reaching out for toys (and my glasses, amongst other things!) I’ve been watching as she keeps her little arm by her side, as if it’s tucked away into an invisible pocket.

On the occasions she does use it, usually to capture something between her arms and bring it inevitably to her gaping maw, I’m sure to clap and give her plenty of praise. But do I ever really encourage her to use it?

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The Wookie reaches out…

Thinking back, still bobbing in the pool and hanging on to the side, I realised that I too seemed to favour her “good” hand. Whenever I offer her toys or something to flail about wildly, I always offer it to her left hand. All of a sudden this seems a little remiss, a little like I’m perpetuating her reluctance to use her right arm.

Her right arm is the furthest thing from useless. So why then, as I stood in the pool with her frilly swim-suited body balanced on my knee, had I not immediately lifted her right arm and held that to the side as well? Of course, she couldn’t grip on with it, but she could definitely rest her arm on the edge for extra support.

When I hand over her favourite circular rattle, why don’t I slip it over her right arm like a bracelet instead of always putting it in her left? Why don’t I dangle toys that side so that she can learn to reach out with her right arm too?

She knows somehow that there is something not quite the same about her little right hand. But if I continue to show the same preference as she does I fear I could end up mirroring and perpetuating her reluctance to use it. If I want to see her be the best that she can be, then I need to start off by showing her all that she can do.

Show her that she can reach.

Show her that she can bash and wallop.

Show her that she can flail it wildly and knock things over.

Next time we’re in the pool I’ll be sure to put the floating ball in front of her right arm and to help her reach with it onto the side. Her little hand might well be the perfect dummy (it’s never out of her mouth when she’s tired!) but it’s the perfect tool for plenty of other things as well and it’s high time we both realised that.

 


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