Monday, May 28, 2012

weekend adventures

Chris and Chewy being cute (as usual):
Hi there! Before I say anything else, I just want to wish everyone a happy summer! I know it hasn't technically begun, but the weather is warm and my schoolbooks are away. So as far as I'm concerned, it's summer! And with summer days, of course, come fabulous moments spent with family and friends. This past weekend was a pretty awesome way to ring in the high temperatures and the fun. On Saturday, my boyfriend Chris and I took his little brother and his family's dog to their grandparents' house for an indoor picnic (since it was kind of rainy.) I should probably admit here that I've always been nervous about how his family would react to my limb difference. I want to seem like a model girlfriend who is perfect for their Chris, and an obvious physical disability seems to be the antithesis of perfection. So suffice it to say that I was pretty nervous at the start of the day.

                                                                                    Chewy wanted to drive:
Like all great adventures, of course, our journey involved a few pitstops. We headed to Home Depot first to pick up some supplies for my house (since my parents are remodeling some rooms.) Already anxious and therefore more aware of my arm than usual, I did the only thing that would relieve the tension and help my mood a bit: I offered to carry the dog, Chewy. I placed him securely in my oversized handbag a la Paris Hilton and navigated the aisles of the store with the boys. I quickly discovered that carrying an adorable toy poodle around actually drew more attention to me. But it was different this time because people were smiling and interacting with Chewy rather than staring at my hand and feeling sorry for me. So that was my first realization of the day: a cute dog really does lift spirits - and not just my own! Although my dad is not a fan of puppies, I plan to get one the second I get my own place. After all, the two cutest things in the entire world are puppies and babies.

Speaking of babies, Chris's toddler cousins also happened to be visiting their grandparents that day. The four-year-old boy, bright and energetic, ran around the yard hoping I would try to catch him. After a dozen or so rounds of Tag, he approached me and asked about my prosthetic hand. I told him that it was my "special hand." Being a kid, he begged me to try it out for himself. He even tried to pry it off so that he could play with it. I found this incredibly endearing and pretty funny. It's interesting how something most people see as a huge flaw that should be ignored becomes an intriguing potential toy to a toddler. Second realization of my Saturday: kids will be kids and won't necessarily care about the things the world expects you to be self-conscious about. They're blunt, curious, and innocent - and that's the most refreshing and organic reaction anyone can hope for.

Brandon, the coolest 11-year-old on the planet: 
And this reaction isn't just limited to toddlers. By the end of the day when Chris was driving us back to my house, the temperature had risen and the air felt unbearably hot. It was definitely way too hot to be wearing a heavy artificial arm. So I pulled it off and left it in my handbag (We left Chewy with Chris's sister, so he wasn't in the handbag anymore by this point.) To my surprise, Chris's 11-year-old brother Brandon said absolutely nothing about my lack of a hand. He had never seen me without the fake arm before, so I was expecting him to say something or at least ask about the little arm. But he never did. He just acted the same way he normally does.

When I mentioned my unease to Chris afterwards, he just smiled. "You see?" he said. "Like I've always told you, there are lots of people out there who are not going to care about your arm at all. It's not even going to register to them because it's so minor and because they get to know you for who you are. Brandon asked me about it once over a year ago when you and I started dating. So now he knows and it doesn't matter to him." So yeah, there's realization number 3: To most people, something as minor as a limb difference isn't going to matter. Note to self: stop being so paranoid!

Caitlin :)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

growing up one-armed

  Last week as I was reading a post on Born Just Right (a great blog where Jen Lee Reeves writes about her young daughter, Jordan, who was born with a little arm), I came across a line that stuck with me for a while. Jen wrote: "I keep fretting about the future and how Jordan may lose hope and confidence." Sure, any mother could have written or spoken those words; parental concern is completely normal. But Jen was specifically referring to the way Jordan would feel about her difference. While I'm not yet a mom, I can't imagine the emotional toll that raising a child with special needs would have on someone. Most (if not all) parents have anxiety and fear about their kids' future, and I'm sure that having a child with a disability magnifies those worries. So as a young woman who has grown up with 1.5 arms, I thought I'd dedicate a post to offering some advice and insight I've learned from my own experience. Here's what I would tell anyone who is raising a son or daughter with a limb difference (or any disability, for that matter):

- The first thing you should know is that your child is completely capable of having a normal and happy life. I know you must hear that a lot, but here's living proof. I, for one, am your average 20-year-old girl who loves her family and friends, has a wonderful boyfriend (we've been dating for one and a half years now), and gets nearly perfect grades in school. I'm currently starting my senior year of college and working full-time as Social Media Coordinator for the Oxygen Network. In sum, I'm living the good life. While I'm not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, I'm doing okay. And you know what? Your kid will be just fine too. 

- Be supportive and encourage your child to try new things. Ugh, that sentence sounds so generic and cookie-cutter, doesn't it? But here's what I mean. Make sure he or she knows that you're proud of him/her. I remember my dad telling me some years back that he and my mom didn't put me in piano lessons because of my arm. I was pretty upset after hearing that because it made me feel like they didn't trust my ability to adapt to the situation. It felt like they were shielding me from things they didn't think I would be able to do. Essentially, they were defining my limits before I could even try. As soon as I turned 18, I bought a left-handed guitar and sat in my room for hours until I could spite my parents with proof that I could play an instrument. Don't get me wrong - I love playing guitar. But I'll admit that proving myself and gaining my parents' affirmation was a good motivator. 

- Don't treat the limb difference like it's a bad thing. This is crucial. The way you react to the difference influences the way your child will view him/herself. When I was younger, my grandparents taught me to hide my little arm inside a prosthetic and long sleeves (and yes, jackets in the summertime.) I spent years after that covering myself up and wearing sweaters during sweltering summers. Now that I'm older, I can see how the effects that those sorts of unfortunate moments with people I love have morphed into insecurities about my arm and my general appearance. My boyfriend had a similar experience. When he was little, someone told him that he could get surgery to separate his webbed toes (which I love, by the way, because they're part of him and they look pretty darn cool.) He had never even considered them to be an issue until that person suggested surgery and made him self-conscious about them. So my advice: don't focus on masking or hiding your child's "flaws." Allow them to be themselves and let them know that missing a limb is not something you should feel upset or ashamed about. 

- Push your child but don't be pushy. What I mean is that you should want your child to strive for his/her best. But at the same time, you don't want them to feel like they need to overcompensate for their disability. Growing up, people used to tell me that they were so impressed by whatever ordinary thing I did well because I did it with only one arm. Newsflash to the whole world: calling me (or anyone with a disability, for that matter) "inspirational" because I just accomplished a mundane task that any other person could do with their eyes closed is NOT a compliment. It's actually very condescending. So make sure you congratulate your son or daughter on his/her REAL accomplishments (read: anything you would congratulate a non-disabled child on.) That way, he/she won't feel like he/she is being patronized by his/her own parents. 

- Insecurity is inevitable. It's human to feel insecure about yourself sometimes, especially during your adolescent years. And someone with a disability is not immune to that. I can almost guarantee you that your child will have bouts of low self esteem and insecurity at one time or another, mainly because I've never met a person who made it through his or her teen years 100 percent confident in him/herself. But before you worry yourself sick, let me say that you can minimize the impact of these low points starting 3...2...1...NOW. I've read a lot on this topic (yep, I'm a psychology minor), and psychologists say that parents have a huge impact on their children's self esteem. Tell your daughter she's beautiful and tell your son that he's capable and strong. Remember to also focus on qualities like kindness or creativity, not just on appearance or ability. And don't forget to convey to him/her that he/she is loved WITH the difference and not in spite of it.

  So there you have it. I hope that you've found this helpful and maybe even interesting. If you have a limb difference yourself, what else would you tell someone raising a child with a limb difference? If you're the parent of a limb different child, know that everything will be okay. Raising a child with one arm is not really any different than raising a child with two (so I've learned from my parents, as they basically treat my sister and me the same.) For now, just enjoy these moments of their youth because they'll be all grown up before you know it. 

Caitlin :)