Yesterday I gave the kids a ‘day off’ from school. I pushed them a little bit harder earlier in the week with plans for a “party” on Friday. Though we started off as a normal day, I surprised them with a stack of crafts and coloring pages. One of the crafts was this cute little guy:
Some of you may not know (so I’ll tell you), Ella has complex syndactylism in her left hand. In normal speak that means that her fingers were fused together. In some cases, syndactyly is only webbing between the fingers, in Ella’s case she had no defined digits. When we brought her home she had a series of surgeries to “give” her fingers. Her bone structure is so poorly formed that the hand surgeon, as good as he was, couldn’t give her five digits. So, she has a thumb and two fingers. Her hand rarely is an issue, I honestly forget about it most of the time. She has never exhibited any feelings—good or bad—regarding her ‘little hand.’ When we are presented with projects that require hand tracing, I’m an equal opportunity hand tracer. I don’t shrink away from crafts requiring hand prints because I don’t want Ella to grow up feeling weird or funny because she has a ‘little hand’. That has ALWAYS been fine. And that has ALWAYS been my policy. My policy changed yesterday.
Each of the kiddos traced their foot on brown paper; then traced their hands on black paper. Ella balked when I started to trace her little hand. She looked at Everett’s nearly completed reindeer and said, “But my hand is different.”
In a moment of poor mommying I said, “Yes, your hand is different, but it’s still going to look nice as an antler on your reindeer.” Looking back I should have taken more time, maybe looked closer at her face to see how upset she was, but I didn’t.
She seemed unconvinced by my statements, but let me trace both hands. Then she started getting frustrated with her cutting skills, and I had the idea that for the first time she may actually CARE about how this craft turns out. For the most part she has generally done crafty things to appease me, and keep up with her brothers. Unconcerned with the finished product, or whether she finishes them, sometimes she even goes so far as to destroy the project as she creates it. So, we press on, gluing the antlers onto the footprint, then sticking a fuzzy glitter nose on. The kids were giggling at how their reindeer turned out, laughing that Eli drew a big smiley face and Ella drew eyebrows. I was surprised that Ella went beyond my expectations by drawing a face on her reindeer. We hung the little guys up and moved onto the next “phase” of our partying. Carmel corn and Disney’s “A Christmas Carol” followed by gifts (play dough and paint by numbers).
All was well, until Seth came home. Excited to share what we did today, the kids ran around showing him the pages they created, the paintings they did and then ran to the window to show him their reindeer. This is when our day took a turn. The boys were jumping around, general mayhem and excitement, “Look at my guy, he’s so cute!”
“I made a smile, look at my Rudolph!”
“Mine is weird. I no like him.” This came from Ella. And it hurt my heart. Then she looked up at Seth and collapsed in tears.
Several thoughts raced through my mind as I tried to figure out how to react. I was (as horrid as this sounds) happy because her feelings were complex, and she hasn’t before shown this sort of emotion. Every reaction she has is based on the concrete—she falls, she cries; she breaks a toy, she cries. She doesn’t deal in the abstract. For her to see her reindeer and realize that it looks different, then see that the difference is because she has a hand with three fingers, then be upset about that—well, that is momentous to me.
So I was excited for a millisecond. Then I saw her sobbing in Seth’s arms and the reality of what was happening set in. This was the official first time for my daughter to cry because of her differences. And I was faced with the stark reality that neither Seth nor I knew how to handle her sobs. He caught my eye and I just stood there, paralyzed. My eyes were welling up with tears and I didn’t want her to see me crying. Seth was whispering in low tones trying to console her. Neither of us had anything spectacular to say. We said what we’ve always said, “God gave you to have a special hand for a reason. We love your little hand.” The boys had gone into compassion mode and were raving about her hand, her reindeer…making fun of themselves; trying anything to cheer her up. As I spoke I felt very scared about what we will face as she gets older. I realize that “God made you with a purpose” probably won’t help a pre-teen stop crying. I know she’s going to ask “Why?” and I won’t have an answer.