by Ryan Haack
Ryan Haack is a speaker, blogger, advocate and educator living in Verona, WI with his wife and three kids. His actual life involves living with one hand. This post originally appeared as two different posts on his blog, LivingOneHanded.com. I love his honesty & the beauty he sees in life. You can find him at LivingOneHanded.com, @livingonehanded and the Living One-Handed Facebook page.
Basically right in my face.
I dropped my daughter off at her pre-k classroom this morning and that’s how one of the girls regaled me. A number of them started screaming, feeding off of each other, and as I left I saw Claire say, “He actually has one and a HALF!” I wanted to laugh, but it wasn’t funny. She looked sad and uncomfortable. I wished I could have stayed, but had to go to work. I wish I had stayed anyway.
I don’t mind kids’ stares and awkward (read: offensive) reactions to my arm. They’re kids. Yes, it can be obnoxious, but whatever. Today, though, I thought to myself, “What if I weren’t me?” What if I was somebody that was more self-conscious; someone less comfortable with himself? I’d have been horrified! I would have yelled at those kids and cried when I got back to my car, telling myself, “THIS is why I don’t go out.”
And then at dinner I asked Claire about this morning and she got really sad. I asked about their reaction and she said they just kept laughing because they “thought it was weird.” My arm, she meant. ”Did you say anything?” I asked. ”I tried to, but they just kept laughing and not listening to me!” Claire replied. It broke my heart. She tried to defend me, but her efforts fell on deaf ears.
Tomorrow I’m going to stay for a few extra minutes when I drop Claire off.
I want the kids to be able to ask me questions. I want them to see that I’m not something to be freaked-out by, but that I’m a loving dad and a pretty funny guy. I want to tell them, lovingly, that laughing and screaming about someone’s difference is inappropriate. I will tell them that we’re all different in some way and that, instead of freaking-out about it, we should ask questions nicely and get to know people as friends. I want to help out the next person who might not be like me. And I want to give Claire a chance to say something and be heard.
I’m still debating about whether or not to end our time together by screaming and chasing them around the room while I flail my arms.
The next day…
I visited my daughter Claire’s class to capitalize on yesterday’s, uh, eventful experience.
When I arrived this time, all the kids very calmly said, “Hi, Claire’s dad!” It was pretty clear the teacher had spoken to them after I left yesterday. As we gathered on the carpet, they told me that they had all talked about how some people are born with one leg or NO legs or they can’t hear or see, things like that.
At one point as we were identifying differences people might have, this little boy shouted, “MY BROTHER IS SEVEN!”
“That IS different!” I said, trying not to laugh.
He was so earnest and I loved that he identified a difference in his own family. The teacher asked if they remembered what she said about how we should react and another little boy says, “We’re not supposed to say things about other peoples’ dads.” Not quite what she was going for, but it made me laugh. I was overjoyed to hear that she had taken the initiative to talk to her students about the situation and teach them about accepting others.
They had some great questions for me, too, most of them revolving around the same theme: How do you…with one hand? Most of them didn’t even ask specifics, they just wondered how I did ANYTHING at all. I told them that I figure out how to do things just like they do. For instance, I brought a container with two racquet balls in it, so I showed them how I hold it to open it and then took the balls out.
“Do you think I can juggle these?” I asked. “YES!” shouted Claire. She was excited about this part all morning. So, I juggled for them and they clapped as their jaws dropped. Pretty amazing stuff.
The other theme, which I find common among young kids, was that they just couldn’t wrap their minds around the fact that I was born this way. I must have said it ten different ways, but they would still ask, “Yeah, but where is it?” The other funny thing was that they didn’t self-identify, they used other people in their examples. What I mean is that, instead of saying, “Oh, I was born with two hands,” they’d say, “My mom was born with two hands!” Just interesting. Only one of them tucked his arm in his shirt and said, “Look! I only have one arm, too!” He also happened to ask 85% of the questions. Creative little guy.
Oh, and the girl who screamed and freaked-out? She’s actually adorable. “I love your shirt!” she said when I walked in this time. It was a white dress shirt. When I left, she came up to me and said, “I like your arm, Mr. Ryan.” I said thank you and told her how much I loved her shoes. They were glittery and sparkly and multi-colored AND they lit-up when she walked! It made me really happy to see such growth in her.
I didn’t end-up chasing after them while screaming and flailing my arms, but it felt like a successful visit nonetheless. They got to interact with me and see that I’m just a normal guy and they got to ask questions and express their own thoughts about people with differences. Claire basically just sat there the whole time, but her tummy hurt, so I think she was just taking it all in. She declined when I asked if she wanted to say anything else, but gave me a big hug and kiss when I left. I love that little girl.
I also love being given the opportunity to help shape the perspectives of little guys and girls. It’s a responsibility I do not take lightly.
And it doesn’t freak me out at all.