“If you show me that again, I’ll throw up! It’s so weird!” she shouted, while her hands grasped her neck and she made exaggerated puking gestures.
It was Saturday morning at the McDonalds playground, and this little 7-year old girl didn’t seem to know how to cope with my 1-year-old son’s missing left hand.
After a few more puking gestures and shouts announcing Josiah’s difference and proclaiming its “weirdness,” the girls and I made our exit. Josiah, blissfully unaware, remained happy in my arms.
The encounter had started as a really positive one. The little girl was initially enthralled with 小弟弟 xiao didi (little brother) and made a big deal of how cute he was. Because his sweatshirt was covering the end of his arm, his difference wasn’t obvious at the start. But when she grabbed for his hand to help him up the stairs to the slide, she realized something was up.
“小弟弟的手指怎么了 Xiao didi de shouzhi zenme le?”
“What’s wrong with little brother’s fingers?
Many of the children in our circles refer to me as “Grace mama” or “Rose mama.” (Cute, huh?) This particular little girl knows me as Grace’s mom, as she and Grace were preschool classmates a number of years ago. She was also part of an enrichment class where I taught English and has been to our home with her mother a couple of times for holiday events.
In response to her question about Josiah’s fingers, I gave her what is now becoming my standard explanation for children:
“He was born missing his left hand; it just didn’t grow in his birth mom’s tummy. But he’s ok – he’s healthy and smart, and he can do the things other one-year olds can do.”
I’ve had the opportunity to have this discussion with curious little ones a few times now. At this point they are usually satisfied, unphased, and ready to get back to playing. But this little gal considered my words, and then for whatever reason began to shout repeatedly:
“小弟弟没有手 xiao didi mei you shou! 太奇怪了 tai qi guai le!”
“Little brother doesn’t have a hand! It’s so weird!”
After a few such shouts, and when it was clear she had no intention of calming down, I pulled her aside and said: “Yes, little brother was made a little differently, but shouting is not polite.” And then in a rather serious tone, I told her firmly, “That’s enough.”
I really thought that would be it. But around this time, one of my girls pulled up Josiah’s left sleeve so that the girl could see for herself that all this was really no big deal.
That’s what brought about the puking gestures and the rather over-the-top behavior I described at the start of this post.
As I reflect on this experience, I have a lot of compassion for this little girl. I imagine that she has her share of social struggles, and it seemed clear that her mother (who I spoke with later) didn’t know how to handle her. Thankfully, as the girls and I began to pack up to go, the little girl became more subdued. She seemed to realize that her behavior had chased her playmates away. Her demeanor allowed me to have a more positive goodbye, and I had a chance to talk with her about not needing to be uncomfortable around those who are different.