Dear Fellow Mom of Littles,
Hi, I want to introduce myself. My name is Mandy. Even though I don’t know you, I feel like we have a lot in common. I recognized that tired look in yours eyes across the dining room at our local Chick-fil-a. Your eyes said what a lot of our eyes say — that this motherhood journey, though full of joy, contains lots of hard moments and seldom a good night’s sleep. Sleep depravation is a torture tactic, after all…and we moms are all so stinking sleep deprived.
I joined this motherhood journey just 9 months ago when I adopted my daughter, a toddler from China. For the past 9 months, I have had a crash course in motherhood. Motherhood is stinking hard. I know what it feels like to have loved ones or strangers look on and assess your parenting techniques (and not agree with your approach). I know what it feels like to get frustrated and disappointed in yourself…and the guilt. I know what it feels like to have people ask questions, not from a disposition to know you better, but to feel better about themselves by critiquing you in their mind. We can feel that difference, can’t we? Between the tantrums, the sleepless nights, the accidents, the owies, and opinions of others, motherhood is not for the faint of heart. Being “mommy” is the most humbling of journeys because it is one of the hardest journeys. It is refining more than any educational or life experience that I’ve had to date. And sometimes, I think the moms in the crowd are held to a higher standard (and an unattainable one) than the dads are – but that is a post for another time.
And it is because this journey is so hard, that I have debated whether I should write this post. I don’t want to be another voice in the crowd critiquing moms. I don’t want to write a post about the top 10 things every mother should do because people “should” us enough already. Most days, I am lucky if I accomplish a few of those shoulds, let alone all 10. You see, in a world of Super Moms, I have declared that I am the World’s Okayest Mommy instead (thanks to a friend who introduced this title to me – love ya Cara!).
But fellow mom of littles, I want you to listen to my experience and just hear me. My heart is not to critique you, to add to your list of shoulds, but to ask if we can work together to teach our littles a really important lesson in being kind to those who are different, who look different. I am asking you to meet me at the playground.
You see, the playground is one of the most educational places for my family. The playground can also be one of the hardest places. My family looks different. Because my family looks different, we attract a lot of attention because we are a transracial family and my daughter Lydia has a visible limb difference. My daughter was born with symbrachydactyly. In utero, her hand stopped growing at the lower half of her palm. She has a smaller forearm and is missing five fingers. Like many other limb difference families, we call this her “Lucky Fin.” And though Lydia’s limb difference doesn’t seem to limit her ability at all, it sometimes seems to limit how people think about her. I am writing this post because if I did not have a child with a visible special need, I think I would’ve done exactly what you did that day.
During my nine months as a mom, I have noticed that there are very few moms (or parents) present at the playground. For example, I saw you at Chick-fil-a, and I noticed that you never came to the playground area though this is where your children were most of the visit. I completely understand needing a break away from your littles. You were there with a couple of other mom friends, who were also sitting in the dining area. Even though I see parents lost in their smartphones at the community park, I have noticed a physical absence of parents in restaurant play areas especially. Usually, I am the only one on the bench or one other mom is there as well even though the play area is busting at the seams with littles.
On this particular afternoon, your 4-ish year old (or younger) daughter looked at my daughter up and down and then stopped at her Lucky Fin. The grimace on your little girl’s face when she stopped. It hurt. Your daughter yelled out, “I DON’T LIKE HER!” while pointing to my Lydia. “You don’t like her?” I asked, shocked at what I heard. Typically, children ask questions like, “What’s wrong with her hand?” or “What happened to her hand?” But this time was extra hard–my daughter was declared unlikeable because of something outside of her control. My daughter understood your daughter before I did. “Yeah, I don’t like her!” she said, pointing at my daughter’s Lucky Fin. “Oh, but that is not a kind thing to say,” I said. “Her name is Lydia. Lydia is so much fun, and just like you, when people say mean comments, it hurts her heart. That was not a kind thing to say to another person.” She responded with, “I know. I don’t like her.” I then taught your daughter about differences and the importance of kindness (and I have to teach my daughter the kindness lesson a lot too). And you weren’t there in this teachable moment. You weren’t aware of the hurtful things your daughter said when she saw someone who was visibly different. She noticed the difference. I wanted to be able to partner with you and model for our daughters how to extend grace and acceptance when people are different. I wanted to model for our daughters how to work through an awkward situation because it was awkward. I wanted to model conflict resolution, even if we stumbled our way through it. I did not want to embarrass you or your daughter. I didn’t want to teach your daughter without you there, but I did.
You see, family’s like mine welcome questions. Your child’s questions give us an opportunity to model for our children how to teach others about differences because someday soon, we won’t be there at school to model those interactions. My daughter is just now at the age where she can begin to verbalize that she was just born this way and that she can do anything someone with two hands/10 fingers can do. The playground is where a lot of taunting occurs. The playground is where we are asked the most questions. And when our littles grow older and go off to school, the playground is where bullies reign. There aren’t enough teachers on the playground at school to make the most of this educational space. The playground is the place where valuable lessons can be learned and character shaped, especially for littles. The playground might be a place that shows us an area of development we weren’t aware of in our child (or even a strength).
So I am sincerely inviting you to join me at the playground so that we can partner together in helping our children understand and value people who look different or who are different. Perhaps we can become friends in the process.
And for the moms and dads who are at the playground, never be embarrassed when your child asks us questions. Remind yourselves that this is a great place for our family to practice, to educate, to encourage our daughter. When we shame our children’s questions, we add stigma to differences.
So dear mom of littles, I know I added another “should” to the mommy list. I know we are tired and we need time with girl friends. I just ask that you be present at the playground when our littles are little because families like mine want to partner with you to teach littles about disability. And if I hadn’t become mommy to Lydia, I probably wouldn’t have been aware how much a father or mother’s shepherding is needed at the playground.
A co-journeyer on the motherhood adventure,
PS – To learn more about limb differences, see the Lucky Fin Project https://www.facebook.com/LuckyFinProject