Anna Grace is five years old.
She loves all things Disney and princesses.
Her favorite outings are to the zoo, museum, or playground.
She takes dance class and swimming lessons.
When she grows up, she wants to be a doctor, dance teacher, singer, or dog trainer.
She loves playing outside with her friends, especially if they’re climbing trees or playing in dirt.
She would happily skip dinner to have ice cream – chocolate with rainbow sprinkles.
And she plans on being a unicorn for Halloween.
Sounds like any normal five year old girl. And, in almost every way, Anna Grace is absolutely a normal five year old girl.
There’s just one thing that makes her a little different. And she doesn’t really see it as different; but many people do. Anna Grace wears a prosthetic leg. She was born missing part of her left leg. So, shortly after coming home from China, she was fitted with a prosthetic. And with her prosthetic, she can do anything that other kids can do… aside from wiggle 10 toes! She runs, jumps, climbs, dances, flips, swims…pretty much no limits.
Living with a prosthetic is just a way of life for us. And most days – aside from the extra step involved getting her dressed in the morning – I don’t even think about her leg. But it’s a very visible difference. So while it’s totally normal for us, it’s not always normal for other people.
I think that I notice the stares, points, and whispers more now. And I think that I probably notice them more because Anna Grace notices them. When she was younger, she was relatively oblivious. She was more interested in chasing butterflies or creating chaos to care if someone was looking at her leg. And while she still has the corner marking on creating chaos, she’s five-and-a-half now, so she’s much more socially aware. She notices if people are staring.
She gets uncomfortable if other kids make a big deal about her leg. She gets upset sometimes when it’s drawn to her attention that she’s different. In every way (other than wearing a prosthetic leg), she’s just like every other kid.
And she wants to be like every other kid.
Anna Grace started kindergarten this year. For the past three years, she attended the same private preschool. This year, she started a new school with new children. And she had a lot of anxiety this summer about school. For months, she claimed that she was going to be a “kindergarten drop out”, and she insisted that she was going to stay in pre-K.
One day, while talking about her kindergarten reluctance, Anna Grace burst into tears and said, “I’m just so nervous that I won’t have any friends at school!” I reminded her about all of her great friends, and I assured her that she’s a very fun girl who makes friends easily. “But mama – these kids don’t know me. What if no one wants to be friends with the girl with one leg? Why can’t I just have two legs like everyone else?”
I held my sweet girl as she cried, and I silently added some of my own tears. I knew the day was coming.
Even though Anna Grace is typically a ridiculously confident little girl, and even though she usually “owns” her prosthetic leg, she’s moving toward the age where kids start to notice differences more. And she doesn’t always want to be different.
Children are curious, and they often ask questions about things that are new or that they don’t understand. Believe me, Anna Grace is the queen of this! And I’m all for supporting their curiosity and giving them answers to help them understand. I know that Anna Grace’s leg looks a little different, and other children want to know what it is. I have equipped Anna Grace to answer “What’s that?” questions with “It’s my prosthetic”. Most kids are satisfied with that answer and move on.
But some kids want to know more (understandably). Depending on her mood, Anna Grace might share more. Or she might cross her arms and huff, “Just stop talking about it.” And here’s where the real challenge comes for me. I don’t want to hush other children and stop them from asking questions (as long as they’re not being rude). But I also don’t want to put my own child in an uncomfortable situation and force her to share more than she wants to. I try my best to help Anna Grace feel proud of her leg so that when questions come up, she can respond with confidence. But I would get tired of hearing ten times a day, “What are those?” as people pointed to my glasses. So I know the questions get old to her sometimes.
Before kindergarten started this year, I had a conversation with Anna Grace’s teacher about how to best address her physical difference with the other children in her class. I was torn. Part of me felt like maybe I should proactively go into the classroom to help explain about her prosthetic to the other children: read them a book, show them one of her legs, and answer their questions. But part of me wondered if, by going into the classroom, I would be making bigger deal about her leg than it would’ve been with the kids otherwise. I didn’t want to draw a lot of attention to Anna Grace’s difference if the other kindergartners didn’t pay attention to it. Sometimes her larger than life personality is noticed long before her leg! My main priority was to make sure that Anna Grace felt confident and safe in her interactions with the other children regarding her leg.
Her teacher and I came to a mutual decision to give it a few weeks to see how the children would play things out. I shared with her teacher some of the answers I give to children so she could help answer basic questions. And we agreed that, if it seemed like the kids were asking more questions than her answers could satisfy, then we would make arrangements for me to visit the classroom.
We also talked to Anna Grace and explained to her that, if she ever felt uncomfortable in an interaction with another child, she could go to her teacher and say, “I need help”, and her teacher would immediately come to her assistance. This seemed to set Anna Grace at ease, and she was much less reluctant about going to school following this brief meeting with her teacher.
School has now been in session for three weeks, and no one has mentioned any issues to me. I’ve asked Anna Grace if any of the kids have said anything about her leg. She told me that one little girl always says, “Wow – awesome!” when looking at the princesses on her leg. But she hasn’t talked about any negative or uncomfortable situations. When kindergarten dismisses for the day, I see Anna Grace happily running around and playing with all of her new friends. And when we walk to school in the morning, she’s usually skipping along, chatting, and holding hands with another new friend.
The children either haven’t noticed, haven’t cared, or have noticed and moved beyond something that looks different on the outside to just pay attention to the super fun and friendly girl who happens to own a cool leg.
Even though it’s challenging for Anna Grace to deal with being different at times, most of the time, she handles herself with confidence, grace, and wisdom far beyond her five years. Over the summer, we were vacationing in Florida, and Anna Grace made a new little friend at the pool. They were playing mermaids. I watched them splash and play for a few minutes, and then I heard Anna Grace say, “Look how I can flip my fin!” I knew that she was about to hop out of the water, and I watched closely to see how things would go from here. As Anna Grace climbed out of the pool and perched on the edge, the little girl gasped and said, “Oh my gosh! What happened to your foot?”
Anna Grace quickly answered, “Oh, it’s okay. I just got a little scrape on it!” (Clearly referring to her real foot.)
“No, but your foot is like… not there!” said the little girl.
“That’s because my mom took my leg off to dry. It’s over there on the chair.”
“Wait – your leg is in a chair??”
“Yeah, it’s my prosthetic.”
“Why do you have that?”
“Because I had a funky toe, so the doctor cut it off, and Mr. Rob made me my princess leg so I can run fast and jump high. It’s just the way God made me. Now, are we going to play mermaids or what?”
And Anna Grace dove into the water.
The other little girl looked shocked for a brief moment as she processed this conversation. But as she watched Anna Grace swim happily away, she jumped in the water after her, and the mermaid game continued without another thought.
I pray that Anna Grace will always keep her spunk, spirit, and confidence. She is an amazingly wonderful, beautiful, determined, perfect little girl. Her physical difference is always going to be part of who she is – and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Her prosthetic only makes her extra special in my eyes.
As her mother, I feel like it’s my job to help her embrace everything that makes her special and different.
To help her realize that everyone has things that make them different.
To empower her when interacting with others.
To build her confidence.
To help ensure that her inner voice is always louder and stronger that what she might hear from the world.
And to sear into her heart, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
– guest post by Wynne