This morning at the library I got a call from the woman who works in the front office of the elementary school. I've known her since I was very young because her daughter and I went through all 12 grades together. I was really surprised to hear from her and asked her what was going on.
"Well, today is kindergarten registration," she said,"and we have a little girl here who reminded me instantly of you. "
"Huh. Okay, why?"
"Her name is Rachel and she's missing her leg. Her mom is a little worried about Rachel going into gym class and I was telling them all about you - about how you took acrobatics and how you never let anything stop you and how you inspired all of us. I told her that if you could do it, Rachel could too."
"I...I..." Tears started welling up and I couldn't stop them. I was standing at my desk, in the middle of the library. "You're making me cry, Nancy."
"No, no! Don't cry! I wanted to call and make sure you were at work today and to see if it'd be okay if they came over to meet you. I think it would mean a lot to them."
So a little while later Rachel (and her twin brother Jack) came to visit me at the library. Rachel had been born with amniotic band syndrome and her brother had been born normal. I saw them come in, Rachel was holding her mom's hand and walking toward my desk with the distinctive gait of an above the knee amputee, and Jack was running ahead.
A little shy, Rachel shook my hand and seemed to want to escape to the books and toys in the children's section. But when I said,"You know what? I have a leg a lot like yours," she looked up at me and smiled. Suddenly we were both sitting on the floor, pulling up our pant legs and comparing hardware.
I found out that Rachel calls her prosthesis "Lucky." In the film Finding Nemo, a baby clownfish (Nemo) is born with a birth defect. One of his fins is smaller than normal and the father fish calls it Nemo's "lucky fin." I laughed when Rachel's mom told me this because when I saw the movie, I related to it too - and I'm sure every amputee can.
A bit later, while Rachel and Jack entertained themselves with books, I spent some time talking with Rachel's mom about how it was to grow up as an amputee, how it was to go to school with "normal" kids.
I warned Rachel's mom about teasing because for the first few weeks of kindergarten, I was teased by a classmate. I had never been teased before. I guess by that age I knew I was different, but I didn't know that my leg was something that could be made fun of...I didn't know that other children could be so mean about something I had no control over. I couldn't help the way I was made. I came home crying from school, either too ashamed or too scared to say why. When my mother finally persuaded me to tell her what was happening, she made arrangements to come to my school and explain to my classmates why I was the way I was and that it didn't change who I was inside. I never had another problem after that.
"I know it's going to happen," Rachel's mom said. "The first time she gets teased it will just devastate me."
Yeah, I thought, and Rachel too - 28 years later and sometimes it still hurts. I gave her my phone number and offered to be there for them if they ever needed to talk. "But she's going to be fine, you know." I looked over at Rachel, happily playing with her brother. "Everything's really going to be okay."
As they were leaving Rachel's mom gave me a big hug. "Thank you so much. This has made my day." I guess I had been able to reassure her and give her some hope.
I grinned at her. "Oh, no...you have totally made my day. You have no idea." I've been smiling ever since.