A Doll Like Me

dollslikemeI don’t think I would have appreciated a “doll like me” when I was young enough to play with dolls, but I still wish I had had one.

I occasionally saw toys that attempted to represent kids with differences on display at clinics.  There were dolls with hearing aids, stuffed animals wearing braces, and others.  I never saw any with a limb deficiency or a prosthesis like mine, and I was glad because I was mortified at the thought of my parents getting me a disability doll.

I’m not sure I gave it much thought at the time.  I was an introspective kid, but when it came to the toys I liked, I mostly went by feeling.  My feeling was pretty strong that I didn’t want anything “special.” I knew that I felt just like other kids.  I felt totally normal, and so I felt I should have the same toys from the same stores  as other kids.  Not special ordered through a clinic.

I didn’t want to talk about my arm or answer questions about it. Like most kids, I wanted to talk about the things I loved, the things made me me.  My physical difference felt like a distraction from the me I was inside.  Why would I want a toy that emphasized it?

I still understand those feelings, but I’ve thought a lot more about it in the years since I stopped playing with dolls.  I’ve considered issues of representation and identity as they relate to the media kids are consuming and the toys that kids are playing with on a much deeper level than I did when I was eight.  I’ve thought about what it means to have one’s identity erased from public view, and I’ve felt the thrill–yes, I do mean to use that strong of a word–of seeing a usually invisible part of myself represented in the media. Not to mention, I’ve had enough people say “That’s weird” when I say that I was born without an arm to know how important being visible really is.

It took me a long time to realize that I didn’t have to blend in or erase parts of myself to be considered normal.  I just had to move past the obstacle.  I’ve said before: sometimes talking about things makes them less of an issue.  That certainly has been the case for me.

It is because of my childhood feeling of wanting to avoid being special that I am excited about Toys Like Me.  I felt normal, and I wanted normal toys.  So let’s normalize me.  Let’s normalize all sorts of different bodies and experiences for our kids.  Makies, a company that makes customizable dolls, is taking suggestions.  What do you want to see?  Let them know.

Perhaps if I’d had a doll like me when I was a kid, I wouldn’t have spent so long trying to be invisible.

Advertisements

Poem in your pocket

“Every day is some kind of holiday with librarians.”  My partner says this or some variation on it whenever I mention that it’s National Whatever Day or Whatever Awareness Day, which I do fairly often.  I can’t really argue.  There’s always something to celebrate, and you can always count on a librarian or a teacher to do just that. I don’t think it’s just me.  :)

Today happens to be one of my favorite celebrations: Poem in Your Pocket Day.  It is the day I choose a small poem for each member of my family to carry with them.  The Academy of American Poets encourages people everywhere to carry #pocketpoems on Poem in Your Pocket Day.  The organization has lofty goals like promoting art appreciation and getting poetry into the media.  I think that’s wonderful, but my intention is more down-to-earth.  I just want to bring my family into my world.  I fell in love with poetry a long time ago, and it is very important to me.  I don’t read it or write it as much as I would like anymore, but I still feel a strong connection to the art.  It’s a connection that I want to share with my partner and my daughter.  Even if they don’t take their poems out of their pockets all day, they are there.  Maybe the words will seep into their souls just by being close to them.

The best holidays are the quiet ones, in my opinion.  Poem in Your Pocket Day is just right.

Of course, any day might be a good day for a pocket poem.  For kids’ poetry, check out The Poem Farm in which poet Amy Ludwig Vanderwater shares poems and other fun stuff.

 

It’s Okay to Ask

its-ok-to-ask-thumbAsking is better than staring at me.  Asking is better than avoiding me.  Asking is better than making up something about me that isn’t true.  I have been saying these things for years–mostly assuring embarrassed parents that it’s okay that their child asked me about my prosthetic arm–but now I’m not alone.  In addition to the fantastic Jacob’s Eye Patch, now there is It’s Okay to Ask from Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare.  Two picture books and me all saying the same message will surely convince people, right? ;)

On MPR News, Tom Weber spoke with a Gillette doctor and a young patient about the book and their experiences talking about disabilities, and he expressed surprise that it was okay to ask about someone’s disability.  “Has that really been the thing we said about how we should interact?” he asked more than once.  The guests assured him that questions aren’t necessarily rude.  It’s the intent behind the questions that is either friendly or rude.  I found myself nodding along at what the guests were saying over and over again.

Here’s what I know about questions:

  • “What’s wrong with you?” is probably not the best question, but even if your child does ask it that way, it’s okay.  It’s a teachable moment.  Encourage them to rephrase it without making them feel bad for being curious.
  • Questions are better than assumptions, and the best questions assume the least.  “How did you lose your arm?” for example assumes I lost an arm, which I did not, but I understand that it isn’t always easy to come up with the best phrasing on the spot.  Don’t stress about the best way to put it.  It’s usually pretty clear when someone means a question nicely.
  • Equipment makes questions easier.  I get way more questions when I am wearing my prosthetic arm than when I go without it.  It seems people are usually more comfortable asking about a piece of technology than they are about a physical difference.

I offered more points to consider in this post on The Blogunteer back in 2012.  In that post, I said:

“It’s okay to be curious. That is probably the most important thing I want to tell people.  The key is how you express your curiosity.”
That is still true.  Questions are okay.  Even poorly worded questions are okay.  The important thing is that we move past staring at or avoiding people with disabilities or physical differences.  I’d rather have to answer an impolite question than always be Other.  As in the book It’s Okay to Ask, once we get past our differences, we can get to what we have in common.
Have a question about my limb difference or prosthetic arm?  See Fake Arm 101 for answers to some common questions or send me an email with some question I haven’t covered yet: fakearm101@gmail.com.

 

Talking to the moon

On Saturday March 28, 2015, we will have an opportunity to talk to the moon.

From 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. people everywhere are encouraged to turn off their lights in recognition of Earth Hour.  For those of us who live in the city, there are too many lights to fully appreciate the night sky.  Earth Hour is a chance to do just that–to really see and appreciate the night.

redknitcapgirlAfter participating in Earth Hour while living in New York City, artist Naoko Stoop turned her experience into a beautiful, fable-like picture book.  Red Knit Cap Girl caught my attention with the lovely illustrations, but the opening line was what really stuck with me: “In the forest, there is time to wonder about everything.”  In this book, Red Knit Cap Girl wonders about the moon.  How would you talk to the moon?  Would you throw it a party?

It is a simple story with curiosity at its core.  It is a favorite of mine, and I hope you will give it a chance.  Perhaps you will even find yourself talking to the moon on a dark night this weekend.

More about Red Knit Cap Girl & Earth Hour:

 

 

Just-right adventures

How old should a child be before he or she should be allowed to ride public transit by themselves?

I don’t have a good answer to that question, and I don’t know that one exists.  If you go by the discussion I heard on my drive to work this morning on MPR News, it certainly seems like the two sides (free range parents vs. helicopter parents) will never find common ground.  I fall somewhere in the middle, probably closer to helicopter than I might like to admit.

The truth is that I know more than a few adults who are afraid or extremely hesitant to ride public transit by themselves.  I feel like I am forever assuring people that the city bus seems scarier than it really is while they counter with stories that begin with “I heard…” and end with something terrible happening.  The idea of convincing parents that their children should ride a bus solo seems rather ludicrous in that context.

busrideJust a few hours after listening to experts and callers weigh in on the topic, I happened upon a picture book that provided another perspective.  In The Bus Ride by Marianne Dubuc, a little girl rides a bus by herself for the first time.  Her bus ride looks a little bit different from my usual bus rides.  Her world is populated by what appear to be scary animals.  Wolves and bears board the bus with her.  They seem intimidating, but in the end, they are friendly, or at least benign.  The girl’s solo trip is not without adventure, but it is a quiet sort of adventure.  It seems like a just-right adventure in this book.

It doesn’t answer any questions or set any guidelines for solo bus travel, but it does portray public transit as a gentle place full of community, much like Last Stop on Market Street did.  That is a message that I can firmly get behind.  I still have no idea when I will allow my daughter to ride public transit on her own, but I sincerely hope that she will feel comfortable doing so as an adult.  Until then, we’ll be off in search of just-right adventures of our own, in books and in life.  Some solo, some together.

Read More:

  • Lenore Skenazy’s writes about letting her nine-year-old ride the NYC subway alone (and the response she got after she wrote about it) in this essay.
  • The recent NPR story about free-range parenting.
  • A review of The Bus Ride from one of my favorite kidlit review blogs.
  • Peek inside a bit of The Bus Ride on the publisher’s web site.

Pirate arms vs. Robot arms

One of the most common questions I am asked regarding my prosthetic arm is some variation of the following: “Why don’t you have one of those cool robot hands I saw on TV?”

My standard answer is to talk about how prosthetics are expensive and often not covered by insurance.  This explanation usually makes sense to people, but I can’t help but feel that I’m letting them down.  After all, the basic design for my prosthesis was developed in 1812.  The materials have changed for the better; they are lighter and cheaper. But I still look like I belong on a pirate ship with my body-powered, hook-shaped prosthesis.

amazingbioI bring this up now because we are in the middle of Disability History Month (at least we would be if we were in the UK), and it seemed like a good time to link to this article from How Stuff Works: How Prosthetic Limbs Work. It is a fantastic article that covers a lot of the points I usually make, like how expensive this stuff is, how they haven’t changed that much, and how they don’t last a lifetime.  People don’t usually think about these things.  They just think about the cool documentary they watched about the cutting edge stuff.  A kid might think of a book they read like Amazing Feats of Biological Engineering, which makes it seem like bionics are more here and now than they are.*  Or they think: We live in the twenty-first century; Robot arms should be a reality by now.

It does seem like we’re getting closer to that reality.  3-d printing offers some really interesting options for prosthetics, and organizations like E-Nable are trying to connect people who could benefit from the technology to the people who know how to use it.  I am excited to see where this will lead.  Perhaps sometime soon my old pirate arm will be a thing of the past.

Until then, it would be cool to see a documentary or read a book about the prosthetic devices that people are actually using right now.  Even if they do seem like they are from another era.

 

More questions about my prosthetic arm answered here.

 

* Nothing against the book.  It’s actually pretty cool to see prosthetics addressed at all, and if it encourages kids to think about this kind of technology, I’m all for it.

On Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown_Girl_Dreaming-200If you are a regular reader of this blog or you landed here searching for information about Brown Girl Dreaming, I probably don’t need to explain to you how stories can change lives.  Maybe you are a reader who has long been drawn to the power of story.  Maybe you’re a parent looking for books to instill that appreciation in your kids.  Or maybe you’re a librarian who has made connecting people with books into a career.  Whatever the case, I think you know what stories can do.

Brown Girl Dreaming was a story I had to read twice to really appreciate.  The first time I flew through the pages looking for familiar elements that I so rarely see in books.  You see, I spent my childhood learning the days of the week by their religious obligation, standing quietly during the Pledge of Allegiance, and sitting out of school holiday celebrations just like Jacqueline Woodson did.  Like other minority experiences, it is one that is not often reflected in books, especially books for kids.

For readers who have never had the experience, let me tell you how it feels to read a book about a person who shares something that sets you apart from most people: it is thrilling. I tore through Brown Girl Dreaming looking for what we shared.  There was much we didn’t share–Woodson is African-American and grew up in the 1960s; I am Caucasian and grew up in the 1980s–but so many of her words and feelings might have been mine when it referenced our shared childhood religion.

In the world of children’s books, we have been talking a lot about the need for books to reflect the diverse experiences, cultures, ethnicities, abilities, etc. of young readers.  I have always believed that, but Brown Girl Dreaming made me feel it.

My second time through the book was slower.  I wanted to read it again to see what others who don’t share my religious background were seeing.  In that reading, I saw an exquisite coming-of-age memoir that was about so much more than religion.  It was about the power of stories to shape who we are. Woodson wrote about the stories her family told, the stories she read, and the stories she wrote as a child, and how they all became part of her.  She concludes her memoir by describing herself as a person who believes in many things, who carries many worlds inside of her because of those experiences of listening, reading, and observing the stories around her.

If there is one idea I can share with others, it is the one expressed in the final poem: “When there are many worlds, love can wrap itself around you, say, Don’t cry.”  Seek many worlds for yourself.  Listen, read, observe.

Links of interest: