Friday, April 20, 2012


(Special guest entry by mommy)

Staring. I've dealt with people staring at me my entire life. Ever since I can remember, people would stare, surprised that I don't have any legs and only have one arm. I've always just ignored it, or tried to ward off pesky starers by staring back, or saying something "clever."

Adults and children both stare. Most adults stop staring relatively quickly or try to stare when they don't think you can see them staring. Kids stare and keep staring. And then some of them make comments. Loud ones. Like, "mommy, that girl doesn't have any legs!" It's been a really downer since it's become, "what happened to that lady's arm?" I much preferred being that girl. Anyone who knows me is aware that I'm a very confident person. I don't make any attempts to hide my disability. I don't wear prosthetics; I do wear short sleeves.  And I'm a pro at ignoring adult staring.

It turns out kid staring is another animal. I don't remember it being so different when I was a kid, but I think I was mostly around other kids who were familiar with me, such as classmates and 4-H pals. I remember once when our family was on vacation in northern Michigan, my younger sister, who was about 10 year old, told a particularly annoying starer that "nothing is wrong with my sister - there's something wrong with you!" Before I had Gavin, when kids stared and made comments, I tried to smile and engage them, inviting them to make contact and have a positive experience with a person with a disability. Parents are usually really embarrassed by their child, and often try to hush and whisk said child away. Those of us with disabilities have long spoken out that teaching kids avoidance and fear is an early negative message that leads to exclusion and intolerance. Children staring at someone who looks and moves differently is totally natural.

So why does it bother me so much? Why do I feel so uncomfortable being stared at by kids and hearing all the questions and exclamations of surprise? The way adults try to act like they're not staring sounds sneaky, but I'm learning that I actually appreciate it. Even though I think adults stare now more than ever (she has a baby?), at least it's quick and/or subtle. Before Gavin, I was okay with the occasional supermarket kid staring. I could gear myself up for a trip to a child-infested destination like a zoo or an aquarium. At the risk of this being a complete "duh" moment, there are kids everywhere I go with Gavin - the baby store, the pediatrician's office, and most of all, the daycare.

Earlier this week, I was wearing a long sleeve sweater at work (in the freezing hospital). By the time I went to pick up Gavin, it was in the 80s (Thank you, April in Texas) and I was getting hot. I was about to take off my sweater, but then the thought crossed my mind that traipsing into that daycare with an exposed stump was like leading a lamb to slaughter. I could just envision my white arm contrasting with my black tank top - attracting all these busy bees to their flower. I stopped dead in my tracks. Was I seriously trying to keep my arm hidden to detract attention? Yes, I was. Is that wrong?

Maybe it's just that I go in and out of the daycare twice a day, every weekday. I just want it to be smooth and simple. I don't want to take time to educate other people's children and make them feel comfortable around people with disabilities. Frankly, I don't have the time. That sounds really bad. I feel guilty that I'm uncomfortable with children staring at me. I know it's natural, and I know they mean no harm. I wonder how Gavin will learn to handle it, and questions about his mom. I have a feeling he'll teach me a thing or two.

How do other disabled parents feel about staring? How do you handle it? What do your kids do?


  1. E., I do not have a disability but I am fascinated by some parallels of your experience with mine, as a lesbian with a young family. Some days I'm the positive role model, other days I don't want to be the Poster Child. Strangers do stare and others who do not know me believe I am not a fit parent. I know my son will learn how to handle questions about his mom(s) but I also know he'll have moments of struggle and frustration too.

    A major difference between you and me, of course, is that I am not regularly called out on my difference and it's much easier for me to "hide" being gay.

    I do not have any wisdom to impart, E., only empathy in relating to not wanting to always lead a "The More You Know" moment. I totally get it. Great entry.

  2. Cathy, thanks for your comments. I didn't think about the parallels with the experience of being a lesbian mother, but I think the similarities are striking. Although you can "pass" as straight, you also have to negotiate the matter of disclosure, which I don't have to think about. I would like to see those of us who are members of diverse groups come together in support, because there is a lot of crossover in the issues we face. It is important to me personally for my son to be around all kinds of other kids and families. I want him to appreciate the natural diversity of humanity and understand that there are many ways to create and be a family.

  3. Gavin is one very lucky little boy. :) If he inherits even half of your kindness this world will be a better place.

  4. My father lost most of his hearing to measles as a child. He's always been supremely unselfconscious about his hearing aid and hearing needs, and I think that's served him well. Ill-fitting earmold causing soreness or feedback? He whips out the earmold and a pen knife, and trims it down, or grease it down with vaseline, wherever we were -- something I've never seen anyone else do, and I know bothersome earmolds are a big issue for hearing aid users. Back when he had a shirt-pocket style mike, he'd take the microphone out of his front pocket and place it on the table to pick up the conversation better; now he has behind-the-ear, with a pickup in his completely deaf ear, he'll hang the pickup earpiece in his beard to get it away from (say) street noise and on the side with the conversation. Or, again, he'll put the pickup on the table. At a restaurant, he'll take out his better-sounding analog hearing aid, and swap in the distoring but sound-canceling digital hearing aid. No one ever comments or seems to look, even though a hearing aid mold is a smelly, medical-looking object; I was a shy, mortally self-conscious child, but none of this -- or needing to pitch my voice quite loud for him in some situations -- ever bothered me. It was just a fact of life.

  5. Hello! I'm an amputee mom (left, below knee) and somehow stumbled upon your blog. I'm really enjoying it and I really relate to this post. I love having positive interactions with kids and hope that they walk away feeling like 'that lady with one leg' is just a normal lady, like my mom or other women I know. But it can be tiring and annoying too. Like you're always on call. Always up for the next question or always prepared to put on the sweet face. I totally agree. Great post. I look forward to reading through your other posts. I had my amputation when my kids were 3, 7, 9 and 10 so I never really did the baby thing with one leg. I have a lot of respect for parents of newborns who are figuring out how to do it all, just a bit differently. There is a great need for more parenting blogs for disabled parents or parents to be!
    Judy Berna
    my blog is at (my memoir's blog) and (mostly my parenting columns for the paper)