The number one question I overhear when out in public is “Mommy (or Daddy), what happened to her leg?” When I overhear this I usually look at the kid, smile, and ask them if they’d like to come ask me any questions about my robot leg and point out to them how cool it is. This is usually met by a shocked look on the child’s face because they aren’t yet old enough to realize that other people aside from the person they are talking directly to can hear what they’re saying. Some kids are brave and take the opportunity to come ask me questions and touch my robot legs, but others are shy about it. What I want to encourage is that if faced with a situation where a person your child is asking about offers the chance to ask questions, strongly encourage your child to do so.
This exact situation happened to me recently while waiting in the Charlotte airport. I was reading a book and just happened to overhear a little girl (probably around 3 or 4 years old) sitting across the aisle ask her dad what happened to my leg. I took the opportunity to do what I always do – look at her, smile, and ask if she wanted to ask me any questions. She immediately got shy and tried to retreat behind her dad, but he coaxed her into coming over so she could get a closer look at my leg and ask questions. I explained to her that the leg I was born with didn’t work the way it should and so they had given me a robot leg to allow me to do all the things I wanted to do, like running, biking, and riding horses. I showed her the recent espnW article I was featured in, but I honestly think she was more interested in my leg’s sparkles than my recent “fame.” After a few minutes she was satisfied and went back to her seat across the aisle. Due to delays, we sat in that airport at least another hour and a half, and she had totally lost interest in my leg. I would glance over ever now and then and she was completely enthralled with her dad, mom, brothers, or toys, paying absolutely no attention to me.
This, in my mind, is awesome, and is the exact reason I want to encourage parents to get your children to ask questions when the person initiates that opportunity rather than allowing them to shy away. I have had very different situations when parents allow their child to hide behind them after I ask if they would like to ask me any questions and that child will continue to stare and wonder what really happened. However, since this little girl’s dad brought her over to me, I was able to shape the narrative and tell her what happened to my leg in an honest and understandable way. I normalized my situation for her and helped her understand it wasn’t something she should be afraid of or avoid asking questions about. Thus, rather than spending an hour and a half sneaking glances at my leg and wondering, she had an answer and was able to move on with her life carrying this new knowledge that it’s okay to look different and ask questions when someone gives you that opportunity.
P.S. I allowed my niece and nephew to draw pictures all over my residual limb during our recent vacation and they thought my leg was pretty much the coolest thing ever after that. It my mind, it’s all about finding a way to connect with people so they can be as comfortable about it as you are (and an important piece of that is that you probably have figure out a way to find your comfort with it first).