Monday, May 23, 2011

Katie's Arm

My mom told the story of when she and my sister-in-law were Christmas shopping when my daughter Katie was 10 or 12. They ran across a very cheap deal on a hooked-rug kit. Mom wondered if this would make a good Christmas present for Katie; Tina too questioned the wisdom of a latch-hook rug for Katie. Turned out, though, that Mom was worried about a dust-catcher for an asthmatic child, whereas Tina wasn't sure whether Katie could DO latch-hooking. Mom was taken aback at first. Why wouldn't Katie be able to do latch-hook? Well, because of her arm, Aunt Tina wondered. (Tina was still kind of new to the family at that point.)

You see, Katie was born with only half her left arm. No hand on that side, although you can see the little dents and shapes on the end of her left arm where the hand and fingers would have developed. I often forget that people here don't know if her missing arm was from an accident or a birth defect. She was only 3 when we moved to our former home and church and met all our homeschooling friends there. But now, with Katie being an adult, people are polite and don't ask the questions that were easy to ask when she was a wee one.

It's hard for us to remember that some people see Katie as handicapped. We have all sorts of stories about her abilities. Of all our kids, she was the one who learned to unscrew jar lids, work snaps and zippers, and unbutton buttons at the youngest age.

There was the story of meeting some new homeschoolers at a state conference. They lived only 20 minutes away, and we spent hours with them on the weekend of the conference and several shorter visits at home. Later, we were planning another get-together. The morning before they came over to play, Abbey (the friend) said something about Katie's only having one arm. The mom told her kids to knock off the stupid stories. WHY would they make up something so outlandish??? The kids argued: "But, Mom, she DOES only have one arm." "That's silly. I've seen her. She's not missing an arm." When they arrived, the kids made sure to point out to Mom Katie's left arm. Even then, the mom didn't believe Katie had one arm: there she was, sweeping out the garage. "Mom! Look again!" Wow. She really does have only half an arm on that side! But she can do everything. You'd never notice the kid is handicapped! Indeed.

Here's another funny story that Katie told me about her paper route one day. She said she reached into her bag to pull out a paper to toss onto a porch. It slipped out of her hand. She reached in again, and again missed grabbing the paper. On her third failed attempt to yank a paper out of her carrier-bag, she realized why she couldn't pick up the paper. She was using her left arm. Well, I figure if SHE could momentarily forget that she didn't have a hand on that arm, then I can't be scolded for the times I forget she has only one.

Long before we moved here, Kantor was trying to figure out one day which kids were mine. He didn't seem them often. I was trying to describe Katie by hair color and length, height, build, prettiness, glasses, and whatever other identifying markers I could think of. Finally it crossed my mind to say, "Oh, she's the one missing her left arm." Oh! Of course! Then he knew right away which kid I meant. But he said he felt like a jerk for having that be the thing by which he finally identified her, and he heckled me for not using "one-armed" as the first thing to describe her. Sorry, but Katie's lack-of-arm is such a complete non-issue that I forget that other people might notice it.

Although Katie has run into a few things as a mom that are a little harder with one arm [much harder to multi-task: nursing a baby, reading to a toddler, and making supper all at the same time] I think Katie's biggest "handicap" is in how other people see her. When she went job-hunting the first time, employers didn't see her. They saw a big fat emptiness where her hand was supposed to have been. I wish I could say "their loss." (And that would be true.) But it's also hard for a person to overcome the manager's First Impression, and thus not be given the chance to show how very capable she is.


  1. So I shouldn't be surprised that Alia has almost gotten all zippers down and *really really* wants to learn how to tie shoes?
    I do feel funny with this post coming today as I'm calling airports/airlines for "disability assistance."

  2. It would be tricky enough to get through the airport with the two girls and luggage even with two arms. Sure, take their assistance!

  3. As for Kantor feeling like a jerk - I know how he feels. I've never been around someone like Katie and so sure I notice and I wonder. How'd it happen? What's it like? How does she manage? Is it polite to ask? And I feel like a jerk for wondering and thinking and not seeing the person.

  4. Glenda, I don't think Kantor was being a jerk at all. I felt kind of bad that I didn't think earlier in my description of Katie to include "one-armed." It just seems to me like such an insignificant part of who she is. But yes, we recognize that other people will notice.

    I hope Katie will chime in on whether people should ask. But I do know she's said that her response depends on whether somebody is being nicely curious or rudely curious. She doesn't mind at all when kids ask. They're upfront and honest and want to know. She tells them. She gets a little upset with parents who try to hush their children and make the kids pretend like they didn't notice. And yet, there IS plenty of rudeness out there, and she hates that.

    Also, people wondering is part of why I wrote this. A bunch of the teens from our church go to a Catholic school. One of the families there had a baby with an arm like Katie's. One of the moms at church asked if she could pass my name along to the mom of the baby. But Julie was leery of asking. That's when I realized that there are probably lots of people who wonder, but who weren't told. We haven't had to explain for nearly two decades, and it didn't cross my mind (until Julie was brave enough to ask) that it might be good if I brought it up for those who would like to ask but are wearing their Politeness Hats.

  5. Just speaking for me here, yes I noticed at first, but now I don't. I never really gave much though about if Katie's arm was always this waynor not. It just is the way it is and sure seems to work fine for her.

    My cousin was born without fingers on her left hand. I was very used to that, so I guess see Katie like that. The only things my cousin has trouble doing is typing, chopping veggies, and shuffling cards! So she types a little slower, own a food processor and a card shuffling machine.

    Anyway, when I see Katie at church, I just see a young mom having a great time with her little girls.

  6. Yes, ask. Although if a person looks very self-conscious about it just be very gentle about it.

    I may have hated typing lessons, but since I can type faster than most people* I know. I know mom definitely picked the right book

    *Both with "two" and with one. Yep, mom, I did learn one handed typing too although my speed drops by about 10-20wpm.

  7. Obviously Katie needs my fabulous pink jacket for interviews. :D