I have been around children my whole adult life. I worked in childcare in college and after, I watch family members' children on the reg and I have two nieces I absolutely adore.
With that being said, I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly (poop on the floor, ugly) when in comes to children. I have also seen the amazing.
Children are the most innocent, kind-hearted, funny people in the world and they do it all so effortlessly. If we could all take que's from our society's future that would be great.
Like adults, there are no two same children. There are commonalities, but I have never had two children be exactly the same. However, the one thing all children are, is curious. And I love that. I love how explorative and imaginative a child can be. How hungry they are to learn about anything and everything. Their repeated "why's" can be the death of me, but they can also be my saving grace because it means they are interested. As we all know keeping children interested in one thing for a long time is damned near impossible.
So it never, ever bothers me when a child asks me why I have a fake leg. Or when we talk about it 15 times in one day. I love talking about it. I mean, I love to talk about my leg with anyone. I frequently talk in my blogs about keeping an open dialogue about differences and abnormalities and making sure people like me are represented in the world.
But with children, it's even more exciting because I love the moment they notice. I love their unabandoned stares (not that that has always been the case, but that's a different story), and their tugs on their parents sleeves, I love the moment they finally find the voice to ask me why I have my leg.
But more importantly than those random moments in public, I look forward to these moments with the children I see all the time. It's the perfect chance for me to have a real conversation, witch children of any age, and teach them that not everyone looks the same, but it doesn't mean they are less of a person or that it means something is wrong with them.
In college, I was working at my first childcare center and we were about three or so months into the new school year. I was sitting on the ground playing with the kids when one started moving my pant leg up on my prosthetic leg side. She then pushed her pant leg up to look at her leg. Some of the other kids came over and we talked for about 15 minutes about how some people have two real legs and some people have one real one and one fake one. And even more amazing, she brought it up a few days later. "Miss Toni has that leg so she doesn't fall down when she walks." And I melted because was that the same conversation we had? No. But she figured out a way to process it in her brain even days later at that.
My nieces are a completely different story. They are both completely oblivious and ennammored by my leg. Oblivious to the fact that I could have two normal legs, oblivious that other people would even notice, oblivious to the fact that it makes me abnormal. To them, I'm just the way I am. But they are so curious about it. They want to see me take it off. They want to help. They like to try it on. One time they found my old, small legs in their dad's old bedroom closet at my parents' house, and for an hour they tried them on and we talked about them. I had one more opportunity to normalize my difference in their eyes and it was insainly humbling to see them be so interested and unbothered by my legs.
To make things better and to add a little extra gooeyness to my life, my older niece has really started to remember why I have to wear my prosthetic. She knows it makes my legs the same length. The younger one still ask about it a lot. She's still trying to remember it all. The conversation goes a little like this:
"Why you have that leg?" my youngest niece asks as she crouches down to take a peek.
I smile and pull my pant leg up a little bit more so she can see more of the floral pattern on my leg. "Well...why do I have my leg?" I ask back to see if she remembers the twenty or so previous conversations we've had about my leg during her life.
She shrugs. "I'unno...'Cuz."
"Remember, this leg," I point to my prosthesis, "was shorter than this leg," I point to my real leg. "And so I have my fake one so I can walk. Remember?"
"Uh huh," B says automatically even though I know she doesn't remember. She keeps running her hand over the different grooves and features of my prosthetic leg. Sometimes, when I'm sitting and my leg stays straight, she likes to push the foot and watch it fall. And then she lifts the foot to watch it fall again. This time, though, she just touches it. "Your other one at the camper?" she asks.
I nod. "Yep. So I can go swimming."
She nods and goes to find something else to worry about.
And it warms me every time. They see it, and we talk and we move on. They care, but only in the innocently, curiousness of a child. Only because they have the hunger and desire to understand.
And if we all were curious and open enough to understand someone else, as children so effortlessly do, I firmly believe we would and could be better.