Jessica, Namine, and I had Thanksgiving lunch with Jessica’s side of the family. We made green bean casserole, corn bread casserole (although it might just be called “corn casserole” because there’s corn and corn bread mix in it), sweet potato casserole, and pumpkin pie.
Namine doesn’t get to see her cousins all that often. Because no one else in the family is disabled, she is seen as somewhat of a curiosity; she crawls, and this is simply fascinating to Namine’s youngest cousin. Due to the natural lack of brain-mouth filter that all children have, this results in some awkward questions. I’m sure every parent knows the experience: your kid just said something completely insensitive and now you have to take them aside to tell them you can’t just say that!
That very thing happened at lunch. Namine’s youngest cousin, who is 4, saw Namine crawling and said (loudly), “You move slow. Why do you move slow?” Her mother audibly gasped, but Namine was not bothered at all. She knows her legs are different, and she has never minded explaining how she goes about her day-to-day to someone who does not know.
In fact, later in the afternoon another one of her cousins asked her (probably a little more tactfully) about her legs. Namine was happy to explain that she was born that way; about the curvature of her leg bones; about the botched first foot surgery and the corrective nature of the second. Not having her walker there at her uncle’s house, she enlisted my help in showing how she walks with support.
Jessica and I have talked with Namine about answering questions about herself. Adults do not typically ask; they stare, thinking that perhaps their stares are not noticed. Children have less tact, so they ask the hard, awkward questions. Namine knows that she does not have to answer. She owes people no response, given that it is a sensitive and personal matter.
Namine does not have to answer, but she does. She’s always been happy to explain as much as she can. She understands that no one is born knowing these things. Learning brings knowledge, and with knowledge comes understanding and compassion. It’s never too early to educate. Tact will come later.