What I Told the Little Boy Who Asked Why I Only Have One Leg
My journey of becoming an amputee is a long and complicated one, but I’m not going to bore you with all of the details. Instead, I’m going to tell you a story that has stayed with me and will always stay with me.
It was about a week or two after my amputation, and my mother, sister and I had gone to the store because I’d been growing restless and needed to get out of the house. My mom and sister got in line at the checkout, and I decided to wheel myself out of the way to wait.
A few minutes later, I noticed a young boy quickly looking at me, quickly looking away and then looking at me again. He eventually worked up the courage to walk over to me directly and asked a simple question in the way only children can do. His mother was walking towards us and within hearing distance, and the question this young boy asked absolutely mortified her:
“How come you only got one leg?”
I admit I was taken by surprise. It wasn’t the question itself that surprised me but the seriousness of how he’d asked it. He had a quizzical look on his face as he first looked at my leg, or rather my lack of leg, before slowly moving his eyes up to meet mine. I wasn’t entirely sure what to say in response. How do you explain to a little kid that life-threatening infections had been ravaging your knee over and over again for the last three years?
I was mulling this over when a young man standing nearby who was obviously sick himself with a bald head, skinny frame and pale skin answered for me.
“She was either really sick or she was in some kind of accident,” he said quietly before walking away.
I looked at that young man’s back for a moment as he walked off and realized he’d just done me a tremendous favor by giving me a way to explain what I’d been through without getting into the gory details. I turned my attention back to the little boy and explained I had been really sick for a really long time and the only way for me to get better was to have my leg removed.
The boy looked down at my legs and asked if I was feeling better now that my leg was gone. I told him I was still recovering from surgery, but yes, I was feeling better now. He looked up at me with a big smile on his face, and before I knew it, he was giving me a hug.
“I’m glad you feel better now,” he said.
His mother, who had stopped a few feet away from us when she overheard the other young man speaking, walked over to us and put her hands on her son’s shoulders.
“Mom,” he said looking up at her, “she got real sick and now she’s only got one leg, but I think she’s still cool.”
His mom looked at me and thanked me. She must have noticed the slightly confused look on my face, because she laughed and asked if I knew why she was thanking me. I had to admit I had no idea.
“You recognized a teachable moment and took the time to answer my son’s question when you didn’t have to,” she said. “When I heard him ask what he asked I was going to rush over and tell him that we don’t just ask random people questions like that. It’s not polite, but whether you know it or not, you just taught him that people with disabilities are still ‘cool’ and just regular people. Thank you.”
She smiled at me, and she and her son walked away.
My mom and sister had finally made it through the checkout line, and when they reached me, my sister, who had noticed me talking to the boy and his mom, asked what that had been about. My sister is an elementary school librarian, and I looked up at her with a grin.
“I can’t wait to visit your school again.” I said. “I’m a teachable moment on wheels!”
Follow this journey on Tackling Mountains.
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