Jack wobbled across the sidewalk on uneasy legs. At just 18 months, walking and jumping were new. But running, the act of balancing on the balls of his feet, wasn’t just new, it felt strange and foreign.
But that didn’t stop him. Jack chased my 4-year-old daughter with vigor and tenacity. He played and ran alongside of her until he lost his balance and stumbled forward. But thankfully, the eager boy never fell or got hurt, because his mom Jess caught him.
With instant reflexes, Jess scooped up her son’s 20+ pound body up and held him close, because that’s what parents do. They see and they save. But I was particularly impressed by Jess’s swift action because she’s more than a wife and a young mother, she’s one of 1.7 million Americans living without a limb.
Jess lost her right arm in summer of 1998, when a car she was riding in collided with a garbage truck. She was just 6 years old.
And while Jess doesn’t view her disability as a hindrance, there are times the young mother wishes she had a second hand. “I have adapted, but two hands would make some things easier, like changing Jack’s diaper or holding him when I’m preparing a bottle,” she says. Still, nothing stops Jess; she parents just like you or I, because she is a parent and person first. And while her disability is a part of her life, it’s little more than a backdrop.
Of course, Jess wasn’t born with this mentality. In fact, she attributes her positive outlook to her mother. After the accident, her mother treated her exactly as she had before. Jess was still expected to cook, clean, and do her chores.
She also considers her age at the time of the accident to be a consideration. “I was so young, I didn’t see a difference. My mom didn’t see a difference and I just thought I could do things,” she says. “When you’re that young, you have no fear; you just do. You adapt.”
And adapt she has. During the course of our interview, Jess prepared Jack’s meal, a small snack of cut fruit and slivered cheese. She held him, played with him, and changed him — all with relative ease. However, she finds the social implications of her disability far more daunting than the physical ones.
“The women I work with do not treat me any differently, nor does my husband, but I think Jack notices. I’ll say ‘grab my hand, grab my hand,’ and he won’t grab my nub. He already notices something different,” she admits.
The determined mother worries how this difference will affect her son growing up. “I fear for him when he has school events or something, because kids are curious and I don’t want to take the attention away from him, especially in a negative way.” That said, Jess isn’t worried about the attention herself. In fact, she feels blessed to live life as a one-handed person. “[It helps me] be with people who are genuine and accept me for my differences,” she shares.
Jess’s disability also gives her an opportunity to advocate for those in the differently-abled community. When asked about her arm, she happily explains her situation in an age-appropriate way:
“I tell parents and kids I got a boo-boo and lost my hand. I tell them it doesn’t hurt, and I do whatever I can to make it less scary, because seeing my nub can be scary … when I tell kids I lost my hand, [many] say, ‘It’s okay, I’ll help you find it’ or ‘It’s okay, it will grow back.’ But the most important thing they say is ‘it’s okay’ because it is. Having a physical deformity is okay.”
And that is a message Jess wants to share with everyone: No matter who you are, you are okay.
When asked if there was anything she would like others to know, she suggests, “If you see someone struggling, don’t just watch: ask, offer, do. Especially moms, because moms — all moms — need help. We could all use a hand.”