The day I dreaded for over 4 years

It finally arrived.  The moment that I dreaded since Marla was born… School.

I’ve spent the last 4 and a bit years since she was born worrying about her starting school, what the kids will say, will she get bullied, feel self conscious…  I tried to tell myself so many times that it wasn’t worth worrying about and if I could just prepare her enough then she’ll be fine and just go with the flow.

One of the reasons I pushed to get her 3d printed hand made was for her to wear it to school so that it would give a positive first impression, but unfortunately she didn’t want to wear it.  She seemed to get on OK, the teachers mentioned she’d had a few questions from the kids, but she’d appeared to answer them with no particular issues.

One week into her settling in days we were invited in to receive some further information and for a chance to chat to the teachers.  While I sat down to listen I had a quick look in her school bag and asked Marla whether she had been using her plastic hand, “no”, she replied, “the kids can see my little hand under the straps”, then I noticed she was pulling her cardigan sleeve down over her little hand to hide it, something she has never done before. She than ran off to play with her little sister and show her all around the classroom. The teacher remarked about how confident she was with her and that she’d been quite quiet so far.  I was surprised to hear this as she’s pretty much the loudest child on the planet, so she must have been quite affected by her changing world if she was being quiet. We asked the teacher how she was getting on and mentioned the cardi, but she said apart from a few questions she hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary.

Two days later, her Grandad picked her up from school and brought her home later in the evening, whilst I was out with some friends.  The Fella texted me while I was out… “Marla had a bit of a bullying problem with two boys today. She’s fine so don’t worry but her teacher wants to see us on Monday” – my heart nearly stopped.  Then all the questions started whizzing around my head: was it because of her hand, was it normal, is she really ok, who were they, can we talk to their parents… it when on and on and pretty much spoiled my evening out, while I sat bombarding him with questions he couldn’t answer. When I got to speak to Grandad he couldn’t tell me much more, being deaf he’d missed a lot of what was said. Marla didn’t tell me much more either and I didn’t want to press her too much in case it upset her. The only thing I could gather was that she’d been roared at and that her friend had gone to get a teacher to help her. Whenever I’ve talked about the subject of bullies or being picked on, I’ve always tried to tell Marla  that she should just be nice to them, because maybe they just need a friend, or at least if they aren’t getting a rise out of you then they might just leave you alone, it’s a nice theory, but in practise when you’re 4 you’re not likely to remember it when you’re being roared at.

That weekend was filled with sleepless nights while my imagination ran wild with what had happened.  I tried to convince myself that it was just normal and that everything is fine, it wasn’t her hand, it was just normal kids being kids. Then Monday came along and we both walked Marla into school in the morning to talk to the teacher.  She came over when she saw us and told us that the kids had all been standing in a circle to hold hands, when the little boy next to her looked at her hand, he started laughing, he had also called her a monster and roared at her until she cried. My heart broke. I hadn’t expected to hear that it had been about her hand and it hit me pretty hard. Fighting back tears, I asked what they were going to do about it. Their answer was to talk to the child in question. Apparently he had some kind of “special circumstances” at home and weren’t going to be discussing it with his parents. I felt so frustrated not knowing what to do to fix it. I wanted to just scoop Marla up and take her away from it all.

The next day, I brought into the school Marla’s “Different is Awesome” book by Ryan Haack and gave it to the teacher to read to the kids.  It’s a story about a little boy who takes his one handed older brother in for Show and Tell, throughout the story all the kids in the class ask him questions about how he does stuff and all of them are different in their own ways, like being tall, wearing glasses… it’s a brilliant book which really helps for kids to see that not everyone is the same and that people with limb differences really aren’t that different.

But when I picked her up that afternoon, they hadn’t had a chance to read it yet. I spoke to our OT at the Limb Centre and asked her advice and whether she could come to the school and talk to the kids. I also put a post on the Reach Facebook group to ask their advice.

Thankfully the next day I collected Marla from school and the teacher came over to tell me how well it had gone.  They had sat the kids down, read the book and then got Marla to show everyone her knife cuff and 3d printed hand.  The kids were amazed by it and loved it.  The little boy who had bullied her previously went off to make himself a “robot hand” so he could look like Marla. I welled up again, only this time happy tears filled with relief.

One of the things that was suggested by the Reach group was to make a book about Marla, so I got her to help me make a photobook about herself.  We found an app and filled it with pictures of her doing all the things she loves, like climbing, riding her scooter, baking and painting, etc. We also showed photos of her going to the hospital for prosthetics and of the time she was in the newspapers and on the telly and radio when we got her 3d printed hand. And we put a photo of her with Phoebe, showing she’s not the only one with a hand difference. We made it up in a day, ordered it for printing and it arrived at the end of the week, the following Monday it was delivered to the school and it went down brilliantly.  The kids wanted to know if they could have a book about them too.

Now when I drop her off or pick her up from school, we often end up walking in front of kids from her class and overhear them saying “look mummy, that’s Marla – she has a robot hand!”.

It’s half term now and, thankfully, there have been no further incidents. She’s loving school, made friends (her teacher said she’s even friends with the little boy who bullied her), and I can finally breathe after nearly 4 and a half years of holding my breath, waiting for this to happen. Thankfully she’s not hidden her little hand since and has gone back to the confident, loud, little girl that we know and love. Although we’ll see what happens when she starts big school in roughly 7 years…