I am standing at the playground when a solemn looking boy of about five comes up and tugs on my pant leg.
"Hey lady!" he says in a whisper, "Your little boy's arm is missing." He says it with such earnest concern, as if I should start looking for the arm that my son must have dropped along the way."It's okay," I assure him with a smile. "That's just how he was born and he does just fine with one."
I have grown used to the questions and comments, and the much relieved little boy wanders off to play.
When my husband and I first decided to adopt from China, I couldn't wait to bring our child home but I also had many worries. What if something was wrong with the baby? What if she had an unknown "special need"? I wanted a HEALTHY baby with a capital "H," and I would lie in bed at night and worry and worry and then worry some more.
Special needs children were as foreign to me as China herself at that time, and I just knew in my heart that it must take a very special family to willingly walk that path. (Where's that halo?) Oh how naive I was, and how very thankful I am that God gently showed me the truth: Every child on earth is first and foremost, just a child.
After adopting my beautiful daughter Anna, I became involved with charity work in China. The more time I spent in the orphanages there, the more I fell madly, totally, and passionately in love with those children who had medical needs. I held babies with heart conditions and hugged gorgeous and giggly little girls with Hepatitis B.
I rocked baby after baby with cleft lip who would grin at me with their wide smiles and crinkle up their gorgeous eyes. Surely THESE couldn't be the "special needs" that had filled my heart with worry all those years before? These children were amazing, and beautiful, and absolutely perfect in their own way. They opened my heart and filled it with such love.
I will never forget taking a friend to one orphanage so she could see a school we had opened for children with medical needs and watching her be absolutely enthralled as the kids laughed, ran, and played with such joy at recess. "They are all so beautiful!" she said. "I would adopt any of them in a heartbeat." It was then that I told her that every single one of the beautiful children in front of her was labeled special needs. She shook her head with disbelief and said, "Every person in the world should have the experience of standing here watching these kids just be kids." I wish that could happen as well, because I know there is so much fear about the term special needs children simply because people have never had the chance to meet these wonderful kids. I am living proof of that fact.
In 2006 I was given the honor to bring home a little boy from China who was on a waiting child list. My son TJ is missing most of his right arm, but he certainly hasn't let that stop him. Within a few weeks of being home, I was already on the phone with poison control telling them that my son had opened a childproof bottle of vitamins and had eaten almost all of them. "Oh that happens all the time," the agent on the other line said. "Trust me that this was quite a feat," I said back, secretly cheering with pride (after I knew he would live) that my 2-year-old had managed to crack the safety lid with just one hand.
Now I smile when I think back to praying so hard for a healthy baby. My son TJ is as healthy as can be. He just has to get a little more creative when threading beads or trying to hold two of something. I know he will have to face many comments and stares at times, but I know we will work together to figure out how to respond to people in a way that makes him comfortable. I have already seen that once people are around TJ for five minutes, they don't even remember that he is missing an arm. They only notice his huge smile and even bigger personality.
Today TJ and I played outside with his new red wagon that he loves to pull up and down the sidewalk each day. With his one hand he grasped the handle firmly and off he went. I blinked away tears as I said a prayer of thanks that he is now my son. To me he is perfect just the way he is. I watch him as he plays and I see no special needs. All I see in front of me is a black haired boy, a bright blue sky, and a shiny red wagon. TJ drops the handle to turn and wave at me and I am struck once again with how blessed I am to have him in my life. I wave back and shout "I love you, sweetie!" Satisfied that mama is near and watching, he once again grabs the handle of his wagon and marches on with determination, a perfectly beautiful little boy with a whole wide world to explore.
Amy Eldridge is the co-founder of Love Without Boundaries Foundation, an all volunteer charity providing medical care, education and many other needs to the orphans of China.