Riley Cate is pretty great.
At four years old, my niece is already spreading the word about Limb Loss Awareness. Just last week, a new teacher came to her preschool. “My name’s Rebecca,” the woman told the class.
“My aunt’s name is Rebecca!” Riley Cate chimed in.
“Well, then we’re just alike!” the woman said.
But Riley scrunched up her eyebrows in disagreement. She squatted down by the woman’s feet for a closer look.
“Do you like my shoes?” the woman asked.
“I’m not lookin’ at your shoes.” Riley told her. “I’m lookin’ at your legs. You have TWO legs.”
“Well, of course, I have two,” the woman answered. “Everyone has two legs.”
Riley stood her ground. “Not everyone!” she told the woman. “My Aunt Rebecca only has ONE leg. So you’re not the same at all!” With that, she turned on her heels and walked away. Point made.
She’s a smart cookie, that Riley Cate. Maybe even smarter than some adults.
When Riley Cate was born, I still had two legs. For days, I helped my sister and brother-in-law in the hospital, rocking my tiny niece, walking her up and down the hallway, even carrying her to the lab for her footprints and hearing test.
Eight months later when I landed in the hospital, my sister sneaked Riley into my room as a surprise. At that time, my niece was still pretty bald, was just learning to sit up by herself, and played a mean game of Peek-A-Boo with the bed sheets. We made bets about who would walk first, me or Riley.
I won, but only by a hair.
When Riley turned two, she noticed my prosthesis for the first time. My sister and I were standing in the kitchen wearing shorts. Riley, a knee-high toddler, raced by us. But then unexpectedly, she stopped in her tracks. She looked at my sister’s legs. Then looked at mine. Looked at my sister’s. And looked back at mine. Her eyes bounced back and forth, comparing and contrasting. After a second or two, she took off again.
We didn’t know what she was thinking. She never said anything about it, and never stopped to look again. We almost forgot it happened. Until several months later. That’s when my sister brought home a dog named Hope, who had only three legs.
“Hope is missin’ a leg!” Riley proclaimed proudly. And then the rest came tumbling out. “Just like Aunt Rebecca. But Aunt Rebecca has one real leg and one pretend leg!”
My sister called to tell me about Riley’s newest observation. We couldn’t believe it. She had figured it out all on her own!
The following summer, my sister and I spent a weekend together at a hotel with a pool. As we got ready to swim, Riley Cate — now pushing three-and-a-half — flew around the room like a sprite with water wings. But when I pulled out my brand new swim leg, she swooped in for a closer look. Her saucer-like eyes grew wide, and then wider.
“My swimming leg is blue,” I told her. But she wouldn’t be fooled. She knew this was much more than a lesson on colors.
I have to say it’s a bit awkward – putting on a prosthesis and bathing suit with a three-year-old’s face just inches away!
“I have one big leg and one little leg,” I told Riley, as I tucked my little leg into the socket.
I could see her mind at work: Aunt Rebecca wears a swim leg. I wear floaties.
We headed down to the pool, which turned out to be much more exciting than a “pretend leg” anyway!
But that night when I took off my prosthesis, I caught Riley Cate’s eyes on me again. She stood behind me, one leg tucked beneath her body like a tiny flamingo. Then she held one of my crutches as if taking my hand. Together we hopped across the room.
The next morning, as we packed up to head our separate ways, Riley popped over to my bed.
I was fully dressed in shorts, prosthesis, and sandals. My Genium’s toes were painted with pink nail polish. Riley looked me up and down, once again trying to make sense of the picture. “But where’s your BABY LEG?” she asked finally.
Here we go again….
As she gets older, Riley will continue to put the pieces together, and more questions will emerge. But right now, she’s more concerned that I tie her shoes, walk her to the park, and lift her onto the merry-go-round. For her birthday, I bought her roller-skates so we can skate together. I’m never sure what she’ll say next, but as long as she talks loud and proud about her aunt with one leg, we’ll always be on equal footing!
Follow my journey at www.my-1000-miles.blogspot.com.