It’s okay to be different.
At least, that’s what we keep telling our six year old daughter.
She’s quirky, a bit feisty, sometimes very stubborn and oftentimes goes against the grain.
She’s that kid who doesn’t like fried food or sugary food. She loves vegetables, meat and fish. She’s often the last to finish at any activity and sometimes doesn’t finish at all.
She has a very short attention span, yet certain activities she can spend hours doing if she enjoys them.
One of the nurses who took care of her in the NICU where she spent the first seventy-two days of life told us that the headstrong, feisty and sometimes defiant traits are preemie traits. I wasn’t sure if she was kidding or if preemies really do have those traits. Her nurse said that preemies are strong-willed and strong. They’re fighters, because they have to be in order to survive.
I kind of like that perspective. Premature babies are strong because they have to be.
This story is not about premature babies and raising a child who is emotionally and developmentally younger than her cohorts, but about a love story. It’s not a love story about a parent’s love for her child, but about the a love that is just as big. It’s about the love a child has for her pet and how being different teaches children acceptance.
It all started when our friend told us that his dog was having puppies. Living on a farm, we already had a farm dog, but the mere mention of puppies seems to always tug at people’s heartstrings.
Little One begged for us to adopt one of the puppies. To be honest, she actually thought she would be able to take two puppies home with her!
Hubby reluctantly agreed. He said I was a bad influence and an enabler. We already had a grand menagerie of animals on our farm. Over a hundred head of cattle, bunnies, barn cats, a farm dog and chickens — Hubby did not want to add to the craziness that is our life.
Yet, I persisted and Little One got her puppy.
Every week until the puppies were able to be weaned from their mom, I took Little One to visit the puppies. She immediately chose one of the tiniest ones and said, “She’s just like me! Tinier than the rest!”
Little did we know, that puppy actually had the same name as Little One’s real name. By sheer fluke, the owner had named the puppy the first part of Little One’s name. It was love at first sight. Little One loved her weekly visits and got to really know the puppy she’d be taking home. There were hours of cuddles and snuggles. It was really endearing.
When we finally brought the puppy home when she was old enough to be weaned from her mom, Little One didn’t want to be apart from her puppy. She made sure to feed her puppy, give her water, and even cleaned up the floor if the puppy had an accident.
Many valuable lessons were being learned.
Little One quickly learned about responsibility, accountability, patience, and she even learned what sleep deprivation was like. After all, having a new puppy in the house is like having a newborn baby in the house. In those first few weeks, no one had a good night’s sleep!
We also had to change the puppy’s name since it started to get confusing with me yelling Little One’s real name (they shared the same name, remember?). Henceforth, the puppy’s name was Cupcake.
Cupcake did all the things puppies do. She learned to sit, fetch, drop, lay down, give paw, and come all within one week! She also knew how to exercise selective hearing. Cupcake is a smart puppy. One could argue that she was perhaps a little too smart!
Whenever Cupcake heard a vehicle coming down the lane or hear us start our engine, she would immediately run to the porch and sit by the front door. She was scared of vehicles, and we were happy about that.
Just last week, something terrible happened. Cupcake got in the way and ended up in a farm accident. Her hind right leg was hit and broken in half. Little One had just been picked up by the school bus when it happened. I dreaded telling her that her beloved Cupcake was horribly injured.
Cupcake was immediately rushed to the vet’s and the prognosis wasn’t too good. Depending on whether there were other injuries (internal), we could either have her euthanized or amputate the leg.
Cupcake is only four months old, so we elected to have her leg amputated. My heart hurt to see our poor canine baby in pain.
When Little One returned from school, she immediately asked where her puppy was. Spike (the cat) and Chance (our old dog) greeted her after school, but Cupcake was missing.
I told Little One that Cupcake had been in a terrible accident and that the vet had to remove her leg. Little One was visibly upset, but the words that came out of her mouth surprised me.
“Mommy, I’d rather have a three-legged Cupcake than no Cupcake.”
I wasn’t sure whether my six year old fully grasped the gravity of the situation, but I know now that she did.
Cupcake was able to come home two days later and is still the same loving, smart, sweet little puppy she always was. The only difference now is that she’s a tripedal.
I asked Little One how it made her feel that Cupcake only has three legs.
“I feel kind of weird. But, it’s okay to be different. Being different makes her special. Everybody is beautiful and special in their own way. I love my puppy, Cupcake.”
I often wondered how the mind of a child functioned and how their form ideas and opinions on certain subjects. What I mean is, I’ve never known Little One to make fun of or comment on other people’s differences. This has always surprised me.
Little One has been in the presence of people we know who are different and whether it’s facial disfigurement from an accident or fire, or the loss of a limb, or any other difference, Little One has never commented or asked. That’s the curious part to me. I don’t know why she has never asked.
There were times when I wasn’t sure if I should bring up the subject and explain why a friend had scars and burn marks on his face, but I didn’t mention it because she never asked. She just seemed to think that everything was normal — and, I was so happy that she felt it was that way.
Being different teaches children acceptance. Little One is different, so perhaps that is why she is completely happy with her three-legged dog. Perhaps being different helps her see the world in a way that differences should be embraced. Who knows? Maybe I’m just reading too much into things.
It’s just refreshing to see life through the eyes of a six year old’s.