How To Survive Being Stared At

The other day some kids stared at me.  My son’s class was meeting at the park to perform their year-end songs and I decided to surprise Sam by coming.  Earlier I told him I had to work, so when his friends saw me walking toward the park they started shouting, “Sam!  Your dad’s here!  I thought you said he was for sure not coming?!”  Sam ran to me, smiling sheepishly, and wrapped his arms around my neck.  Then his friends came over.  There they stood.  All lined-up, their little 7-year old fingers pointed at me like an adorable firing squad.  “What happened to his arm?” some of them quietly asked.  “Hey, boys,” I said.  I mean, I’m used to this.

I was born missing my left arm just below the elbow.  People have been staring at me my whole life.  Heck, I stare at me when I walk by a store front or when I see myself in a video.  I’m different; it’s a fact of life.  So, those situations at the park are not altogether uncommon.  Kids are curious.  They also have no sense of decorum.  And that’s totally cool, but honestly, it’s still hard sometimes.  It’s hard to be stared at, even when it’s been happening to you for 33 years.

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Even kids with one arm love Bert and Ernie.

So, how do I deal with it?  It helps me to remember a few things.

Kids don’t know any better. I’m not saying kids aren’t smart or anything, I’m just saying they’ve (probably) never seen somebody like me and their brains are still in that stage where they’re like, “HOLY CRAP. THAT DUDE IS MISSING HIS ARM. I MUST KNOW WHY. I WILL ASK HIM IMMEDIATELY.”  I think my favorite reaction is when I tell them that I was born without it and they say, “No you weren’t.  Where is it really?”  They’re convinced I’m somehow hiding it.  It’s awesome.  So, yes, it can still be somewhat awkward when kids stare, but I can’t fault them.  They’re curious; and for good reason.

Parents usually don’t know any better, either. Honestly, parents are harder to deal with.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not mad at them.  I kind of pity them, actually.  Most of the time they have no idea how to react when their child gets vocal about my arm.  And I can’t blame ‘em.  I mean, that’s not one of those things you practice with your child.  “Ok, so if we happen to see someone with one arm today, let’s make sure we politely say hello and walk by them without staring.  If you must ask them what happened, please do so with dignity and tact.”  Right.  Usually the kid blurts out, “HE’S GOT A BROKE ARM!” and the mom’s face contorts in terror while she tries not to stare at me and then yells at her kid to be quiet.  Awkward.  So, for all you parents, take the opportunity to teach your kid that it’s ok to be curious and then help them ask the questions they’re wondering about.  Everybody wins when that happens.

We are all infatuated with differences. Did you ever have that little, thick Guinness Book of World Records when you were a kid?  The one with those humongous twins on tiny motorcycles?  And that super tall guy?  And the guy with the fingernails that curled and curled because they were so long?  Only now do I recognize the irony in my obsession with the abnormal.  The fact is, differences catch our attention.  And that’s not bad, it just…is.  I notice people stealing glances at my arm during conversations and it doesn’t bother me a bit.  I know they can’t help it.  They’re not trying to be rude.  It’s like looking at a white sheet of paper and trying not to stare at the bright yellow blotch in the corner.  Impossible.  I understand that.

And while these ideas help me to some extent, the reality is that sometimes it still hurts to be stared at.  Maybe you feel the same way.  Maybe you’re tall.  Or short.  Or overweight.  Or you have red hair.  Or no hair.  Or you limp.  Or you’re in a wheelchair.  Or you’re blind.  Or you’re a different color than all your friends.  It could be anything.  I want to tell you that it’s ok to not enjoy being stared at.  I also want to tell you to accept that it is a fact of life.  Most people don’t mean to be rude.  Most people don’t even want to stare, they just can’t help it.

I challenge you to believe that you were made just right. I had an atheist college professor named Dr. Goodpastor (delicious, right?) who once asked me, “Since you believe in God, shouldn’t you be mad at him for making you that way?”  Despite being horribly offensive, his question does make sense.  Well, if you believe the only people worth anything are perfectly shaped.  I told him that, no, I don’t believe I should be mad at God.  He made me this way for a reason.  And I believe He made Dr. Goodpastor the way He did for a reason.

And I believe He made you the way He did for a reason.

I believe each of us are “wonderfully made.”

And when we believe that, it’s makes surviving the stares a little bit easier.

Question: What makes you unique?

  • http://twitter.com/CSahlman Chris Sahlman

    Hacck that was a awesome read… bro great job… heep then coming, as in your writing!!

    • http://www.ryanhaack.com Ryan Haack

      Thanks, Sahl!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jenleereeves Jen Lee Reeves

    I love it. Thanks so much for sharing… and I’m planning to share this on Born Just Right!

    • http://www.ryanhaack.com Ryan Haack

      Thanks so much, Jen! So glad you liked it. :)

  • lquirie

    Thanks, so much for your words!!!!! As mommy to a limb difference kiddo who was born in China, we get stared at ALL.THE.TIME. Not only does my son not look like me, his mom, he is also missing an arm…double wammy.

    Love it! Thanks!

    • http://www.ryanhaack.com Ryan Haack

      I’m glad it rang true with you! Hang in there! :)

  • Decrail

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I also believe that we are all wonderfully made! As a teacher I am around kids all the time. I love their honesty and curiosity. I always begin the school year by telling my students about my arm and explaining how my prosthesis works. Then they love to tell the other kids. Later in the year I’ll hear from the younger ones, “Is your arm still broken?” or “Did your arm grow yet?”

    • http://www.ryanhaack.com Ryan Haack

      Love it! Thanks for sharing! Keep up the good work! :)

  • Decrail

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I also believe that we are all wonderfully made! As a teacher I am around kids all the time. I love their honesty and curiosity. I always begin the school year by telling my students about my arm and explaining how my prosthesis works. Then they love to tell the other kids. Later in the year I’ll hear from the younger ones, “Is your arm still broken?” or “Did your arm grow yet?”

  • http://www.onegoodleg.com BJ

    I could not agree with this more. I think the fact that we are all different is one of the great things about life. I wouldn’t want to live in a world where I was exactly like everyone else. I was born with “limb differences” and those differences make me who I am today.

    I also LOVE that your atheist professor was named Goodpastor. Proof that God has a sense of humor? I think maybe :)

    • http://www.ryanhaack.com Ryan Haack

      I think you’re right, BJ! hehe

      Thanks!

  • Brene Brown

    I loved this so much. Thank you for the reminder.

    • http://www.ryanhaack.com Ryan Haack

      Thank you so much, Brene!

  • Lesliemaggirl1

    I really enjoyed this! Very inspirational and love your writing technique…so cool!

    • http://www.ryanhaack.com Ryan Haack

      Thanks so much! I’m glad you enjoyed it! :)

  • Liv Lane

    Beautiful! This really touched me.

    • http://www.ryanhaack.com Ryan Haack

      Thank you, Liv!

  • Daren_Wrasse

    Yep, always differant..being asked by kids why my hair is long…thanks Ryan, maybe you’re the normal one..God, I hope to never be normal. jesus was so differant..aswell..he deff did not conform to the norm.

    • http://www.ryanhaack.com Ryan Haack

      Yeah, why IS your hair so long?? hehe Thanks for commenting, dude!

  • Colleen

    Loved your post! Thanks for sharing :)

    • http://www.ryanhaack.com Ryan Haack

      Thank you, Colleen!

  • http://www.facebook.com/Crying.Ryan Tiffany Curry

    I LOVED THIS POST! :)
    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts Ryan!
    My son also named Ryan, was born without his left hand and forearm right below the elbow.

    • http://www.ryanhaack.com Ryan Haack

      We’re twins!  Not me and you; me and your son.  lol  Glad you liked it, Tiffany! :)

      • Char

        Thank you Ryan, for sharing your wonderful story. I found it very touching and most of all I can relate to the reaction of all those stares from the very little eyes to the big eyes!

  • Nima

    What a great read.  You had me chuckling all throughout!  What a beautiful message, and I wholeheartedly agree.  I think there are just as many struggling with differences on the inside that just aren’t so visible.  God made each of us perfectly and wonderfully… formed us with His own hand, and He was pleased with each one of us.  What a great article, Ryan.  Absolutely love your style, grace, and wonderful sense of humor.

    • http://www.ryanhaack.com Ryan Haack

      Thank you so much, Nima!

  • Tina9

    i loved it!!! same happens to me all the time. Sometimes is hard but everything happens for a reason so..am happy for that =)
    thanks for sharing ur experience

    • http://www.ryanhaack.com Ryan Haack

      I agree!  :)

  • Tmkelley5

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful and inspirational story.
    My son was born with Symrachydactyly 5 years ago. At that time we felt so alone and afraid. The doctors couldn’t give us any direction or guidance. At that moment I promised myself that one day, I would do/create “something” to help those that might be in our situation to not feel so alone.
    My son, Ty and I have written a children’s book called, Make A Difference. A wonderful story about a little boy whose physical difference is not a disability but merely an outstanding characteristic. It teaches children that THEY can make a difference in the world, simply by treating others with respect. We can all make a difference in someone’s life, just by simply giving a smile.
    Ty also just created a custom made glass blown bead (fits on all bracelets, pandora, etc.). It is a pretty bright blue, with a white star on it. The bead is to raise awarneness and celebrate the wonderfully made. It is called the IMAGINE bead. Imagine the difference we could make if we all celebrated each others uniquness. Be proud, be confident, be who you are, and always reach for the stars!
    All proceeds will be put directly back into the organization, TYrrific Hands, to provide support groups, raise awareness, share the book and bead, and eventually once it gets established, create a scholarship fund. CELEBRATE & EDUCATE!
    We WILL make a difference! If you are interested in talking with me more, please send me an email (tmkelley5@yahoo.com)

  • Bossbeck

    This is so totally great!  I posted it on my FB page!  I hope everyone reads it and learns!!!

    • http://www.ryanhaack.com Ryan Haack

      Thank you!

  • http://www.facebook.com/npramsey Nathan Ramsey

    You are an awesome writer. I laughed my way through this, and you have an insightful perspective.

    I was also born without my left hand below the elbow. I’m 29 years old now. Honestly, I don’t even notice the stares anymore, but I’ve always been kind of oblivious to begin with. I actually kind of appreciate it when kids ask questions. Yeah, it gets old talking about my arm over and over again, but at least they’re taking initiative to educate themselves and understand it better. Sometimes I wish adults would be more comfortable talking about this stuff, so we could just get it addressed, over with, and out of the way.

    • http://www.ryanhaack.com Ryan Haack

      I totally agree, Nathan!  It’s feels good to just explain it and try to move on, ya know?  Thanks for your compliments, too!  I really appreciate it.

  • Joyce

    this was truly a good read! thank you for sharing and I needed this.

    • http://www.ryanhaack.com Ryan Haack

      Thank you!  And you’re welcome!  :)

  • http://twitter.com/flourishingkids Joan Young

    Thank you for this beautiful post. I am speechless, as you have touched my heart with your words and only my tears seem to be responding. When I was a kid, I had some immune system/allergy problems that led to some strange symptoms that made me the “freak” kid. I can relate to the staring and the feeling of being “different.” Though I eventually did not have the symptoms of being unable to walk and other not so fun neurological symptoms, I kept with me this secret of being the different one.  Your writing educates people, yet helps them feel connected with the idea that it’s a gift to be unique. Thanks so much for sharing. 

    • http://www.ryanhaack.com Ryan Haack

      Thank YOU, Joan!  Thank you for taking the time to let me know how this affected you.  

  • Rach2babies

    Thank you so much for sharing. My son was born with a limb difference and he is always on the receiving end of the stares. He’s only 4 years old so he doesn’t notice it as much as I do. It seems to  be getting easier for me to handle, but I often wonder if it will ever be easy for him to deal with. My prayer is that he grows to  believe the scripture in Psalms and knows that it applies to him… “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”………  When asked recently about his hand, my son answered by saying, “It doesn’t matter.” Is it possible that a 4 year old understands what really matters in this life?  :>) Thank you again for sharing and may God Bless you and keep you for sharing HIS message of hope and love.

    • http://www.ryanhaack.com Ryan Haack

      Thank you so much for your kind words.  Beautifully said.  :)

  • -d

    Hi, Ryan. I don’t often respond to postings, but your’s is different. I know the stare you’re talking about, although vicariously. I had a son who was very different. When he died, then I was very different.
    So many things in our lives are out of our control. What we can control is how we choose to deal with them. If we choose to be angry, we have less room for joy. If we choose to hate the folks who may hurt us inadvertently, we have less room to love. 
    The lessons we learn the most from are the hardest. Thanks for sharing your’s.
    -d

    • http://www.ryanhaack.com Ryan Haack

      -d

      What you said is so true.  Thank you so much for responding and sharing what you did.  It’s so important that we learn together and your story is an important part of that.  Thank you!

  • Thomas Sebastian

    It made my bad morning turn into a good morning. Great text, thank you!

    • http://www.ryanhaack.com Ryan Haack

      You’re welcome!  Thanks for saying so!

  • Mardi Halvorsen

    i have a portwine birthmark on my left cheek and I LOVE when kids ask about it.  They ask, maybe ask a few more questions and move on.  from that point on, I am just a normal person.  The most offensive moments come when ADULTS ask me “What’s wrong?”   I often forget I have a birthmark so a question like that can send me into a momentary panic as I scan myself to assess what might be wrong.   Adults ask their rude questions and then avoid me.  Kids ask their bluntly honest questions and embrace the difference.  Thanks for writing on this topic.

    • http://www.ryanhaack.com Ryan Haack

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Mardi!  

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  • Mary Sorg

    We are a mainly caucasion family with a Korean son and my husband has an artificial leg. He had his leg amputated when he was 12. We get quite a few stares. The one comment that has truly bothered me over the years was: “How did you get 4 of one and 1 of the other” I promptly replied: “you mean 4 girls and 1 boy” Which made the woman back away in embarrassment of what she said. My daughters were like, that’s a good one Momma.

    • http://www.ryanhaack.com Ryan Haack

      Who would say that?  Oh, well.  Keep loving each other and trucking along.  :)

  • Joanna

    thanks Ryan, I was born with one really enlarged leg and found it hard playing sports at school. It is something I never really got used to, but realised it wasn’t who I really am, it’s a part of who I am. I became a below knee amputee 16 years ago and was easier to accept that, although the rest of my leg is enlarged. when I read what others have put I find it really encouraging and know that maybe I can encourage too. It is just the way God made me.

    • http://www.ryanhaack.com Ryan Haack

      I’m glad you were encouraged and I KNOW you are an encouragement to others!  Keep at it!  :)

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  • Jenniferlaman

    Wow! I loved this. My 8 year old son had his arm amputated above his elbow when he was just 2 weeks old.  We have gone through 8 years of the stares & yet they still bother us. I often wonder how it will affect Chase & how he will feel about himself as he gets older. Sometimes I just wish he could play & have fun without always having to stop & answer questions.

    • http://www.ryanhaack.com Ryan Haack

      I hear you, Jennifer.  It’s certainly not easy.  Just be there for him.  Let him vent.  Be strong, though.  Make sure you tell him how amazing you think he is.  And encourage him to make friends that will stick up for him and by him through anything.  Glad you loved it.  :)  Thank you!

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  • Marcia Tennyson

    I love that:
    I believe each of us are “wonderfully made.”

  • Line

    Hi Ryan. I’m a 15 years old girl. I was born whitout my right hand and forearm (almost  like you).  Many kids are also staring  at me. Many time I didn’t how  to handle it, but with your advice it has actually been easier for me. I’ll just say that you inspire me with your optimism. 

    sorry for my bad english, I’m from Denmark  

    • http://www.ryanhaack.com Ryan Haack

      Thank you so much for commenting, Line!  I’m so happy this helped you!  :)

  • http://holes-in-the-sky.blogspot.co.uk/ Seeker

    Sorry, I think I posted this in the wrong place first…….

    I am sixty years old and was born with no fingers on my left hand. I
    have found throughout my life that adults are generally okay with my
    disability (although I do think it sometimes makes them wary of
    becoming friends with me). I am afraid that I have never really learned
    to deal with being stared at by children though.

    I remember one occasion – many years ago when my children were small –
    when we were away camping and attended a church service. The kid in
    front spent the whole time turned round towards me, staring at my hand,
    although his parents were oblivious to this. I found it impossible to
    concentrate on the service and wanted to tap the parents on the shoulder
    and ask them to stop the boy from staring at me! That would have drawn
    more attention towards me though, so I simply squirmed in my seat for
    almost an hour – feeling pretty much like an animal in a cage at the
    zoo!

    By far my worst experience though was on holiday in Croatia about
    three years ago. I was lying by the pool, just lapping up the sun, when a
    boy who I would estimate to be about 12/14 passed by. He spotted my
    hand and just stood there pointing at it…… and laughing! It was the most
    unnerving thing, that laugh…… it was a kind of mocking laughter and I
    thought it was amazingly rude! I got up – and very angrily shooed him
    away (I think he was German, so did not understand my words, but he was
    in no doubt how angry I was!) Just as I finished, the boy’s mother came
    along and I left her in no doubt what he had done. She just walked away,
    looking embarassed, but never said a word!

    By coincidence, at breakfast the next morning – while I was still
    feeling upset about the boy – two children at a table next to us were
    also staring at me. It is very rare for this to happen at all, but twice
    in 24 hours was very unusual. I just slunk away without saying
    anything. Unbelievably though, we later went off to a nearby beach and
    two beautiful, golden-haired little girls approached to stare at my
    hand, nervously holding hands for courage. I would never normally be
    unkind to sweet little girls like that, but this was too much for me,
    coming so soon after the other incidents! I thrust my arm at them saying
    “There you are, have a good look” They looked absolutely terrified and
    ran away as fast as they could – leaving me feeling forever more guilty
    at frightening the poor little things!

    I don’t think any of these children could speak English. I guess if
    they had been able to, I could have at least said something to explain,
    but it is so much harder when you are in a foreign country! I am still
    not sure what I should have done or said, especially to the (extremely
    rude!) German boy – who really was old enough to know better!!!

    Forgiveness is, of course, the way a Christian should deal with this…… but how do you stop yourself hurting so much/

    I am an extremely sensitive person. At the age of 60 (61 next week, actually!), I guess I am never going to change now!
     

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  • http://www.facebook.com/eppppppppppppica Gothic’Mimi AdoresEpica

    so inspiring, i always hated being stared at , it always made me in a bad mood, but now i’m trying to see the good side of it so that it doesnt ruin my days or mood anymore!! it’s hard though but with time, i should overcome it and not let it stop me from enjoying my life :) thankkkk you for sharing your story ; it helps alot

    Wish you a happy life And GOD BLESS YOU :)

  • Cate Tumman

    Hi Thank you so much for sharing you experiences and tips, I have just adopted a very special little girl with Poland’s Syndrome, Her uniqueness was the deal breaker for us but reading this has helped me to think how she may experience her difference and peoples responses, so I can support her xxx

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