Leigh’s Legs- Part 3

“Do I have to wear my braces?”  It was almost a rhetorical question—the answer so obvious.  Of course you have to wear your braces.

Leigh can walk without them, but she has very little balance and control of her body.  The braces give her support.  When she was eleven, Leigh went through a phase where she didn’t want to wear them.  She’d wear long pants and put her shoes on and think she was hiding the fact that she didn’t have on her legs.  We always knew.   Her shoes were bought to fit her braces.  Leigh’s feet, even as an adult, are kid size.

Once, Leigh was hurrying down the stairs without her braces on; her left foot slipped out of the shoe.  Before she could grab the banister, Leigh tumbled down five stairs, her shoe left at the top of the staircase like Cinderella.

Mom was usually patient and understanding with Leigh.  When Leigh was younger, Mom balanced her love on the fine line of protection and toughness.  By the time Leigh became a teenager, Mom’s love had softened.  She became much more protective. Mom understood Leigh’s plight:  Leigh was in the sixth grade—no one else wore braces, why did she have to?

Middle School is difficult for any normal eleven-twelve-thirteen-year-old.  For girls, periods, boobs and acne plague the body and there is this overwhelming understanding of self-image, weight, and beauty.  I remember being completely aware that my chest was four times the size of my friends—I didn’t fit into the Junior sizes that the stores put on display.  Leigh was the same.  We both gained weight during Middle School, not because we were depressed, but because we were, as my Mom said, bigger girls with healthy appetites. Eventually I slimed down and settled into my body, but I still had issues coping with how my body was different than those around me—I was the fat cheerleader, not necessarily because I was fat, but because the rest of the squad was thin.  My chest was still enormous compared to the others (a problem rectified when I was twenty by breast reduction surgery) and I always felt awkward in my own body.  Never beautiful.   Leigh had difficulty taking some of her puberty weight off—exercising was difficult and painful for her.  Society projects an image of how we should look and should dress; for some of us, nature trumps societal projections. Even though I had no real desire to be a cookie cutter, I still wanted to be normal.  Leigh never had a chance.

Once, Mom found Leigh’s journal on her bed.  In big bold letters, Leigh asked God why he made her a freak.

Sometimes, I ask Him that same question.

Because of the spina bifida, Leigh has no feeling in her feet or control of her bladder.  She wore diapers and Pull-Ups until she grew out of them and moved onto Depends.  But bladder control products don’t prevent accidents and in the seventh grade, Leigh had many embarrassing episodes.  We had just moved to the big city—Cumming, Georgia that was north of Atlanta.  It was a new town, new team, and new school.  I was in the eighth grade while Leigh was in the seventh.  We both felt like this new home was an opportunity to reinvent ourselves.  The summer before school started, both Leigh and I got new haircuts—much different than the ones we moved into town with at the beginning of the summer; shorter, funkier.  We went school shopping and picked out more hip, up to date clothes to start off the school year.  Neither one of us talked about reinventing who we were; but we both knew.  We had talked about how a new school and a new team brought us the opportunity for change—especially since we had moved from South Georgia to an Atlanta suburb.  Life seemed to be faster.  The people didn’t talk with the thick accents that we were used to.  We seemed a little more sheltered than our peers but we were both willing to try to fit in to our new environment.  So we walked into our new school with fresh haircuts and a different style.

But we were still the Coach’s Daughters.

-lk herndon

3 Responses to “Leigh’s Legs- Part 3”

  1. Annie Beth says:

    I love to reflect on the part where Leigh asks God why he made her “a freak”. My daughter asked me the same thing, in different terminology, when she was 5. I believe this is one of those deep theological questions that goes along with, “Why do bad things happen to good people” and “Where is God when it hurts?” There’s a really long answer to that, which I’ve come to understand after years of Bible study. My answer to this question is, God didn’t make you have a defect. I often hear people saying, “God made you special” in reference to people being born with special needs. I think God did make us all uniquely- mostly in relation to our personality, and yes, in relation to our circumstances as well. But, every good and perfect gift comes from above. Sickness, disease, poverty, disability- these do not come from the “Father of Lights”. I told Anna that God did not give her spina bifida, but he did allow it to occur as the bi-product of a crummy, fallen, world. If everything here were perfect, it would already be heaven. But I believe God wants his will done on earth as it is done in heaven, which is why we should fight against disease, and fight against poverty, and fight against injustice. When Jesus went to speak to people he healed them and fed them. Never once did he say, “You know, kid, I made you unable to walk because that’s what makes you special. I’m not going to heal you.” Never once did he say, “Man, I know you’re starving, but it builds character, you know?”

    All this is based on the presupposition that you accept the Bible to be true and accept God to be the YAHWEH of Israel. I haven’t found any other source to answer these questions in as thorough a manner.

  2. Beth Cain says:

    Oh this is very good. I will have to print this off and put in a safe place just so I can answer that question when Sarah is old enough to ask that dreaded question of “Why?”

  3. Beth G. says:

    I have to say I partly agree with you, partly. I do believe that God allows Sb to happen to our kids for a reason. The reason we may not know, but I do believe there is a reason. Whether it be to show the strength we can have when God is in our heart, or to show compassion to others who need that lesson. I tell my son that he is special and that God has a special reason for his body and life to be different from others.
    Reading this part, I am reminded of the first time my son realized the difference between himself and the rest of the family. He was around 3 years old and we were in the car driving down the highway. He had been rubbing his head and feeling his shunt. He ask what it was and I explained simply that it was to help him not have head pains. He then asked where was his younger brother’s shunt? “He doesn’t have one.” “Where is Daddy’s?” He doesn’t have one.” “Where’s yours?” “I don’t have one either.” His response, “Get it out!” I tried not to cry but to explain that I could not take it out and that he needed it. It broke my heart to have him first realize his difference, much worse as I could not pull him into my lap and hug him while I explained how he was different and needed different things to live. He is now 8, and is very accepting of his differences. He has been a tough little boy, going through 11 surgeries before turning 5. There are still times where he wishes he was not so different, usually when it comes time to do bowel program, but he also has learned how to be forth coming with others about how he is different. He had a problem at church one night, his bladder med’s had been changed and he leaked through a pull-up and into his clothing. When he pulled an adult aside to let them know he needed to find me, he told them why and asked, “I have Spina Bifida. Do know what that is?” He was very confident and was willing to stand there and explain it all.
    He amazes me some days with his strength and confidence. When he turned 5, he found out that he could not spend the night at his grandmother’s without one of us parents because his grandmother would not learn how to cath. So he decided that he would learn to do it, so he could go spend the night when ever he wanted. Our kids are strong and smart. They may have special needs, but they have special abilities as well.

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