Big deep breaths. In and out. I’m sitting in my car people-watching. I have been here for 10 minutes and I’m just trying to gather everything. Gather the energy to go inside the store for a few things. Gather the courage for one more encounter of someone staring, pointing, laughing. Gather the step stool so I can reach the one thing that is just a few inches above me.
I am glad that I am by myself today. It is easier to slip in and out of the crowds and not be as noticed.
I’m trying to put on a happy face. It is Dwarfism Awareness Month after all. I should be shouting from the rooftops joyfully and with emphasis the different quotes that surround dwarfism, like “A person’s a person no matter how small” (Dr. Suess) and “I’m just small, that’s all.”
But today, I can’t. I’m tired. Raising awareness has been big for me since I was a teen, but I have really wanted to make a difference since I became a mom. I’m trying to make a positive impact and pave the way so my daughter does not have to try so hard. But I’m so tired and the movement has been slow going.
This past year, minorities across America have spoken out and are making a difference, but the dwarfism community has been left behind. No one is hearing what we say or understanding how important it is. We have become a minority of the minority.
We are still laughed at and joked about. With technology today, we are videoed and plastered on social media as a laughing stock. It’s not what I want for my daughter to live in and grow up in. What if it was your child? Wouldn’t you want the same thing?
So I remember who I am making a difference for, and why. I finally decide to get out of my car after sitting there another 10 minutes. I can only make a difference if I speak up and speak out. I try to remember the encounters that have been a healing balm to this worn-out mom. The families who I hear parents say that we are people just like them, only shorter. To those families, I hear your kind words and commend you for raising kind humans.
I have learned to ignore the slander and laughter, as I am trying desperately to teach my daughter the same thing. As she becomes older, the child-like blinders are coming off and she is seeing more and more how people can be.
All children experience the blinders being removed, so what will you show your child? Will you be kind and accepting of those who look differently than you? Or will you show them that because someone is physically different from you they do not deserve to be treated and respected?
The dwarfism community is growing. Did you know that more than three-fourths of the dwarfism population have average-height parents? It’s true. My family makes it so rare because I am second generation and my daughter is third. With a growing community, one would expect that awareness would be growing just as fast, but it’s not. The pushback comes from those who still use derogatory words and think that little people belong in a circus. Yes, a circus. These demeaning thoughts, words and actions push back our fight for social justice and understanding. People do not understand the word “midget” is derogatory when it has been used in so many settings like candy, little league, school mascots and so much more. It means “small fly” and no one should be compared to an insect that lands on trash, poop and other unsanitary conditions.
We are a minority fighting the waves for equal opportunity in the workplace and public places. We have to fight for step stools so we can perform our job with comfort and satisfaction. We have to go into public bathrooms and wonder how tall the toilet will be and can we reach the sinks to wash our hands. We’ve learned to always carry a step stool and have hand sanitizer with us. These things are simple but add so much more weight to carry for our day-to-day life that sometimes we want to avoid the situations.
But then my soul screams: we need to keep pushing back the wave for my daughter and for the next generation. Because one day that tiny ripple that I plant in the kids I encounter and the people I speak to will become not only a wave that will push back the injustices but a tsunami of change.
Tomi Mahoney is a mom and little person. She advocates for little people in Oklahoma. This month, October, is Dwarfism Awareness Month and Oct. 25 is Dwarfism Awareness Day. Follow her on Instagram @littletoms and follow @littlepeopleofamerica for more information on dwarfism awareness.