“Fern Kotanen’s mother, Jessica Kotanen”
Imagine being a tiny child, surrounded by loving relatives and friends, and going through your preschool years alongside your siblings. You have little to no remembrance of significant operations, therapies, hospital stays, debates, or physical obstacles in your life. Then one day, you discover there are aspects of you that are unlike anyone else you know.
We’ve always made light of differences with Fern, our 6-year-old daughter. We have a library. We joke about Mom being the shortest among her pals. How come my younger sister has a birthmark? When the rest of us have brown eyes, how come big sister has blue eyes? Fern’s aunt had made her an illustrated children’s book with a young girl with four fingers, a similar tummy and headscarf, a soft hearing aid band, and orthotic boots a long time ago. We drew tracings of our hands and hung them on the wall. We compared colors and painted our nails. Everything has been present; everything has been covered. Everything has become normalized. Everything has gone well.
She had an epiphany one day this fall when she noticed her hands in a new light. Something was wrong with her thoughts. There was something about putting on her gardening gloves and having extra room. It had something to do with wearing mittens when everyone else was wearing gloves. In photos, TV shows, and drawings, she began counting everyone’s fingers. This, unlike everything else, had an impact on her. And it was because of this that she said, “I don’t like my hands.”
She became acutely aware of everything all of a sudden. She couldn’t wear flip-flops for the life of her. She couldn’t stand on one foot for the life of her. She couldn’t keep up with the other kids who were rushing about outside because it took her too long to put her shoes on. I observed her becoming enraged. She was six years old at the time. This was not acceptable.
I understood that talking is amazing, accepting is lovely, and language is essential. Yes, adaptation and resilience are necessary. However, it may be alienating when the world averages out to exclude you in the most basic ways. One that has the potential to wreak havoc on the very resilience you worked so hard to develop. We are entitled to better.
I knew this had to happen when Fern came to me with the contents of her piggy bank and pleaded for green four-finger gloves. Not because they would drastically alter her life, but because this was her tipping point. This was significant. I put it out there in the hopes of getting some feedback, thoughts, or suggestions. And the internet’s fantastic interconnection responded. Rena Rosen, a wonderful woman, started a group project connecting artisans with people who have limb disabilities, and we had a soft green pair of four-finger gloves on Fern’s hands in just three weeks.
‘Look!’ she said, wriggling her fingers and holding up two fingers. ‘I can do number two!’ Shortly after, she received two pairs of thin, light blue gloves filling out her collection. She now has options in addition to having something that works. She had access to something previously closed to her a month ago. She is no longer critical of her hands. I stopped remarking on her shoes. She’s been smiling a lot more lately. ‘I love my hands,’ she boasted last week. The battle had been won.
The world is a vast place, and we get stronger every day as we face the great difficulties that come our way. Tiny victories drive our experience at critical moments. Accessibility is important because it boosts self-esteem, and when you love yourself, you can love others as well.
Amelia’s mother, Tricia Brusk
After weeks of emailing back and forth with the most fantastic stranger, I received my item. I went straight to Amelia and told her that someone had manufactured her gloves and cap to fit her unusual hands. Amelia, I believe, was speechless. She was beaming from ear to ear, and you could see she was overjoyed. She couldn’t wait to put them on the following day and show them off to her classmates!
Rena Rosen is the founder of Knit for a Custom Fit.
Knit for a Unique Fit was born out of this. I noticed Jess’s post from late October, and after I shared it, other people reached out with similar incidents and what they considered bizarre requests. I don’t know how to knit or crochet, but I can connect the dots. This is my goal, and it has always been my goal. I understand the need to belong and have your needs addressed without having to ‘fix’ the parts that make you unique because I was born with craniofacial differences. I started a Facebook group, and in just five weeks, we had over 400 members from all around the world. It began by assisting people with craniofacial differences and has since expanded to include people with Arthrogryposis and limb differences.
Because of a common need, 400 people are currently connecting in some manner with someone different than themselves. That’s 400 people coming together in a tiny manner to make the world a bit more accessible, warm, kind, and inclusive. That’s a total of 400 people that think this is significant. I founded a Facebook group to connect youngsters and adults with unusual hands with knitters who were willing and able to make customized gloves.
Yes, it’s astonishing how quickly the group has expanded and spread worldwide. Yes, it’s beautiful that over 15 people have been or are being matched for one-of-a-kind gloves! But there’s a lot more to it than that. It’s a lot more than that.
In a world that wasn’t designed with you in mind, belonging and inclusion happen when your needs are considered and met before you ever have to ask. It’s the polar opposite of needing to ‘fix’ yourself to fit in; it’s tailoring even the most essentials to meet your wants. It has the freedom to share your voice, experiences, and desires without explaining yourself.
That’s all going on here, and I believe more people need to be aware of it.
In our organization, I have a simple mission: connect people, meet a need, raise awareness, and make someone smile.
Every pair of gloves matched from the maker to the recipient is pure, unadulterated bliss!”