“Mom, I have kids in my classes who constantly whine, ‘I can’t do this!'” my daughter said. “They don’t get any sympathy from me. I tell them there are people without arms who do art with their feet. There are people without arms and legs who do art with their mouths. There are artists who are blind. I tell the kids that they have two good arms and two good legs and two good eyes and I don’t want to ever hear ‘I can’t do this’ in my classroom.”
I smiled at my spunky 26-year-old as she flipped back her long brown hair in defiance. I smiled on the inside, too, so proud of her determination to teach her elementary students much more than art.
Before I could respond, she continued. “I tell them about you, too. How you were born with one arm, but you never let that stop you from doing anything. I want you to make a YouTube video for me to play for the kids. Show them how you do things. Talk to them about how they should never say ‘I can’t.'”
“Wow, Cassie, I’d be honored to do that. I think that’s a great idea,” I said.
Over the next few days my mind swirled with possibilities. Which tasks should I demonstrate for the kids?
I could show them how I type. My computer keyboard has one simple adaption—I built up the shift key with Velcro squares so that I can press it with my prosthetic left hand and not accidentally push the keys around it. I taught myself to rest my right fingers on the traditional home keys and make all of the reaches to the other keys with one hand.
I could show them how I hook a necklace. I put the necklace around the back of my neck with the latch and ring in front. I hold the ring end of the chain in my mouth and, looking in a mirror, navigate the latch into the ring with my right hand.
I could show them how I hold things in my prosthetic hand. I move back the upper arm to trigger the lock on my prosthetic elbow. Once the elbow is locked, I can do shoulder movements to pull cables that open and close the hand, allowing me to grip things.
And then it struck me. The question kids ask me most is: “How do you tie your shoes?” That was it. I decided to make the video of me tying my shoes, an easy task for kids, a not-so-easy task for me. I first demonstrated tying my pink Sperry shoes while wearing my prosthetic arm. Next I demonstrated tying them without wearing my prosthetic arm, a larger challenge that requires using my knees and feet.
I closed the video with these words: “‘I can’t.’ Do you ever say those two words? The next time you start to do something and hear yourself saying, ‘This is too hard, I can’t,’ I want you to remember watching me tie my shoes. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean you can’t do it. You can use that smart brain of yours and figure out a way. You can keep trying until you get it. You can do amazing things if you never allow yourself to say ‘I can’t.'”
Cassie showed the video to her students. They exclaimed, “That’s your mom?”
“Yes,” she replied. “And just like her, you can do anything if you try.”
Cassie said the “I can’t” whines decreased significantly during the remainder of the school year. Her students worked hard to master basic art elements like shape, texture, symmetry, perspective, and color. When summer break finally arrived, the kids left with new art skills… and much more.