Even with their extra toes, mother’s acceptance and love a lesson for all

It’s unusual alright. But so extraordinary is a mother’s love highlighted in a story titled “Mother and son with extra toes share special bond”, published on the front page of the Samoa Observer last Saturday – that if there is anything we should talk about today, it is embracing uniqueness.

It is that we should all make a decent effort to encourage strong support systems for people who appear different. There are many of them around us. And more often than not, they feel marginalized simply because they look different.

I speak with conviction and guilt as a Samoan when I say that despite all the wonderful things about ourselves and our country, when it comes to embracing different people with physical deformities and other abnormalities, this is probably one of the worst places to grow up.

That’s because as Samoans, we are so quick to judge. More than that, we somehow have this knack to ridicule and laugh at them.

Some of us get a real kick out of making fun of how their ears are shaped, the cross eye, the crooked leg, their inability to speak properly and all those other qualities – or difficulties – faced by some members of our community.

More often than not, instead of understanding them – or even trying to – we are quick to speculate and point the finger. How many times have we heard these claim, ‘Oh their parents must have stolen from the neighbour, their grandparents must have eaten the pastor’s pig and so forth.’ The list of speculations is quite exhaustive. And downright demeaning too.

Today, let's think about the story of Ulimasao Tautala and her four-year-old boy, Archillesdimitri Tamatoa Tenisi, from Apolima. The pair shares a special bond that goes beyond a mother-and-son bond.

Archillesdimitri was born with 12 toes, his mother has 11 toes. In sharing her story with the Samoa Observer, Ulimasao wanted to encourage a more open and welcoming attitude towards people like her and her son.

“For my case, I was a bit hesitant to wear revealing shoes when I was a little girl,” she said. “But as I grew up, I realised that it’s a blessing to have extra toes and eventually I didn’t care what people think of my toes.”

As a mother, it’s an attitude she needs to instill in her son. She said when he was born with 12 toes, her husband was so concerned about how people would react, that he wanted his son to undergo surgery to have his extra toes removed. 

“I would’ve agreed if she’s a girl. But he’s a boy and he’s unique in his own ways so I told him and my family that we’ll just appreciate my son's extra toes. It’s a blessing.”

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Sadly, that view is not one shared by everyone. Especially, when there are other qualities that set him apart from everyone else.

His mother said Tamatoa is also known as the “siren of Apolima” island.

“Our island is very small. There are only about 10 families on this island. We initially were surprised when families way on the other side told us that Tama woke them up when he cried in the mornings because his voice is so loud.

 “That’s when we realised that his voice was bit different.”

Despite all that, Ulimasao sees nothing but a gift in her son.

 “As I said, as long as I’m seeing my boy growing up strong like me, despite the extra toes and his loud voice, he is a blessing.”

That said, another step is about to begin in his life, which the mother is worried about.

 “I’m a bit worried about how my son will be treated in school next year, especially from other students,” she said. “And so I plan to drop everything when Archillesdimitri reaches five so I can be with him in school, at least during his primary school level.”

In an ideal world, Ulimasao shouldn’t even have to worry about how others would treat her son. She should be able to trust that the system would ensure her son is not mocked and ridicule. She should be able to go about doing her daily chores, knowing with confidence that her Tamatoa is getting an education, just like all other children his age.

Unfortunately, this is not an ideal world.

Which is something we constantly need to work at, to ensure that even if we don’t live in an ideal world, people who appear different are accepted and welcomed for who they are. Indeed, whether you have 12, 20 or seven toes, you should feel embraced and accepted instead of being looked at differently and getting mocked.  

What do you think?

Have a great Thursday Samoa, God bless! 

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