From tween advocate for limb difference and founder of Project Unicorn Jordan Reeves and her mom, Jen, comes an inspiring memoir about how every kid is perfect just the way they are.
When Jordan Reeves was born without the bottom half of her left arm, the doctors reassured her parents that she was “born just right.” And she has been proving that doctor right ever since!
With candor, humor, and heart, Jordan’s mother, Jen Lee Reeves, helps Jordan tell her story about growing up in an able-bodied world and family, where she was treated like all of her siblings and classmates—and where she never felt limited. Whether it was changing people’s minds about her capabilities, trying all kinds of sports, or mentoring other kids, Jordan has channeled any negativity into a positive, and is determined to create more innovations for people just like her.
Her most famous invention, aptly called Project Unicorn, is a special prosthetic (that shoots glitter!) made with the help of a 3-D printer. A real-life superhero, Jordan is changing the world with her foundation, Born Just Right, which advocates and celebrates kids with differences, and helps them live their best possible life—just like Jordan is today!
Born Just Right 1 BORN JUST RIGHT: MY BEGINNINGS My parents didn’t know I had a limb difference before I was born on December 29, 2005. Doctors say the circulation in my arm didn’t work properly while I was growing. That’s why I was born with a left arm that stopped just above the elbow. I’ve never known a life with two hands or two elbows, so it seems totally normal to live a one-handed life.
My birth story is pretty sweet. Mom says she noticed I was born without a hand before anyone else in the room. She asked if I was okay, and the doctor said I was fine. Mom looked up at my dad, and they both agreed. My parents had never even seen a person with one hand until they met me. What’s cool is that they didn’t freak out about it. Just like the doctor said, they knew I was fine. My family has never treated me any different from how they treat my older brother, Cameron. Instead, they have all encouraged me to figure it all out.
Which is a good thing. That’s because I’m pretty stubborn. I like to take care of things myself! For example, I learned how to put on my socks and shoes when I was really young, in preschool. I remember one time I was in a toddler dance class and all the other kids needed their parents’ help. I shocked everyone when I sat on the floor and shouted, “I DO IT!” I stuck my toes into my socks and worked my feet in with one hand. I might have been a little slower, but I didn’t need or want help!
That stubbornness gets me in trouble sometimes, but I think it’s also why I can think up ideas to solve a problem that might be easier for someone with two hands. There aren’t a lot of people around me who have one hand, so I often have to figure out two-handed things my own way. That usually means trying and trying different ways until I find the one that works. Besides putting on my own shoes and socks, zippers and buttons were also tricky for me when I was little. I learned quickly that even though I might have failed at my first attempt, if I kept trying, I would eventually find the answer. I feel lucky my family didn’t step in and do it all for me, or else I probably wouldn’t have so many big ideas! My parents say they would have to bite their tongues to keep from offering help sometimes when I was little. They knew I could figure out a lot of things just by having enough time to solve a problem. I walked when I was ready to walk. I had my own technique for putting on clothes and shoes. I didn’t always learn those skills at the same pace as kids with typical bodies, but since my parents didn’t do things for me, I found my own way. They were teaching me how to be a problem-solver without even realizing it!
I went to a day care center when I was a baby and moved to a preschool when I was a little older. I was the only one-handed kid anyone had ever met. But we were growing up together and learning things together. I didn’t get teased because the kids were used to me. And there’s something about little kids. They seem to get used to someone who looks different faster than older kids do. But no matter what age I am, there are some things that take me longer to learn. In preschool, that was super obvious. My teachers didn’t know how to give me one-handed tips. I did have a therapist who came to school to help me work on those tricky things that we call “life skills.”
Life skills are also challenging when it comes to meeting new people. I attend public school, and that means I meet new people all the time. When I started in kindergarten, kids weren’t used to me. My mom made a little picture book that the teachers would read at the start of the school year that showed off all the things I can do. We showed a different version of the book every year until fifth grade. It was a really easy way for kids to see for themselves how I could do a lot of cool things. The book also helped kids know that they had to ask before they touched my little arm. It looks different, so some kids think it’s a great idea to grab it and see what it feels like. The problem is, I don’t like being grabbed. (Who does?) The book helped kids feel comfortable around me and taught them to respect my personal space.
These days, I really don’t like that book. I know it helped, but that book just reminds me of the harder times when kids weren’t used to having me around school. As the years went on, I made more and more friends. They learned that just because I’m different, that doesn’t mean I’m scary. I can still be a really good friend. I don’t plan to do anything special to introduce my difference when I start middle school, or even when I start high school. People are going to figure out I’m okay just by getting to know me first.
A little book didn’t stop all my problems at school. There were mean kids on the playground. (I wasn’t afraid to complain about them to my principal.) There were kids who would whisper or stare as I walked by in the hallway. I had strange experiences in my after-school program. But most of the time, the kids would learn how my disability might look different but that I didn’t let it stop me from doing my best. MY FAMILY My family is a big part of my life. My dad is a journalist who runs a television newsroom. He also teaches at a university. My mom also works at the same university, and she does cool work on websites and helps different organizations. My brother, Cameron, is four years older than I am, and I think I can do pretty much everything he can do. Actually, I think I can do more than he can. My parents are always reminding me that I’m younger, and that drives me crazy. I really don’t consider us to be that different.
Cameron has always wanted to help me. Growing up, my mom had to remind him to let me figure things out and do it my own way. The story Mom always uses as an example is a time when we had a homemade sandbox in our backyard. It had a wood side that I needed to climb over to get into the sand. For some reason, that wasn’t really easy for me to do. My mom says she remembers physically holding my brother back to keep him from helping me into the sandbox. She wanted me to find a way to get in all by myself. My brother tells me that it made him super angry. He always wanted to help when I was small. I think he still does at times. That’s probably why he and I butt heads often. We both think we can do everything better than the other.
I grew up (and still live) in Columbia, a small city in Missouri. We live in a house that is kind of magical. That’s because it is next to a small lake that gives us a chance to enjoy swimming in the summer and beautiful sunsets all year. I love sitting on our dock and dangling my feet into the water. There are lots of fish and ducks and geese that hang out around the lake too. It’s just so peaceful. I think my bedroom has the best view of all the rooms in our house. I can sit on my floor, read books, and stare out at the lake forever. I am so lucky to have a home that feels peaceful, even if my mom and dad are always trying to get me to keep it clean!
I have grown up with dogs in the house. These days, we have a huge black goldendoodle named Bailey and a gray Weimaraner mix named Blue. I think they are the best dogs in the world. I love cuddling with them when they aren’t running around playing catch or barking at dogs or other animals. They are a big part of my family too.
We don’t live close to any other family members, and we only get to see them for a little bit each year, so the four of us do a lot together. We do a lot of traveling. My family also goes to football games, basketball games, and music shows together. We have college football season tickets, and that gives us an excuse to tailgate a lot in the fall. Tailgates are when my parents set up a tent and a grill near a parking lot before football games. We hang out there for hours before going to the football stadium. We get to see all kinds of my parents’ friends. I even get to have my friends join me sometimes. We also have a lot of fun with everyone when there are big music festivals or when we want to have a lot of people over to our house.
These days, my parents also go to a lot of my and Cameron’s activities. I used to dance a lot. Recently, I was involved in sports, including cross-country, track, softball, and basketball. I take piano and voice lessons. I am also part of a Girl Scout troop. I love trying everything out to see what I like. I guess I’m still figuring out my favorite activities. I don’t feel like I have to pick and choose just yet.
Jordan Reeves was born just right, and cofounded a nonprofit with the same name. Ever since she was little, this teen has pushed through any expectations and proved she can do anything (except monkey bars). Through her activities and opportunities to speak and mentor other kids with limb differences, Jordan is helping change attitudes around physical differences. Jordan is currently changing what we think of as a superhero by designing body enhancements. Her ideas include a 3-D printed prosthetic that allows her to shoot sparkles for her alter ego, Girl Blaster. Jordan has shown off her work on the Rachael Ray Show, Maker Faire, TEDx, and many other events across the country.
Jen Lee Reeves is the founder and executive director of Born Just Right. She’s also a mom to Cameron and Jordan. She and her husband, Randy, have learned so much about what it takes to advocate for our children and how powerful it can be when parents work together in advocacy and support in the world of disability. When she isn’t working for Born Just Right, she’s a social media strategist and training consultant with her own consultancy. She also taught at the Missouri School of Journalism and managed an NBC affiliate newsroom. To relax, Jen loves to travel, enjoy sunrise runs in new cities, take photos of the lake in her backyard, and enjoy music and good food with her family.