dwarf family

I enjoyed meeting the family in this inspiring video, in which ABC’s Barbara Walters interviews Trent and Amber Johnston from Barnesville, Georgia. I’m not sure I understand the ‘extreme’ part of the video’s title, however. It rather seems that, these days, extreme is in the eye of the beholder.

When it comes to ‘family size’, the Johnstons are big and small at the same time, but there’s no doubt where their parental love and dedication fit on the size continuum. They good-humouredly call themselves ‘the real-life seven dwarfs’, embracing their stature and striving to raise their five children to meet their fullest potential. This means making life as normal as possible, and facing challenges head on, whether they be tall cupboards at home, or bullies at school.

It doesn’t include owning tiny furniture. When Walters remarks on the size and height of the household accoutrements, Amber firmly replies: “We strive to raise our children in a world that’s not built for them.” Good advice for most parents, especially those whose values run counter to the prevailing culture.

There is the odd patronizing moment, where I actually felt embarrassed for Barbara Walters. She relays incredulity at the idea of the Johnstons’ ability to financially support their children. As a veteran journalist, is she seriously unaware that Little People have jobs and careers just like everyone else? Trent, a proponent of innovation and self-sufficiency, graciously replies, “We live within our means,” which might sound like Greek (no pun intended) to many debt-ridden North Americans.

Maybe their openness to the fullness of human experience is considered extreme. When Trent and Amber married, they were open to having an ‘average’ child (ie. normal height), but thrilled to find they were expecting a child with dwarfism. This fact seems to surprise Ms Walters at first—who wouldn’t want a ‘normal’ child? But the point is: their children are normal, if your norm is loving and welcoming whoever comes into your family. In addition to their two biological children, they have adopted three children from various parts of the globe. Friends have dubbed them “the ‘Brad and Angelina of Little People’, because of the way they embrace the culture of their children.”

Walters mentions that dwarfism is considered a disability, a notion that the Johnstons emphatically reject. They neither receive, nor ask for, government handouts. Amber: “We raise our kids without the ‘woe is me’ attitude.” And it seems to be paying off. Their children appear to be happy, grounded, and articulate. When asked how she reacts to schoolyard bullying, 10-year-old Elizabeth responds: “That’s how God made me; that’s how he loves me.”

Walters asks one parting question: “What do you most want people to know about you?”

“That we’re part of this world,” answers Elizabeth.

Nothing extreme about that. 

Mariette Ulrich is a homemaker and freelance writer. She lives in western Canada with her husband and six of their seven children. Mariette holds an Honours B.A. in English Literature...