“You know what Mummy?” she says in a voice heavy with childlike frustration, “I’m never going to show any of my friends my other hand. It’s so ugly, I hate it!”

This is the third such outburst in as many weeks. Her leftThose explanations used to be enough hand, abnormal in its growth of three fingers due to ABS (amniotic band syndrome), has come up in conversation now and then in the last two years. There was some curiosity, some wonder about the three stilted fingers. We discussed G‑d making everyone different and giving some people things that we don’t always understand. Like her fingers. Those explanations used to be enough.

But recently, the innocence that accompanied her acceptance and almost obliviousness to her left hand has completely disappeared. In its stead has come anger and embarrassment that she was made with something that looks so different than the hands of those around her.

“Why did G‑d only make me with these fingers? Why not Rivie?” She asks about her younger sister. Sometimes, she directs the frustration directly at Him. “I don’t like G‑d. I’m so mad that he made my fingers like this!”

I’ve since stopped linking the fingers to G‑d; I don’t want her harboring resentment both for the way she looks and at Him for creating her that way. But I’m no therapist, and the conversations are not easy for me. Hearing her feelings makes me sad and surprised. Sad because there really isn’t much we can do about that left hand; the two different hand surgeons we have consulted so far have made that very clear. And surprised because ... she’s Layla. In my mind, her deformed fingers are such a tiny, almost insignificant part of her makeup; there is so much to her—so much I see in my mind when her name flits through it.

She is strong, she is confident, she is outgoing, she is talented. She is artistic and creative; she has a wonderful imagination. She is smart and beautiful—outgoing and sociable and fun. The list goes on and on. The fingers haven’t taken away a single thing from her undeniably amazing personality. Her teachers tell me how she is the leader of the class, the “class queen,” and has half of the class vying to be her friend. But yet—and here is my mix of surprise and sadness—her fingers are something that she wants to hide, something she is ashamed of.

I try different tactics when the subject comes up. One evening, I show her a video that popped up on my Facebook page. A little girl who lost growth in an arm and a leg due to meningitis as a baby. An American teenager invented a synthetic arm that can actually grasp objects with its “fingers,” and he arrives at her doorstep to attach it to her upper arm. The little girl is so excited and thrilled with her new “arm.” We talk about the synthetic arm and the synthetic fingers. “But they don’t look like real fingers,” Layla says at the end.

I read an article about a little boy who was born with ABS, and is missing the lower half of his left arm and his hand. He, too, started expressing anger and shame at around 5 or 6 years old, and his mother struggled with his frustration. One day, a basketball player appeared on a television program that she was watching, and the player, more than 6 feet tall, dribbled deftly and swiftly using only one arm. She contacted the player and arranged a meeting with her own son, and the two hit it off.

I show Layla the photo of them standing side by side—two boys holding basketballs in their right hands, their left arm stopping at the elbow. She seems taken by the photo. But the next day, she’s at it again.

“My friends don’t know about my fingers. I’m not going to let them see this ugly hand; I’m going to always hide it!”

It happens to be the same day that she arrives home from school with a lifelike cutout of herself. Layla Abend, VIP, it says on the face of the paper Layla. Underneath is a list of comments about her, written by her friends, filling up the “body.”

“Wow, what’s this?” I ask.

“It’s the VIP! Every week, it’s someone else, and today it’s my turn. This is what all my friends said about me!”

We lay the giant cutout on the floor, and I start reading out loud.

“I like Layla because ... Layla is funny, Layla is kind, I like to play with Layla, Layla is nice, she is fun to play with. She is so silly, I love to play with Layla, she is friendly ... ”

Eighteen compliments from 18 different 5-year-olds about Layla.

“Look,” I point out to her. “Look at all the things your friends say about you. Not one of them said anything about your hand. All they had to say was how fun you are, how kind you are, how much they love to play with you.”

“Because they don’t know about it!” She says, but there is some doubt in her voice.

“And if they knew about it? What then? You think they wouldn’t write all these other nice things? THIS is what they see when they look at Layla. They see someone who is so cool, so talented, so smart, so fun to be with. The hand is not important; they don’t care about a silly hand!”

She is hard-pressed for an answer, and so I leave it at that.

The next morning, I am lying in bed, awake, thinking of my Layla—of the handOne day, I will tell her about the ugliness each of us tries to hide she thinks is so ugly, the hand she is worried everyone will see. With all her confidence, spunk and character, she sees just those fingers, and while I know that one day I will be able to explain it better, I hope I have done enough for now.

One day, I will tell her about the ugliness that each and every one of us tries to hide. The jealousy, the insecurities, the mean streak, the less-than-perfect sides to ourselves. The sides we beat ourselves up over. The side we hope no one else can see. The side that, really, is so small and is outweighed by the goodness inside of us, but it’s the side that we fear the world knowing. We all try and portray a perfect image, to appear strong instead of weak. Perhaps if we shared the weakness with others—if we sought comfort in the presence of likeness—we would not find the ugly so ugly after all.

I will tell her, too, about the part inside of us that is perfect and never tarnished—no matter what we do or how we look. The soul, the actual G‑dly part inside of us all, which makes us who we are.

On Sunday, I ask Layla to bring me her “paper Layla” from where she has sat it on the armchair in her room (what a very active imagination!) and a marker. We lay it on the floor, and I uncap a blue marker.

“It’s my turn to write something about Layla Abend,” I tell her. She kneels next to me and watches as I write.

“What did you write?” she asks excitedly when I am done.

I look at the life in her eyes, the expression on her face, the way her whole being is alive with fire and purpose and strength.

“I wrote,” I say, “I love Layla Abend because she is strong and she is beautiful.”