Growing up as the only little person in a family of five, Amber Johnston got used to stares and snickers. But some memories are more painful than others. "When I was 14, my sister and I went inside a gas station to buy a drink," she says. "These girls circled around us, shouting, 'You're one of them!' I climbed on the shelf to get the drink, and they got very loud." Then she did what her parents taught her: held her head high, paid for her soda and walked out without a backward glance. "I said, 'This is ridiculous,' and let it go," Amber says. "If you dwell on it, it's going to make you an angry person."
Instead, she put her energy into becoming a happy one. Today, at 33 years old and 4 ft. tall, Amber-wife, mother, PTA volunteer and Girl Scout troop leader-has a big life. She and husband Trent, who is 4'3", and their brood of two biological and three adopted children, are known in their Barnesville, Ga., neighborhood for barbecues and backyard fun, not the achondroplasia dwarfism that explains their small stature (see box). "I tell people," Trent, 36, says, "our arms and legs are short, not our minds." With average-size furniture in their home-where stools are used to reach countertops and sticks to flick on light switches-and a willingness to let their kids struggle a bit, the Johnstons try to instill what all good parents hope to: self-respect, steely determination and a refusal to let others set limits for them. "Once they walk out this door," says Trent, a grounds supervisor at a local college, "no part of this world is built for them." By sharing their story, they hope to teach the average-size world a lesson too: "We're little people," Amber says, "but don't judge us as any less of a person."
- SYDNEY BERGER.