I took my kids to the doctor’s office for a checkup recently. While I stood at the desk (in the super-quiet lobby area) filling out forms, Addy suddenly turned to me and asked in a loud voice “Mommy! Why that girl not have any arms?” I froze. She jabbed her arm out to clearly point: “Right there! Why she not have arms?”
Well, this was a completely new experience for me. Ever since Addy was born, we’ve experienced staring kids, curious adults, and parents’ awkward reactions when their kid asked them loudly “HEY! MOM! Why does that girl have a RED FACE?” No problem; until recently, Addy was too young to hear the inquiries, and we know little kids are curious. We often just reassured the other parents with a smile, not sure why they felt so awkward around us. It’s okay, we’re cool with it.
But that day in the waiting room, the tables were turned; suddenly, I was the parent who was terrified that my curious three-year-old’s questions would be overheard by the girl who was, in fact, missing both arms, and I wanted to do anything to shut her up before I was branded as some backward, insensitive, ignorant lazy parent who can’t even teach her kids to accept other human beings for what they are in our postmodern hypersensitive age of diversity! (*gasp*) What would people think?! ?
I halted her questions with an awkward combination of The Mommy Death Stare and a loud “shush!!” (yeah, smooth), muttering something about needing to sit down and wait “very, very quietly” for the appointment. Go figure – the only place to sit down was right next to the young girl who, sure enough, was using her toes to leaf through the pages of the book she was reading, as there were no arms beyond the shoulders.
Then the girl looked up from her book with a soft smile and said quietly to me, “It’s okay, she can ask me anything she wants. I’m used to questions.” [“PHEW! So she doesn’t hate us. Good.”] I smiled and thanked her. She continued, “I don’t mind it when little kids ask me. It’s the older ones who aren’t nice.”
Hmmm. Maybe that’s why I’ve never minded kids’ questions; until recently, it’s usually just been the young ones who have noticed and asked about the stain. So before I label us as the ‘confidently proud and matter-of-fact’ modern parents I thought we were, I have to admit that we’ve never really been the target of any malicious teasing. Maybe there’s an inner ‘shaken and insecure’ parent waiting to emerge with the right prodding? Probably.
At least now I understand better why parents silently freak out at their kids’ noisy observations – they’re afraid they’ll be branded as terribly incompetent parents. And, like the graceful young girl in the waiting room, I’ll reassure them that it’s okay to ask. No, I don’t think you’re backward or insensitive or a bad parent. Even the most hypersensitive, postmodern parents have curious three-year olds…
Last night we went out to eat at Noodles. It was dinnertime, so there were lots of families with kids. We found a table in the back, by a family with a couple of little girls who were somewhere between kindergarten and third grade. (I can’t tell kids’ ages, so that’s a guess; older than Addy, still quite a bit younger than tweens.) While we approached and were getting settled, one of the girls noticed Addy’s face, still quite bruised from laser surgery. The girl caught her friend’s attention and gestured toward Addy. They stared wide-eyed. Then they started whispering furtively together; one kept touching her own cheek while they were discussing the sight.
There was something about their manner that brought back every memory of junior-high-female cattiness – that kind of “Ohmygosh, did you SEE her outfit?” posturing, leaning forward to whisper together importantly, stopping to turn and stare, then ducking back into the gossip. And it infuriated me.
I could a) ignore them, b) obey my ursine maternal instinct and cross the eight feet between us to give each one a good smack upside the head, c) find a happy medium and just stand there glaring at them until they got uncomfortable, which would have looked weird in public but still been at least mildly satisfying in a passive-aggressive way.
Since I’m not writing this from the local jail, you can assume I went (reluctantly) with Option A.
There were three factors that caused me to pick ‘self-control’ over ‘mother bear’:
1) The girls’ parents were sitting right there, and would have noticed me. Darn it.
2) Addy was completely oblivious, so… if I’m honest with myself, I’ll admit… no harm done there.
3) There’s a solid possibility that these were actually, truly, good girls. Girls who would never in a million years intend to hurt anyone’s feelings. Girls who are too little to understand that their innocent whispering could be noticed, let alone misconstrued. Girls who have never seen a half-purple face before and are simply trying to figure out what might have happened to it by talking about it together. Girls who are just old enough to start innocently adopting those chattering female mannerisms that carry such baggage for those of us who survived junior high.
So, I sat down at our table and ate dinner like an adult. Every once in a while I glanced over to observe the girls, and they seemed to be normal. I’m not sure exactly what that means (like how nasty the normal ones can get), but at least they weren’t running around hitting old ladies or laughing at people in wheelchairs. So, maybe I can give them some room to be curious.
I guess I’m learning that it’s a lot easier to handle the questions with humor, than with grace…
When I dropped Addy off at preschool on Wednesday (the first day after her surgery), I lingered out of curiosity, vaguely chatting with other the other moms and the teacher while watching Addy out of the corner of my eye. Addy was happily getting settled, greeting the teacher and the other kids, getting into the playtime rhythm. I noticed that the little kids by us were watching her closely. A couple even started to follow her, to get a better look at her face while she was walking around. (Either she was oblivious, or she doesn’t mind an entourage.) One little boy finally stood right in front of her, stopping her, and stared hard for a minute – then he raised his hand, pointed to her face and asked “What’s that?”
Instinctively, her hand flew up… to the pink barrette in her hair, and she enthusiastically responded with “Oh, that to keep my hair out of the goop.” [Goop = post-laser ointment applied to cheek]
The boy just stared blankly. Addy tried again: “GOOP” – saying it clearly, as if the poor kid didn’t hear the first time). Another blank stare. “GOO-OOP!” Nothing. “GOO-OO-PUH!”
She finally gave up; clearly, he just wasn’t getting it, so she went off to play.
We recently took a daytrip to a historic small town about an hour away. After walking around on Main Street for an hour or two on a ridiculously hot day, we popped into the local confectionary for ice cream. It was crazy busy in there, and while we were focusing on keeping the kiddos away from the colorful displays of treats, I heard the guy next to me in line say “Ah, she has a birthmark!” I cringed slightly, pasted a smile on my face and looked down at Addy to see if she had heard. But before I could do or say anything, the guy continued: “Just like me!”
My head snapped up to look at him, and sure enough, this guy in his mid-thirties had a dark red stain on his face, and it was even bigger than Addy’s, wrapping around his shaved head. I broke into a smile: “Port wine?” “Yep!” “Ha, that’s exactly what she has! Did you ever do any treatments?” (No questions are ‘too personal’ after finding common ground like that!) He shook his head: “Nah. I did one treatment when I was older, but that’s it.” Then he smiled: “Now I really like having it on my face; you know, it’s something different, no one else has it.”
So here’s a guy with a deep-red stain on his face, darkened a bit with age, wrapping around his skull, and he’s saying he likes it. Awesome. I wish I’d had time to get tips from him on how to encourage that kind of confidence, but we were too rushed. Oh, well. He still made my day!
Have you ever run across someone who shared a particularly odd trait with you? Were you as excited as I was to find them?