Double-Edged Words

January 16, 2013 at 5:20 am | Posted in Giggles | 11 Comments
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“Isn’t that kid weird, Mom?”

Giggles said it casually, as if commenting on the purple carpet or the way the air smelled like freshly pumped basketballs.

My heart stopped, but we kept walking. Past the dad with the green T-shirt and retro specs. Past the blond-haired little boy with his eye permanently shut and his cheek puffed out. Past the “Pediatric Craniofacial Specialists” sign where they waited, talking quietly, probably about something altogether ordinary like video games or burritos for lunch.

Giggles, Bun, and I walked inside our own pediatric specialist office and checked in. We updated paperwork, fought over the train in the basket of toys, waited, fought, and waited. We talked with the nurse, got new X-rays, talked with the doctor, got lollipops, and checked out. We bundled up. We unbundled for a potty break. We re-bundled, and walked to the elevator.

The boy and his dad weren’t in the hallway anymore, but I could still see them clearly. And us.

The dad, patient and strong; the boy, stooped and a little sad; me, holding coats, hats, crayons, and a grande Starbucks mocha; my boys, galloping like Adidas-clad rhinoceroses down an otherwise quiet hallway.

Quiet except for this, except for us: “Isn’t that kid weird, Mom?”

How many times had they heard that? How many times had it chinked right through the defenses of that sweet little boy? How many times had his dad held him close and wished he could be the one hurting, the one being examined by strangers and doctors alike?

And how many mothers had sat down with their own children and said the things I said a few hours later? About the difference between thinking things and saying them out loud.

About how our words make other people feel.

About imagining ourselves in someone else’s place.

About being kind next time.

About being kind above all.

What would you have done? How do you teach kids the power of their words in this complicated world? The power of empathy?



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  1. Oh, those comments cut you to the bone, don’t they? You just hope and pray that the little boy didn’t hear THAT comment and that, if he did, he has learned from his parents that little children aren’t trying to be mean…

  2. I read just last week a book called Wonder by R.J.Palacio. I read it in 2 days, and if my own children weren’t running circles around me and sure to be up before the crack of dawn, I would have stayed up all night reading it like I used to do as a kid. It’s about exactly what happened to you today. A normal kid. But not “normal.” I’d like to think that I’ve always understood the “other” perspective, but this story really makes you feel it and makes me realize that I’ll never really understand, but that I can try. And that I can try to make my boys understand too, to understand the normalcy in all of us, no matter what we look like.

    On Sunday I had a repeat conversation with my 7 and 5 yr olds responding to a question about “Why does that lady always make that sound? It’s really weird.” I told him that our brains are all different, and sometimes people’s brains are born with different ways to learn, or things that make it hard to learn, or even to move around. Sometimes people are born with bodies that don’t work right or without a hand, and those people have to work really hard to do the same things that we do that are easy. And sometimes people are born with bodies that look okay, but their brains make it hard for them to control. Like the woman that makes that sound all the time. Her brain doesn’t tell her to stop, so she doesn’t. So smile at her like you would at anyone else. I bet she’d like that, just like you would. I like you’re comment about being kind above all. I hope that as I strive for that, my boys will see it and do the same!

  3. I would have done the same. Probably. Oh, the times I’ve hissed… Don’t say that! at my children. But now I have a little doubt that tickles my conscience. Should I say, no, right in front of them? I’d like to say simply and with ease – even though he looks different, he’s just a boy like you guys…

    • I say it right when it happens: “We don’t talk about how people look.” It’s automatci. If I need to, I apologize to the person or parent. It’s awkward. Then I talk to my kids about being kind, about being nice. They are starting to understand.

  4. Read Wonder by R. J. Palacio. Great, great book, and will give you some insight into this.
    I do the same with my children, who maybe don’t get it yet. Words have power; spoken words have impact.
    Be kind. They are too young yet to understand how to be kind in words — but they are not too young to start learning, and to learn by example.

  5. It sounds like you did a good job of handling it. It’s never easy to know how to handle those tough situations.

  6. It’s such a natural reaction from kids when they see someone different from them, and it’s also a big lesson that we need to teach them and they need to internalize – not to say whatever is on our mind whenever they want. I think you handled it well even as I know that my mind would be stuck on that image you drew of the dad and his boy.

  7. This is so hard. I don’t know what I will do. I do- however- remember taking my 1 year old to the pool and at the time he had a protruding hemangioma on the side of his right temple. A child saw it and wouldn’t stop staring, pointing and making a big fuss over it. He was yelling at his mother ‘WHAT’S WRONG WITH HIS HEAD??!!’ and she was oblivious. It was a mixture of feelings- but I ended up mostly feeling sorry for the kid because I figured someday someone would be insulted by his lack of tact and punch him in the nose. ((sidenote- that hemangioma is now pretty much gone. which makes me sad))

  8. Little kids are so honest and they just call it like they see it, with no bad intentions or desire to hurt. I would have done what you did but I so feel what you did that moment. Another thing I thought of, too, is that having gone through this you can give them a kind of “prep talk” if and when you have to take them through those same hallways again.

    My son is 8 now, and I don’t know when but at some point he just caught on. He now knows when to keep his mouth shut and when to whisper, and whisper SOFTLY. But what I found interesting is that we got him the Guinness Book of World Records thinking he would love all that trivia, but instead he won’t touch the book because all the photos, as he says, “creeps [him] out.” The photos are of people at their “extreme” – the tallest, the oldest, the shortest, the person with the most tattoos, the person with the longest fingernails, etc. Maybe our kids are still adapting to this world, and it takes them time to understand and make sense of people who look different. The more diversity they see, the more comfortable and open they will become, as long as they have parents like you who take the time to teach them about empathy.

    By the way, I just ordered and received Wonder (as mentioned by the other commenters) with the gift card you gave me!! xo


  9. I think you did the best you could in your situation, but honestly, I am here to learn.

    My then 3yo had pointed at a guy who was passing by and exclaimed, “Mommy, he’s so fat!” I looked at her disapprovingly and quietly mentioned something about how it’s not nice to talk that way about people. Except she didn’t understand that “fat” was not a nice term to use. To her, it was just a description, so my challenge was beyond empathy.

    What seemed perfectly ordinary and acceptable to her may not be to society in general, but where do I even begin with that? I think I should put “Wonder” on my list of books to read. I need to better prepare for other such situations, especially since Thumper is starting to talk herself.

  10. Hard and sad…..words hurt. The best thing is to explain and talk about it…this way they will know next time.

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