Friday, March 27, 2009

The elephant in the room (in a manner of speaking)

I think I caught a glimpse of my future today.

I was walking alone downtown, caught behind a family of four who refused to make room for anyone (meaning me) to pass. No big deal. There was mom, dad, a boy about twelve or so and another about three, I'd guess. The two boys, as is the wont of boys, seemed lost in their own little world and couldn't be bothered to notice anything but each other. It was actually entertaining to watch them.

I noticed that walking up the street toward us was a one-legged man on crutches. I was worried that the kids wouldn't see him. But then the mom and dad peeled off left and the kids didn't notice until their parents yelled out for them to keep up. At this point, they snapped out of their reverie and looked around them and they saw the one-legged man go striding past and the three-year-old turned and, mouth agape, yelled out, "that man... his leg is broken!"

I winced a little, but kept on walking. I didn't want to listen to whatever explanation the parents would have for the boy. And as I walked, I started to wonder what I would do in a similar situation, and I know there will probably be plenty of similar situations.

How do you explain to a little one that it's not polite to say such things? I mean, if everyone already knows that the man is missing a leg, then what possible harm could there be in saying it out loud? How does one learn to distinguish between an attribute one might be proud of and one that a body would rather go unmentioned? I have to admit that I still have problems with that at times. I generally err on the side of never mentioning at all that one might possibly deviate from the generally perceived norm.

It's been my experience that having discussions of this type wit children leads to an endlessly recursive loop of Whys. As in:

It's not polite to say such things.


Because that man may be sensitive about his missing leg.


Because it's not nice to be pointed at and be made to feel different.


Ad infinitum.

I'm not going to posit any answers here, I really am wondering what I'll do when we come to that uncomfortable bridge. My one hope is that Oscar will give me a couple of years before doing what comes natural to kids everywhere: stating the obvious simply because it is just that.

1 comment:

Sarah Evans said...

Nice post. I also wonder the same about when I have kids. Stuart doesn't have a useful response, either.