Momma, he is so large, she says to me, to herself, to him, to no one and all of us at the same time, but not nearly as large as the shame-hole I just fell face-first into, kid, I whisper silently, a prayer for either forgiveness or forgetfulness, though I am not sure which would have been preferable.
He saunters on enough paces that, when he turns, his aim is true. You're not the first person to mention it slams into our chests, propelled by the force of the washroom door slamming shut. I stammer as I lead my daughter back to our table and attempt to sort through the myriad of moves I could make next.
She has reached the level of self-awareness where she needs to find the place that she belongs within the variations of people that she encounters in the world. Overnight, her world exploded from just boys or girls to men and women and moms and dads and dark hair and light hair and skin tones and accents and personalities and ages and she must find a way to catalog the people she meets so that she can begin to define herself within the context of the world as she knows it.
Momma, he likes mint green shirts, too! she would have said a year ago when she still sought out the ways she could liken herself to everyone around her. Now she actively seeks her uniqueness against the backdrop of humanity, but has not yet learned to temper that with consideration, because she is still too young to realize that anyone other than herself is.
And I probably could have let it go. He said his peace, we'd finished our meal, and the chances of running into the same person twice in the fourth largest city in America are so low that I could get struck twice by lightening before it happened. In fact, I almost did let it go. I told my daughter that she ought not say things like that, and it would have been the end of it if she hadn't argued the point with me.
But he is large, mom. Yes dear, but he is many things and we aren't sitting her rattling them all off, now are we?
What do you mean, mom? I mean that it isn't polite to speak of people as if they aren't there, that people have feelings and maybe you hurt his.
I didn't hurt his feewings. How do you know? Did you ask him?
No. How would you have felt if he'd pointed at you and said to me, Shannon, she's so little?
I wouldn't wike it. But you ARE little, aren't you? Yes. So why can't he say it? I dunno, I just can't wike it.
And that, friends, is called Existentialism for Preschoolers, or Wasting Your Breath While Your Thai Curry Chicken Congeals.
It quickly became apparent to me that she was incapable of understanding my point, and I was incapable of understanding hers, but all the same I am her mother and it is my job to teach her at every opportunity I am given, and she just handed me one with a fortune cookie and a side of ginger. I needed her to remember to think before she spoke the next time she encountered someone different than she. I needed to shrink this lesson from Fire can burn down the house and kill everyone to The stove hurts your hand so don't touch it. I didn't need her to understand that discussing people's weight in public is a sensitive issue for most, I just needed her to not scream and point the next time someone over a size 14 walked past her.
So I made her apologize.
Why? I have no idea. I didn't know what else to do, honestly. I told her that he was more than simply large and she was to find out one other thing about him. I suggested she, after she apologized for her bad manners, tell him her name and ask him his. This was not her favorite plan, but to her credit, she did it.
I touched him on the shoulder and his wife shot me the Look Of Death when I told him that my daughter had something to say to him. She looked at her feet and said that she was sorry for her bad manners. He took her hand and said, Thank you. My name is [name], what's yours? When he asked her age, she told him and he looked at me and asked, "She's only five? She's so tall!" And right about then I realized that he didn't at all see a preschooler pointing out a new thing, he'd seen a grown child mocking him in public -- and would have carried that with him for a long time if we hadn't fixed it.
In the end, he ended up giving her a hug and telling her he hoped they'd meet again at our little rice bowl restaurant, and everyone went home smiling. And two days later, when we passed a woman in a power scooter with no arms beyond her elbows, my daughter didn't so much as blink at the difference, because I think she saw what is: a woman, not two missing hands.
Photo Credit: mukumbura.
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