When I took Liv for her 3 year well-visit, her doctor commented on how clearly she spoke. I love this about Liv. Most of the time.
A few weeks ago the girls and I were at…surprise surprise…Target. We were walking on the end of an aisle and I noticed a girl pushing what I assumed was her younger sister a few aisles ahead of us. The older sister appeared to have some sort of disability. Their mom was looking through spice options a few feet away.
As we approached, Liv looked up and said, “Mommy, that girl looks funny.” I stopped breathing.
Then Eliza the Parrot piped up with her version of Liv’s statement. “Girl fuyyey, girl fuyyey.”
At this point we were passing the aisle the other girls were on and I was pretty sure they hadn’t heard Liv. Eliza’s speech is still hard to distinguish for anyone but..me…so although I was frustrated by my daughters’ behavior and a little shaken by the whole thing, I decided it was best to walk by, then talk to them about the inappropriateness of the comments when we were out of earshot.
As we passed the aisle, I made eye contact with the other mom. She turned towards her own daughters and said, “Look, those girls are funny looking. Those girls look funny. They are funny. Looking.”
My face flushed and I hurried down the perimeter of the store. My girls hadn’t heard her. We turned a corner and I looked at my daughters. I did my best to talk with them about what kind of words we want to use. We want to say things that are encouraging, kind, that make people feel good and safe, not things that make people feel embarrassed or sad. This was not easy to explain to a 3 year old because she didn’t understand what “embarrassed” means. I’m sure I said some stupid things but I tried on the fly. I realized I’d forgotten something I really needed from the food section but I was afraid to go back in that direction because I didn’t want to run into the other family again.
Then my head really started swirling.
Here’s what I know about the situation.
I know my kid was rude and said things she shouldn’t have said. At the same time, I know my daughter, and I know her statements were observations, not judgements. I know this doesn’t make them any more acceptable.
I know it’s likely that I handled the situation imperfectly. Based on the other mom’s reaction, I’m thinking I probably should have corrected Liv while we were within earshot.
I know I don’t know what it’s like to have a daughter with a disability. I know I have the fierce instinct to protect my children and I don’t blame another mother for having the same instinct. Unfortunately, it’s likely that the other mom has to act on that instinct more frequently than I do because of comments like the one my daughter made in the store.
This one is hard to write. I don’t know what had gone on in the time before my life intersected with this other family’s. But I do know that turning the tables and mocking my daughters was probably not what the other mom actually hopes to model for her girls. We all have our less-than-lovely moments and I’m going to bank on the fact that this was one of the other mom’s; that it is not her regular pattern.
I wish I could go back and talk to the other mom, but the reality is I will probably never see her again. Even if I do, I probably won’t recognize her. Unfortunately, I’m still feeling a lack of resolution about the situation. How can I be better prepared next time? How would a mom of a child with disabilities like me to respond in this situation? We continued the conversation when we got home. I explained why “funny looking” is, for the most part, unacceptable. We talked about why we want to make people feel encouraged and safe; because God is our creator, and he gave us integrity; we reflect God’s image, and are loved by him. Yes, I tried to explain integrity to a 3 year old. I think Liv understands enough, but I know there will probably be more situations like this. Kids say the darndest things, and when we’re lucky, they’re funny. When we’re unlucky, they’re hurtful, and how can we guide their hearts to more loving behavior?
Anyone had similar experiences, either growing up or with your own kids? (Once, in a donut shop, my brother once yelled that a very large man was going to break the stool if he sat on it. The man ordered a small cup of coffee, no donuts. This was before donut shops had good coffee.)
What about being on the receiving end of a comment like my daughter’s? What’s the best way to handle this as the mom of the offender? I really am all ears.