Parenting toddlers and their opinions and observations in public can be… interesting. Always fun. Eye-opening. Challenging. Sometimes embarrassing.
“That silly guy has earrings!” Observed, shouted and pointed at with zero inhibition by my almost-4 year old, right in the middle of my most fave Nordstrom shoe department… just as the ‘guy with earrings’ (those big circle-things things that are implanted within the ear lobe) was taking my hot new high-heels up to the register for purchase. If we were to be charged double for my new kicks, I’d know why.
The comedy and peril of being an opinionated woman and raising daughters who are not afraid of voicing their opinions.
Like a reflex, I looked down at my girl and whisper-yelled SHHHHHHH! YES SOME GUYS HAVE EARRINGS DON’T TALK ABOUT IT RIGHT NOW OK! and then looked right back up to another guy with two humongous diamond studs in each ear (which were to-die-for, by the way) standing about 3 feet in front of me laughing at us. This guy worked there too. Fabulous. Now I’m gonna have two men in the shoe department who have it out for me and my outspoken children. Out of pure customer courtesy and human decency to make light of my embarrassment I laughed and said to him (in front of my girls): “We notice everything now and we love to talk about it!” Hahaha! I’m so clever and good. Then, I leaned down to LadyP, grabbed her tiny face with affection, smiled big and said “Some guys like to wear earrings!” Another sales woman pointed to the guy (her friend) and teased “She called you out!” Everybody laughed. All was fine. Nobody charged me double. I left with what would yield some fabulous fall fashion statements.
I also briefly wondered if that was the first time this guy and his buddy had been called out by some random toddler. Because, even though this particular incident ended funnily, this wasn’t the first time this happened to me…
About a month ago, my girls and I were taking a lunch break at a local restaurant. Everyone was happy and well-behaved. We were coloring in our books and sipping from our sippy-cups. I remember I was extra-happy that day for no good reason (although, dressing up my girls like dolls and taking them to lunch like little ladies always makes me feel content). We were in one of those tables against the wall, with a bench across the back and chairs on the other side. A nice woman and her adult daughter were soon seated right next to us (like, 1 foot away). We had a nice hello (an account of being seated so closely together), they sweetly complimented my girls, asked me about the salad I ordered, and that was that. Until…
“Mommy… that girl is big!” The observation came complete with a tiny pointed finger and outstretched arm and was directed at the pair seated just next to us – that nice woman and her daughter. (Did I mention that that nice woman’s daughter happened to be significantly – severely – overweight? Obese.) My toddler daughter sitting across from me was pointing to that nice woman’s daughter sitting next to her. The one who just commented on how adorable my girls were. I died inside. I wanted to cry. And disappear. And then die again. Here I was, trying to raise helpful, gentle, responsible, generous, happy, kind, loving little people and this happens. In public. Unfabulous.
Looking back, it’s not like my little girl said anything bad, per se… she simply noticed that the girl was big. I mean, lots of things are “big”: The world is “big.” My daughter is a “big” sister. Papa is “big” and tall. But, I think we both know that this particular identification of “big” had a sensitized meaning attached to it… even it was an innocent toddler observation and she didn’t mean anything negative about it. I know what you’re thinking: No, we are not constantly surrounded by strange, skinny Hollywood people who eat nothing else but snack on only kale morning, noon and night. In fact, we are part of several very diverse social circles that includes people of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds. We’ve known and loved people who have dealt with this issue and have the utmost sensitivity about it. It’s never been a question, issue or observation… until THIS VERY MOMENT.
To pick up where I left off: I WANTED TO DIE. My heart sunk on account of possibly making anyone uncomfortable in any way. I noticed the pair in my peripheral vision: They didn’t even hear my daughter. I could stop this now. I was in control. I immediately gave LadyP that intense, silent shutup-now-or-else expression with my eyes and mouthed BE QUI-ET across our table. LilMiss was coloring the actual table now.
“Mommy, that girl is big!” Again. Louder now. Apparently I missed the note that 3 year olds don’t always understand that shutup-or-else expression unless you actually tell them out loud in words.
“I know I’m big, I’m sorry…” the daughter that my daughter was pointing to turned to her and responded. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.
No time to think this out. I pulled the rip cord and shot with my gut.
“Stop. There is no need to apologize!” I looked the girl in the eyes. I could tell she was either hurt or really annoyed… maybe both. Handle this. I don’t want to yell at a 3 year old in public over something she doesn’t quite understand, but I want to make sure she learns that, in the name of having respect for your fellow human being and the social structure of our world, this was not ok. “Sweetheart,” (I turned to my daughter, in the most matter-of-fact-but-tender way), “Everybody comes in a different size. Everybody’s different. Some people are small, some people are big, some people have dark skin, some people have light skin. We’re all here together and that’s what makes this world nice and interesting.” I then turned to the women beside us. “We’re three and a half now, and the more we go out, the more differences we notice and the more we say them out loud. I am so sorry if that made you uncomfortable.”
I didn’t quite know what to say, but that’s what I said. My heart hurt. I still don’t know how I didn’t break down and weep right then and there. Like any mom, I love my girls and don’t want berate them… but I also really care about strangers’ feelings too.
The mother and the girl shrugged it off, said something casual about toddlers speaking their minds and how (as teachers) they’ve heard it all… I responded with something like ‘they don’t warn you about this kind of stuff when you become a mom’ and we all had a giggle. It was smoothed over (on the surface) but I still wanted to crawl under the table, die… and then cry again. At this point LilMiss was coloring her own face. The sinking of my heart and pit in my stomach was beyond palpable. We finished our lunch in silence and left.
I did survive, my heart still hurt. I gently explained to LadyP (in the car) how everyone is different, that we don’t always have to point everything out, and if she ever has a question about anyone being different she can ask me privately. Too much to expect? Apparently it was (considering our previously-mentioned incident at Nordstrom a few weeks later). I was warned that this type of thing happens to the most fabulous of us… no one is exempt from the honesty of toddlers… no one, no one, no one. Just know that this has *officially* happened to me now too. Twice. But, in the name of trying to raise helpful, gentle, responsible, generous, happy, kind, loving little people… I will keep explaining, keep on explaining what’s right, what’s wrong and what should be kept to ourselves out of human compassion and decency.
HOW DO YOU HANDLE INAPPROPRIATE TODDLER OBSERVATIONS IN PUBLIC?