From the mouths of babes comes the truth. Children are just little adults without a filter between their brains and their lips. To paraphrase Eminem, they’re just saying the shit we’re all thinking! I’ll give you an example…
A few years back my weight was something really ridiculous. A number that was so high my bathroom scale’s digital display simply read,” ARE YOU SERIOUS RIGHT NOW?!” Anyway, I went to the pool with a girlfriend, because everyone knows that tanned fat looks way better than pasty white fat. As I was laying there, splayed out on a lounge chair, soaking up the rays in my plus-size tankini with flattering “modesty skirt” and minding my own business, this little waif of a child wandered over near my chair. She stared at me for a second and being the child lover I am, I smiled and said, “Hi sweetie.” She looked at me with her doe-like little eyes and then, as simply as you please, replied, “You’re really fat.”
I totally got fat shamed by a 3-year old.
What was I to do? Should I have told her she was a mouthy little asshole? Told her that she was rude? Told her that despite the fact that her observation was spot on, I didn’t need her to remind me seeing as how most of my flesh was on display and my spandex swim skirt wasn’t hiding much of anything? No. Because I am an adult and I possess a brain-mouth filter–most of the time. Instead, I decided to be my truly authentic self and in the most sarcastic way that I could without uttering any profanity, said, “Well…aren’t you just so precious and nice for pointing that out? It’s time for you to go now. Why don’t you run along and find your mommy.”
A while later, as I sat with my friend on the edge of the kiddie pool while her girls splished and splashed, my little truth-whisperer skipped over towards our side of the kiddie pool with her mommy–a woman who I’m certain, during the height of her pregnancy probably just looked as if she’d had too many carbs one Wednesday and her pants were feeling a little snug. She had not an ounce of extra fat on her; no evidence that she had ever birthed a child. Then I thought, is it possible that I was the first fat person this child had ever seen outside of a book, or a cartoon, or Santa Claus? As I sat there feeling a little insecure thanks to my toddler friend’s comments, and trying to forget that the whole situation ever happened, she presented herself to me… AGAIN! She looked at me, cocked her head, smiled, and then said, “You are really fat.” Ummm, Jesus. I heard you the first time, ok?!?! However, this time, her mom heard her announcement and simply and flatly told her, “We don’t say that.” Oh, don’t we, skinny mommy?! Could you muster just a little more emphasis in your correction? Without missing a beat, the little girl said, “No, mommy. It’s ok. She likes it. She said I was nice for telling her that.” The mother refused to make any additional eye contact with me. It was probably a wise choice on her part…the sun was starting to get to me at that point in the day. I might not have been responsible for my actions after that.
And that, my dear friends, also brings to mind another important kid fact worth sharing… Toddlers and young children do not understand sarcasm. They have no filters, speak the truth, and they do not have the capacity to process sarcasm. It’s amazing they are able to survive childhood with all those challenges and limitations.
But that’s what I mean. They just speak. As adults, it’s our role to teach them tact and a little bit of grace in how they communicate. When the subject of their truth telling is an adult, the things they say can be hard to hear, but we rationalize, we laugh it off, we move on. But when their blunt observations are about another kid, what do you do?
This past weekend, my hubby, Babyman and I went out for an early lunch. We found ourselves at a restaurant that only had one other table occupied. As the three of us sat there getting situated, another family walked in. They had 2 young boys and an infant. They were seated at a table very near ours. My son immediately became interested because, well, kids– those are his people. I don’t know why, but the minute they sat down, I knew in my heart and my sixth sense, that the oldest boy, a 4-year old I later found out, was going to say something about my son’s cochlear implants. And then, it happened…
“Mama, what’s wrong with that boy?”
I immediately had a lump in my throat. My adult brain knew that he wasn’t being cruel and that he just didn’t understand what he was seeing, but my heart shattered for my unaware child. To her credit, I think his mom handled it very well. She said, “Nothing’s wrong with him.” She looked up at me, smiled and said, I think my son is confused about your son’s hearing aids. Would you be willing to tell him what they are?”
So I invited her boys over to our table and introduced them to my son and had them introduce themselves to him. Then I explained that when he was born his ears didn’t work quite right, and he wasn’t able to hear things very well. I told them that we found a special doctor who gave him some magic ears and now he can hear. But I also upped the ante and shared that not only can he now hear with ears and is learning to talk with his mouth, but… he can also talk with his hands! This was met with huge smiles and more questions about what it means to talk with your hands. The mom thanked me for my openness and willingness to explain it to her children. Seriously though, how could I not take an opportunity when it’s presented to help provide a little perspective on a topic that is now so near and dear to me? I hope that what I told them sticks with them and they remember it when they meet someone else who might have cochlear implants, or simply looks a little different than they do.
I don’t know exactly what the future is going to hold for my son, but I know this won’t be the last time I hear someone wonder what’s “wrong” with all the equipment dangling from his head. I know that as he gets older and starts to encounter more kids that he will likely have to endure some curiosity and even some stupidity and meanness. I just hope by that point I’ve been able to teach my boy the fine art of sarcasm and witty retorts so he’s prepared to respond…with his mouth, and his hands!