28 January 2016

A lesson in responding to a kid's shouty, pointy curiosity about my face.


The dream

I had a dream on Monday night that made me laugh and embarrassed. I think the dream came about because of a stare-bear (and his mother) I encountered on the weekend. It gets REALLY tiring.

A woman was staring at me a lot. And so I went a bit extreme. Instead of saying hello or smiling, or asking if I could help her, I wiped my face up her arm! Like a dog wiping its slobber.

Then I woke up in horror. Sleeping Carly forgot her manners.

SO ashamed. And amused. (Imagine if I really did that?!)

The reality

I stood behind three kids in a cinema queue. One kid (maybe four years old) was continuously staring at me so I smiled and said hello. His mother, at the ticket counter, turned around and saw me. He continued staring and I just looked away and talked to Adam.

Then the kid started pointing at me and said to his brother "look at that lady, look at that lady". So of course, everyone around looks at me! I said to the kid "please don't point at me It's rude." His mother turned around again and yelled "he's just a little kid. He can't help staring and pointing." I told her I'd said hello to him and smiled, which she had seen.

Then she told me I was rude. She said "I'm giving you an apology now" and "he's too little to understand" and walked off in a huff. The cinema attendant saw it all and said "I'm sorry, you must be so tired of that happening".

As we walked around the shopping centre, I kept coming back to the kid and his mother. She was so rude, I told Adam. Maybe I was rude too? That kid was embarrassing. The mother's response riled me. How can I keep letting these encounters make me feel so powerless, when I encounter them a lot? I couldn't stop thinking about it.

I hate these situations. I hate it when kids single me out and make everyone look. I hate it that kids are sometimes scared of me. I don't want anyone being scared of my face. I never know whether to launch in and explain or invite questions (Stella Young was good at this). And I hate seeming rude for speaking up when I'm uncomfortable.

He is just a kid, he does needs to learn. These encounters are teaching moments, and I'm a teacher. But it's tiring and I often feel powerless to a kid much younger than me.

Sometimes kids are cute and curious and I know what to say immediately, other times they are rude and their parents say nothing. I think encountering rude kids takes me back to my childhood - memories of being taunted and stared at then have stuck with me well into adulthood.

Perhaps a kid hasn't encountered different looking people until they've seen me? Maybe a parent hasn't prepared themselves for diversity? And I can't parent someone else's child.

Encounters like this one at the cinema remind me I'm always learning, just like the kid is. It's a lesson in tailored responses, diplomacy, thinking on my feet and approachability. I second guess my responses and feel ill-equipped. All the writing I'll ever do can't prepare me for a shouty, pointy kid in the cinema queue.

(Image: small female child wearing white top amd orange skirt, pointing upward. There's a rainbow drawing coming out of her head. Text: "Lessons in kids' curiosity" plus my blog URL.)



  1. What a load of bullshit! I taught my kids, when they were old enough to speak, everyone is different, and it is rude to point and stare. That mother put the blame on you, but she failed to teach her child common decency and consideration. You were 100% right to point out the boy's rudeness.

  2. I agree with Cape. The kid didn't know better, but the parent did, and it's the parent's job to keep their kids from turning into arseholes.

  3. I just showed your picture to my 12 year old daughter and asked her, "If you were with your friends in the street, and you saw this woman, would you start pointing, or staring, or whispering?" When she said no, I asked her why. She said, "Because she's a human." That's all we have to teach them.

  4. I think I love Donna's response most. Each child needs to be taught that every person is a human, worthy of respect and to be afforded dignity. That said, I understand it must be a knife-edge to walk between instilling decency and generating anxiety about looking.

    I think I was probably never taught properly as a child, but I hope that as an adult I've improved, and manage to conduct myself appropriately. I'm glad for the compassion of the cinema theatre employee though.

  5. You did the right thing, Carly, and this encourter says so much more about this mother than it does about you, or her poor child, who was just doing what kids do. But if we allowed kids to do what they do, they would be smearing themselves in food, running amok everywhere and poking everyone with sticks. They don't bring themselves up, and you're right, you don't have to be someone else's parent!!

  6. Carly as a parent of four, I have the opinion that if I as a parent do not train my children by action and by discussion then who else will? Every individual regardless of their appearance or within the school as a autistic or hyperactive child should be treated with dignity and respect.

    This is not easy in a society of distinct diversity as to what parenthood is.

    We live in a superficial world environment where the beautiful and the attractive are what a generation starved themselves to become.

    Fashion, appearance and wealth are our Gods, within a society of social media narcissism.

    You showed no sign of rudeness, you made the mistake of speaking out.

    In so doing, squeezed the conscious of the mother who then lashed out in the same fashion of her child.....

  7. It is profoundly disturbing how our society has normalised commentary about the appearance of others. Why is okay to stare and make comments about strangers in public places? Why is it okay to comment on the clothes / hair / body shape of people featured in the media? As a parent I try to challenge my girls about this but that has also meant challenging myself. We've all got a responsibility to treat others with respect and tolerance.

  8. Carly -- I try to take the fact that I'm a parent of an affected child out of the equation, and how I have reacted to certain situations. And the answer is still the same. The mother was wrong. I assume you were not mean to the child in the way (tone) you spoke to them, therefore you were not rude. Your encounter just re-affirms two things I already knew. First, adults are way worse than children when it comes to their behavior towards other people. Two, parents will do anything these days to avoid having to be parents.

  9. When my son was on supplemental oxygen, other young children would frequently come up and ask if he was hurt, what the tube in his nose was for, etc. I would explain that he was fine and the tube just helped him breathe better, that it was a good thing. There was one time though when a little girl started pointing at my son and screaming. She kept doing it for, I don't know, 10-15 minutes. Her mother said to me, "She's scared of that," pointing to the oxygen, and then proceeded to ignore the fact that her daughter was screaming. I won't lie, I was very upset, not with the little girl but with her mother. How hard would it have been to talk to her daughter and explain the equipment, or ask me to explain it, so it wouldn't be scary?

    I can only imagine what it's like to have incidents like that happen day in and day out. You are much more polite and have a much more positive attitude than I would - whatever your subconscious self may do in your dreams. And no, you were not rude. You were simply performing the task of teaching good manners which his mother should have been performing and wasn't.

    My son is not yet 2 and has developmental delays and we're already working on manners. There's really no excuse for that kind of parenting.


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