I read a blog post the other day about the top embarrassing things kids say in front of strangers. They are usually obvious, true things. That just don’t need to be pointed out. Loudly. In public. Like mustaches on women. And men wearing a lot of eyeliner. And people who smell like poop. Everyone already noticed. You just pray that your child is not the one to loudly state the obvious.
Because then you have address the issue with them. Loudly. In public. And these are tricky issues to explain to your kids: that it’s ok for women to have mustaches (look at mommy’s!) and it’s ok for dudes to wear make-up. And, while it’s not really ok to smell like poop, some people just do. And there’s not much to be accomplished by pointing it out. You can’t just hush your child or tell them to be quiet. That’s not very nice. And it doesn’t work anyway. If you simply say “shhhhhhhh”, they will just continue to argue their case. “But mom, she DOES have a mustache! And it’s not gray like grandma’s! It’s black like daddy’s! Look! See it? She’s right there……”
You can’t punish or shame a child for stating the truth. You have to gently and quickly explain WHY they should “shhhhhhhhhhhh.” Explain that, yes you see it too, but we don’t really need to talk about it right now. Or that, yes everyone looks different, isn’t that great? It’s a great Teachable Moment, but if you’re like me, you’d rather have the Teachable Moment in the car on the way home rather than in the check-out line right behind the Bearded Lady.
My most vivid memory of a wonderful Teachable Moment took place in a Subway restaurant. I was in line with my 2 year-old and my newborn, waiting to order sandwiches, when my oldest pointed out an obvious truth. The woman in front of us was very very big. You might even call her fat. And she had a big butt. And she had big big wiggly arms. These were my son’s words, not mine. They may have been in my (unconscious) thoughts, but they were not my words. They were my son’s loud, well-enunciated, easily-overheard words. We all heard him. Me, the woman in front of us, everyone else in the looooong line. Crawling away to die was not an option. My only option was a Teachable Moment. And I think I did ok. I explained that, yes that woman was bigger. People come in all different shapes and sizes, isn’t that great? And some people who are bigger want to be smaller. And they have to work really hard to get smaller. And “fat” is not a naughty word. But it’s a “word that hurts”. Especially if someone is working really hard to get smaller. And so on and so on. And either I explained it really well or I simply explained it too long, because eventually his eyes glazed over and he moved on to the important topic of the orange street sweeper we had seen that morning.
It’s funny what kids notice. And it’s funny what they don’t notice. A few weeks ago, we were having lunch at Grand Avenue Mall in downtown Milwaukee. I noticed that we were one of the only families there that was NOT African-American. This is a very different experience from the one we usually have in the mall near our home in Neenah. I wanted to have a Teachable Moment with my kids. I wanted them to notice. I wanted them to ask me why. I wanted to talk about the northern migration of people of African descent after the Civil War and their concentraion in certain urban areas. Blah blah blah. My kids didn’t notice. And didn’t care. They’re awesome that way. When I did ask them if they noticed any differences between Milwaukee and Neenah, they said no. Sigh. So I briefly touched on the fact that bigger cities sometimes have a bigger diversity. More ethnicities, more languages, more socio-economic classes, all that stuff. And that it is interesting to visit other cities that are different from our city.
At that point, my youngest son looked around and smiled. “Everyone’s black!” he noted with joy. Then he added, “Mom, are we black?”
Looks like we need some more Teachable Moments.