She was excitedly telling me about being out trick or treating in her Princess Amidala costume. They had gone the the mall, full of thousands of kids and parents, and were having a blast. Ruby loves dressing up to look like a princess so she was over the moon with her fancy dress. "Everyone liked my costume," she said excitedly, "they were all looking at me ..."
Suddenly, she stopped.
Now Ruby is a talker and when she is into a story, she is INTO a story. It is unusual for her to abruptly stop mid sentence. I stayed quiet on the other end of the phone and waited. I knew she must be thinking. We were both quiet for a moment and then she said, softly, "they were just looking at me, not staring so it was OK." That clarified, she went on to describe the rest of her evening.
I found it interesting, though I didn't comment on it to her, that she wanted me to understand her experience properly, that she wanted to make it clear that she understood the difference between being looked at and being stared at, that she had learned - and I guess from being with me - that one is good, that the other is not.
I felt sad inside a little bit. Sad that she, at so young an age has had to learn the ways of discrimination and of social cruelty. That she, by being with me, is subject to 'second hand staring' and the violence of 'second hand judgements'. That she, by virtue of a relationship that she did not choose, is exposed to both the best of people (for surely she sees kindness too) and the worst of people (she hates how I am sometimes treated and how her association with me is not always greeted kindly). It makes me sad that she has had to learn this, it makes me sadder that the world she is growing into is marked as much by intolerance and hatred as it is by warmth and welcome. Sad indeed.
A few weeks ago, Ruby was approached by the Junior Kindergarten teacher to see if she, all the way up in Senior Kindergarten, would come and spend time with kids who had just started and were having difficulty adjusting to being in school and away from home. She eagerly went and showed the new kids how cool it was to be in class and to get to play and have fun. Last year she won the citizenship award for her kindness to others in the classroom. Her tradition of caring has continued.
And she showed it again, in conversation with me. I've never really talked to her about those who stare at me. I've never pointed it out. I've just hoped that she didn't see it so that she wouldn't have to deal with it. But, of course, she sees what's around her. And she must see that sometimes it hurts me. This is why, I believe, she stopped and assured me that she was being 'looked at' not 'stared at' and that she was OK. She wanted to be careful to describe her experience by putting it into context, not the context of discrimination but the context of delight.
Just five. Fresh five. And she knows that staring is hurtful.
Don't those who are fifteen and fifty and fifty five seem to know?