Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Costume Drama

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.

Just 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.

She's five.

Just five. Fresh five. And she knows that staring is hurtful.

So why.

Really why.

Don't those who are fifteen and fifty and fifty five seem to know?


Shan said...

The first thing I thought of when she said that was not "she's had to learn this from being with Dave", but that she has learned this from being in school for two years now. It doesn't take long for them to figure out that it's bad to attract too much attention.

clairesmum said...

the cruelty of the world is always with us, it seems, and you have given Ruby the words and skills to accurately identify it and to respond with kindness and self protection. I think those are great gifts to her from her Uncle Dave.

lillytigre said...

I often find that people my age and older are much more blatant with the staring and comments then people Ruby's age. I try to take that as a good sign. A sign that kids now are learning about difference and inclusion in a more positive light. I know kids can still be mean but I also think more kids are willing to stand up and say this behavior is hurtful. I see more of the preschool set "correcting" the adults in their lives then anyone else. It gives me hope. That maybe by the time the little ones in my life are my age overt starting and shaming will be a distant memory. I know it will never be easy but I hope it might not be so hard...

ms k said...

when the beastly boy was 3, i took a job on a special needs school bus, as a bus attendant. he came with me to work every day.

he hadnt seen kids with down syndrome before, or kids in wheelchairs, or anyone who was signifigantly different than his able-bodied family.

he was also in his "why" stage. and yes, he asked questions but when he was told "because they just *are* different, and that's ok too" he accepted it as just the way life is sometimes.

when he was five, we were in the mall, and he saw an older teen in a wheelchair, and told me "he's just different, and that's ok too." and the young man heard him...and just GRINNED. because here was a kid who *got* it. "i'm still ok even though i'm different."

and that's what ruby is learning too. that the staring is wrong because its ok to be different. and its not ok to make someone feel bad because they're different than you are. dont feel bad, dave. she's learned a HUGE lesson in compassion early, and is a better human for it.

being stared at can be hurtful...but it can be amusing too, when followed by "great hair!!"

mine, by the by, is pink. and i like it that way. :)

Belly (Liz McLennan) said...

It's my belief that children, especially ones who seen and known kindness and respect, will GIVE kindness and respect. Ruby sounds like a good soul - if the future is filled with more like her, then there's hope for us yet.

Rachel said...

In my experience, young children are far more likely to be both openly curious -- in a healthy way, it's not like I can blame them -- and far more quick to accept my difference than some adults. "Some people use chairs." "Oh. Okay." "Some people are really really short. Like some people are really really tall." "Oh. Okay."

Though I admit to enjoying watching very young children trying to figure me out, and my favorite ones are the ones who are trying to find out if I'm an adult by asking if I'm a mommy -- my guess being that they go there because all the grown women they know are. Perfectly logical!

Ruby sounds like such a delightful person!

(To go back to a previous subject, I had a choir friend who pulled off the "ask if I need help" thing perfectly tonight. concerning my moving a chair. I thought of this blog while I moved the chair myself. I also admit that most nights I am lazy and let somebody grab it for me if they want, but I never claimed to be perfect.)

Rachel said...

Whoops -- I don't use a chair, but am indeed very very short. I think I changed what I was going to say there mid-thought and forgot to go back and edit or something. Just to be clear on where I am coming from.