We're All Different
"Excuse me. Why is that girl missing an arm?" My daughter asks.
Ok...two things pop into my mind at this point;
- Well done on asking politely
- OMFG did you really just ask that?
"Well, that's a great question" the Dad responds. "He was born without it. Just like you have brown eyes and your Dad has blue eyes, everybody is different. It's just a part of who he is."
Well, well, well...if it isn't Mr. Cool as a cucumber with an absolutely brilliant answer.
And thank goodness for cucumber Dad as I was caught completely off guard. As an adult we typically avoid these types of questions as they are considered invasive or awkward or even embarrassing. But you know what, you must admire the innocence of children as these questions are part of normal life, even though we may not say them out loud. Children ask these questions (and many others) because they are naturally curious and want to know. "Why does she have such a big nose?" "Why is he so wrinkly?" I could go on and on but I think you get the picture.
While these can be completely embarrassing, especially when dealing with the size of a stranger's backside, they are also great opportunities to discuss and celebrate the differences in others. Just as cucumber Dad pointed out that my daughter and I have different color eyes, we are all different. Some people are tall and some are short. Some people have brown hair while others have black. The list is never-ending. But the important thing to remember is that it is our differences that make life interesting...like ordering a sampler platter of tacos.
"It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences." - Audre Lorde
While living abroad, I constantly encountered physical differences, foods, traditions, social norms, etc that were vastly different from my time growing up in the Midwest United States. At first I approached these situations with apprehension deeming them "strange" or "weird" simply because I had never encountered such differences before. But as I spent more and more time living abroad, what I first viewed as "strange" or "weird" became normal and wonderful. My apprehension gave way to understanding and acceptance and my vocabulary shifted away from describing things as "strange" or "weird". It's a mindset shift that has made all the difference as it opened my mind to new possibilities and experiences.
So what does this have to do with children asking awkward questions? EVERYTHING! As all parents can attest, children will ask any question that pops into their mind, even those that adults may considered awkward. As a parent, it is in these moments that we have the opportunity to teach our children that being different is OK/a part of life; that we should approach our differences with open arms and acceptance rather than describing them as "strange" or "weird". Because, when you think about it, what's "normal" is completely relative to everyone's situation. While parents may feel a bit embarrassed at the subject of the question, we have a responsibility to put our embarrassment aside and to seize the moment so that our children can broaden their minds.
This lesson is especially important as the world is a much smaller place than people may realize. Technology such as Facebook or What'sApp allows us to stay connected to anyone, anywhere, at any time and physical distance is more of a mental barrier than anything. So while our parents may have remained in a relative bubble for much of their life (big assumption), it is safe to assume that future generations will be more connected and encountering different people/cultures will be a norm. In 10 or 20 years, as our children leave home and experiences these differences for themselves, is only with open minds that they will be able to see the world, and their place in it, through a much more delicious lens.