Out of the Mouths of Babes

“Hi!” cheers the little girl in the front of the cart. She has a bag of apples in her hand, and she is poking holes in it. I’m grinning at her, because Gabe does the same thing.

“Hi,” I say back. “How are you?”

She holds up her finger. “I have a boo boo.” I can’t see it through the princess bandage, but of course, we all know what bandages mean.

“Oh,” I start to say, but her mother has stopped picking through the broccoli now.

“She isn’t interested in your boo boo,” she tells her daughter, pushing her hand down.

Well, actually I am interested. Maybe not in the boo boo, but in whatever the little girl wishes to tell me. (I’ve just come from the gym, so I’m in the best mood I’ll be in all day. And also, I write children’s books. This is character study for me! But most importantly, she is just so darn cute!)

“I have a boo boo, too,” I tell her, holding up my own finger, “but I don’t have a princess bandage.”

She looks like she feels sorry for me, so I add, “But it doesn’t hurt.”

I wave goodbye to her as her mother heads for the checkout, and I wonder why it is that when we grow up, we stop answering honestly. I’m thinking about the face the little girl made when her mother told her I wasn’t interested. She was confused. No doubt she was thinking, “Then why did she ask?”

Why do we ask?

One of the objectives in Gabe’s IEP (his education goals) is to learn appropriate responses. The first time he said, “May I have some chocolate milk please?” I nearly choked. I’ve come to love it, but I’m not sure why. It’s more pleasant to hear than his former Hitler styled demand. “Chocolate Milk!” But I’m not convinced that it’s any different to him. He wants it, and I’m supposed to get it.

At Gabe’s last ARD meeting, we added a new goal. He’s great at saying “good morning” and “hello.” So now we’re adding direct address. “Hello, Mrs. So-and-so.” It’s a great goal, right? I think it is…

I’m thinking, “It will make people feel more like he knows them. It’s more personal.” And then I realize what’s wrong with what I’m thinking. It’s the word “feel.”  We’re teaching him automated responses that are designed to create a false sense of familiarity and concern—“How are you?” “I’m fine, how are you?” “Oh, I’m good. Can’t complain.”

Really? You can’t complain? Because I saw your last Facebook update, and I think you’re actually pretty good at it. And guess what? That’s fine with me! If you’re on my friend list, then I should not only read how you are but also care!

I had been trying to speak to a child and learn a little bit about her, but I ended up learning more about her mother, and sadly, myself. I’m a master of memorized responses. I shop at Walmart early on Monday morning, which must be just after their little employee pep rally, because they all want to know how I’m doing. And do I tell them? Nope.

“I’m fine. How are you.”  <— This period, by the way, is not a mistake. Because I’m not really asking. I’m shopping, and my day is playing itself out in my mind. I have no room for such exchanges in my very busy schedule, and fortunately, neither does the Walmart staff. They’re walking away before I’ve finished answering.

And so I understand a little bit more about why I love to write children’s books. Children are so real, so unblemished by society. They will show you their boo boos and tell you what they ate today. They will tell you you’re fat or that your teeth are yellow. And when they ask you a question, they actually want an answer. I’m not suggesting that we all spill our guts every time someone asks how we are. I can imagine the mess that would make. But sometimes I just want to speak to a child. So if you see me at Walmart, and I ask your child a question, please don’t tell them I’m not interested.

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~ by Rachel McMahon on February 7, 2011.

2 Responses to “Out of the Mouths of Babes”

  1. Love it!

  2. Funny. I was thinking about this recently – in regards to autism treatment. I wondered if these children are taught to care about others or just act like they do, which seemed a bit sad to me. But, I think you’re right. We all just act like we care most of the time. We all need to stop and really listen when we can. Maybe kids with autism just don’t learn to pretend they care as easily as the rest of us.

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