Teach Your Kids To Be Curious...Not Judgmental
- Guest post by Lee Woodruff
On the fourth outburst I sigh audibly and turn to my friend in the dark auditorium. “Why do people bring young kids when they ask not to?” I whisper with vehemence. She returns an exasperated gesture. Other parents are swiveling around with admonishing glances as the boy emits more high-pitched squeals.
I’m self-righteous now. How could one family ruin it for all the rest? Where is the parental discipline? The final middle school concert and my angels are up there, belting out “We Shall Overcome” in three part harmony. And where is the mother? Working late? Why is Dad stuck with this duty when he’s clearly not up to the task? “Take the kid out in the hall,” we are all collectively thinking.
It’s all the more uncomfortable because we are a sea of white parents and the family under scrutiny happens to be black. I don’t recognize them and when I scan the bleachers I see a girl who must be the daughter, head down, barely mumbling the words, no doubt uncomfortable that the disturbance originates with her sibling.
A loud croupy cough explodes and we roll our eyes again. Super, I think. Now we’re all infected too? It’s a cough so bad I’m imagining pneumonia. It’s just my raw luck to be seated directly behind this train wreck.
The father is squirming now, shushing and hushing but to no avail. Next to the small boy is a slightly older one, good as gold. He is used to this, I imagine, the willful younger brother stealing the attention. The phlegmy cough erupts again and the father reaches for a backpack, retrieves a suction device and as the boy crumples compliantly, his face turns toward me. I can immediately see there are issues. His eyes dart, he is blind perhaps and it is instantly clear this is no ordinary cough, no simple headstrong child.
“I think he has cystic fibrosis,” my friend whispers and we fall silent, shocked and shameful as everything clicks into place. We try to imagine living with that kind of heartbreak and devotion. The cries begin again, more urgent, and the father grabs the back pack and exits with his son, the other boy temporarily abandoned without explanation. After a few moments he turns, searching and fearful. Without premeditation I swoop in, determined to pay for my hasty assumptions, my maternal instincts on red alert.
“He’ll be right back.” I murmur. “Do you want to sit with me?“ He nods, and I lift him over the seat, scooping him onto my lap. The father returns, scanning the empty row for his son, his expression growing alarmed. I catch his attention and his face relaxes. He is young and handsome, exhausted and relieved. I am overcome with a desire to make him feel welcome here. I’m ashamed of my rush to judgment, of all of us in the room. I picture his wife, perhaps the primary caretaker, and I hope that she is home, reading or taking a bath, enjoying the unfamiliar silence in her house. But her daughter pays the price, head still bowed on the risers. I make a mental note to ask my girls about her, to ensure they have been empathetic, inclusive, to remind them how hard it is to be new in town.
As I step out of the school and into the night air, a renewed sense of gratitude for all the goodness in my life wells up. And I resolve to teach my children by example the gift of standing in someone else’s shoes.
Lee Woodruff is co-author of the best-selling "In an Instant", and author of "Perfectly Imperfect". Her new novel, "Those We Love Most" was released this week.