My mom always taught me that if you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all. I think it is high time we brought this way of thinking back.
Today was a gorgeous day. I went for a long walk with a friend and decided to stop by the local natural food store before heading home. The moment we walked through the doors my daughter was ready to dismount her stroller and dance through the aisles. My friend and I chatted and shopped while my three year old twirled, danced, jumped, and ran ahead of us. She only stopped to say hi to a passer-by or smile at an admirer.
This is a very familiar scene in my life. Me shopping for groceries, her entertaining the masses, charming perfect strangers. While I tend to have introverted tendencies, she is a complete extrovert. Until she isn't. Sometimes, after performing through a store, she will need some down time. That is when she asks to go back into her stroller, ride in the cart, or be carried. I always comply, knowing what it is like to need a little refuge from the masses.
By the time we got to the checkout counter she had exhausted herself and was snuggled back into her stroller. My friend and I continued to chat while we waited in line. The woman in front of us was gathering her items as my purchases started to be rung up. I noticed a young boy trying to play with my daughter. I heard her quietly saying "no thank you" and trying to shield herself with the canopy of her stroller. She needed space. The older woman was watching and turned to the young boy and said "I guess she just isn't friendly, is she?"
"Excuse me?" I couldn't believe what I heard her say about my kid so I had to see if I misunderstood.
"Oh, I was just saying that she wasn't very friendly." She answered matter-of-factly. Like she had just stated the color of my daughters eyes. No big deal.
I swallowed and blinked twice, remembering to breathe. I let the following words out, "Oh she is very friendly but is feeling a little shy right now." What I wanted to say was less polite and full of four letter words.
The lady just turned and walked away. Meanwhile the young boy had thrown himself under the strollers canopy and onto my daughters legs. She squirmed, kicked, and started to cry. The boys father grabbed his son while trying to apologize to me. I paid and comforted my semi-traumatized child. "It's ok," I told the clearly mortified father, "she just needs some space."
It wasn't him or his child I was pissed at. It was the complete stranger who had passed judgment on my three-year-old and shared said judgement with another small child. What exactly did she think she would solve by saying what she did? Did she think she was doing the young boy a favor by trying to explain why my daughter didn't want to play? My daughter was trying her best to say no thank you.
Later my friend and I had a discussion about how people say the rudest things without, hopefully, realizing it. They don't think about the impact their words may have on someone and just let verbal diarrhea take over. Saying things like, "Wow, you've been busy!" to a woman pushing a toddler in a stroller while wearing his sister in a carrier is not helpful. (Double unhelpful since this was said to the nanny of two adopted children.) Or "Maybe it just isn't the right time," to a couple who have been battling infertility for years. Or saying that a child is not friendly when that child is sitting two feet from you and can hear you and comprehend your words.
As we got into the car my daughter hugged me and said, "Mommy, that boy didn't listen when I said no thank you." I told her I know and she did the right thing by trying.
"Mommy, I friendly?"
"Yes, baby, you may be the friendliest little girl I know and I love you very much."
"Thank you mommy. I love you, too."