Kirby: Children's insults speak the harsh truth
I have to stop taking my grandkids out in public until they're socially trained. They are far more honest than is good for them or me.
A few days ago, my family was heading to downtown Salt Lake City on TRAX. The car was crowded and seating was limited.
At a stop, a rough-looking guy got on and stood next to my daughter and her 6-year-old son. He had a large number of gaps in his dental work. He looked down at my grandson and smiled.
Man: "You're a nice little boy. What's your name?"
Tate: "You don't have very much teeth."
It wasn't intended as an insult. Tate hadn't ever seen a smile like that up close. It was simply an observation and an honest one at that. The guy really didn't have "very much teeth."
Unhappy with having this pointed out, the man got off at the next stop not before he delivered a few observations of his own, though. Honesty even if it's just an opinion can be hard for some people to take.
This is the same grandson who, a week before, had been standing in a department store checkout line when a Sikh gentleman came and stood behind us. I watched Tate mentally process the man's exotic appearance turban, dark complexion, piratical beard, etc.
After a moment, he asked the man the question that was on his young mind: "Are you a robber?"
The Sikh took it better than the "not very much teeth" guy. He smiled and said, "No, I'm John."
There's no real way to guard against this kind of direct and seemingly insensitive behavior from kids. They don't mean anything by it. Their interest is born of unfettered curiosity.
Tate comes by this behavior honestly. When his mother was 5, she was with my wife in a grocery store when they encountered a very obese woman. Our daughter looked back and forth between the two until she just had to know.
"Why are you fat?" she asked the woman. "My mommy isn't fat."
It's bad enough when kids come up with these observations of their own accord. It's worse when it's obvious they're repeating something they've heard.
Years ago, I stopped a guy for speeding who had a couple of small kids in the car with him. I got his paperwork and took it back to the patrol car.
After a few minutes of letting the guy squirm in order to press home the point that he needed to slow down, I decided to give him a verbal warning instead of a ticket.
As I approached the car again, one of the kids leaned out the back window and yelled something to the effect that I didn't look anything at all like a pig. As his father's head slumped to the steering wheel in defeat. I went back to the patrol car for my ticket book.
Then there was the time I was substituting in the holding pen (nursery) of my LDS ward. When I asked the rowdy kids if they knew what it meant to be rude, one of them replied, "My mom says it's you."
Finally, I once made the mistake of taking a granddaughter along when I stopped by to see my editor. Lyndie was impressed with the newsroom.
We were in the editor's office and talking to her when my Lyndie tugged my hand, and innocently inquired, "Papa, is this where the Queen of Horrible Darkness lives?"
Kids eventually learn what is appropriate to say, what can and can't be said out of consideration for the feelings of others. Unfortunately they learn it from us.
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.
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