Friday, June 24, 2011

Tiny Bullies

I try to teach my kids to be nice people, I really do. I enforce politeness and courtesy. I really, really try my best to instill in them the idea that it doesn't matter what people look like or what they believe--everyone is entitled to be treated the way we would like to be treated.

But yesterday, in a spectacularly embarrassing public display of cruelty and bad manners, my kids proved that I am somehow failing at all of the above.

We had to stop by our pediatrician's office to pick up a prescription. In line in front of us was a little girl--maybe 8 or 9 years old--who obviously had some developmental and physical disabilities. She turned around and was smiling and trying to talk with Liam and Amelia.

Immediately Liam and Amelia began their (short lived) reign of terror. They said disparaging things about everything from the way she spoke to the way she held her hands to the way her hair was cut.

I was shocked, appalled, and had no idea what to do.

With every cruel remark they made, I interrupted and told them they weren't being nice and that God made everyone different and look! She's saying hello! Say hello back! The little girl didn't seem to understand that they were being hurtful. She just kept sweetly smiling and trying to tell them about her sparkly light up shoes. But the mother--I couldn't even look at her. I can only imagine how hurt and angry she must have been.

And they just wouldn't stop. I've never been so angry and disappointed in my kids. Not ever. I have to say that this is probably the worst thing any of them has ever done. And I have a kid who conned the entire panel of 4H judges at the county fair, so that's saying a lot.

I finally just grabbed their arms and said, "You are being mean and cruel and it's going to stop." And I dragged them out of there. The prescription could wait.

I got them to the car and let loose with tirade about what it means to be kind and compassionate and that it's normal to be curious about someone who looks or acts differently, but it's hurtful to make fun of them for it, especially when it's something the person has no control over.

But I still can't get the mother out of my head. Did I do enough? Should I have done something differently? I was honestly so shocked that they were saying such things that I didn't know how to respond.

How would you handle it, internets? I know that some of you have children with disabilities--how would you have wanted me to handle it had it been your child? And short of chaining them in their rooms for the next 12 years, does anyone have any suggestions for making sure this never happens again?

And if by some chance you are the mother of that little girl and you're reading this, I'm so very sorry.

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Be nice or I'll punch you in the taco.