My daughter has always been one of the “friendly sort,” the type of child who will talk to anyone, everyone and everything, and as sweet as it is, it has made for some awkward and terrifying times. When she was a toddler she was always gunning for the strangest person at the park— because that was the person she wanted to smile at, touch, and/or suck on. It’s a beautiful thing, really, it is, that she is so accepting of all types of people: she is an example to us all of acceptance, empathy and compassion. But by the power of a mother’s anxiety vested in me by … my uterus, I guess, I pronounce myself freaked out by this, and often quite embarrassed. Along with her general friendliness can come a lack of cultural sensitivity … Or any kind of sensitivity, as a matter of fact. When she was two years old I was pulling her out of her carseat when she spotted a kindly, turban-clad Indian neighbour of ours. Her eyes grew wide, and she pointed at him, screeching, “Look, Mommy! A PIRATE! A pirate, mommy!!”
I don’t always have the privilege of overhearing her conversations with strangers, if, for example, she is riding her bike home from the park and I am huffing and puffing behind her and her brother in my flip-flops, trying to keep up. This is what happened the other day. I could see her on the street ahead of me, eyeing a brusque-looking neighbour, who was in his driveway tinkering with his motorcycle and minding his own business. He was big, bearded and not particularly friendly looking. S stopped, chirped a few words to the man, listened to his deep, baritone reply and, satisfied, carried on down the street. I couldn’t make out the content of this little exchange, but it made me nervous, so I started walking a little faster. When I finally flip-flopped my way up to where he was, he called out, and I noticed he’d been waiting for me. His expression was soft.
“Do you want to know what she said?” He said, looking amused.
“Oh! Sure!” I said, not doing a good job of hiding my surprise.
He cleared his throat, “She said, ‘Hello, man. What you doing? I’m just riding my bike back home. I’ll see you later, okay?'” He was smiling, clearly delighted to share this with me.
I chuckled, “That sounds like her!”
“She’s sweet.” He said, and turned his attention back to his tinkering.
I know I have to get used to it—that my daughter likes and wants to connect with all kinds of people—and it does appear that the more intimidating, weird, or “different” they might seem, the more appealing they are to her. This has been true since the moment she flashed a gooey, 9-month-old grin and reached her chubby arms out for the homeless man with the yellow teeth and the SEVERAL pet rats. Even though I smiled and carried on without stopping (on account of the SEVERAL pet rats),* it was nice to see how much she made his face light up. She’s got no pretensions, no defences, no prejudices, no anxiety or fear when it comes to other people, and this is both sweet and terrifying, embarrassing and inspiring. I can’t wait to watch her grow into the amazing and empathetic woman I just know she will be. I just hope we make it there without me having a heart attack.
*Not sure if I was clear how many rats there were. It was SEVERAL. SEVERAL pet rats.