It happened twice in the same month.
I was alone, shopping. Both times happened in the middle of the morning, that magical time where stores are empty of the throngs of shoppers that highlight evenings, weekends, and holidays. It was just me, the retired population, and the dwindling sea of stay-at-home moms with their small children, out looking for deals on cheap T-shirts, chips, and two-for-one London Broil.
As I perused the selection of spaghetti sauces at the grocery store, I idled my cart next to a young mom and her small child, an adorable girl with bouncy curls and long lashes, a little rumpled as if she had just woken from a nap, little leggings covering chubby legs that were stuffed into sparkly pink Velcro sneakers.
I smiled at her while her mother shopped. Such a sweet time when kids are little, I thought, as I always do when I see a mom out and about with smalls in tow. I remembered those days in my own past, the fog of wistfulness obscuring memories of tantrums over toys, food refusals, all those sleepless nights and my own lack of self-care brought about by the never-ending mothering that bled each day into the next. Good times. It seemed like yesterday.
I was thrust out of my idyllic reverie when this little cherub looked me up and down, and, never taking her eyes off of me for a second, pointed at me as if I was a sideshow participant, void of feeling or personality and placed there for her entertainment, and proclaimed loudly to her mother, “Mommy, she’s BIG!”
I was taken aback. I raised my eyebrows a fraction, bit my lip and smiled.
She’s just a child, I thought. She doesn’t know any better. Rudeness in kids is nothing but innocence when they’re this young. Plus, at nearly six feet tall, and over that with any kind of shoes on, I AM big. I’m just sensitive. All my life people have taken it as their personal mission to advise me on my tallness. It’s the stranger-touching-the-pregnant-woman’s-belly phenomenon – everyone feels impelled to reach out and comment on my height. I’ve learned to smile and respond:
Yes. I am tall.
The mother said nothing, clearly embarrassed and flustered by her daughter’s outburst. She smiled at me while simultaneously avoiding eye contact and tried to distract the tot with a can of diced tomatoes. I self-righteously wished she would have admonished the child and apologized to me, but she didn’t. Maybe she’d wait to correct her until they were safely out of my earshot. Maybe she wouldn’t, and raise yet another human who feels it’s okay to comment on strangers' appearances. I felt the child’s eyes on me as I finished my shopping and the pair scurried away.
The next time it happened I was in a big box store, searching for something specific in the toy aisle, a futile task if you know anything about how big box stores are organized so that the one thing you want is missing, but there are twelve of everything else.
Maybe it was the time of day, or the mood I was in, or the fact that the same incident had happened to me just a couple of weeks before, but I was not so zen about the name calling this time. The girl, at the other end of the aisle with her mother, stared at me the same way the other one did. As they exited the aisle, she turned to her mother, thinking she was out of earshot and with eyes fixed on me, said “She’s BIG!”
I lowered my eyebrows into a frown, wrinkled my nose, and bared my teeth slightly at her. Then I turned and walked in the opposite direction before I said it.
This post inspired by:
Prompt #5: The last time someone called you a name.