My son is becoming a little more human every day. That is not to say that he previously hasn’t been fully human, but that he is understanding what it means to be a human amongst other humans. Two examples will help me illustrate this point.
1. On Sunday afternoon, after shopping for some groceries at a store in Payson, AZ, my son decided that he needed to use the restroom. I took him back into the store and headed to the restroom. Once inside, we discovered some sort of human horrors had happened in this restroom. The first stall was a stutter step from over-flowing, and, in the second stall, we discovered that the toilet seat was literally caked with human feces. It was so utterly disgusting. I asked him if he could use the urinal (i.e. pee standing up) and he said he could not. So, we left the restroom and retrieved Grandma, to take him to the women’s restroom instead. When we were exiting the men’s restroom, someone else walked in. Obi exclaimed, “That girl is fat!” and laughed to himself.
Teaching moment: How do I respond to Obi’s realization that someone is fat? When did he learn the difference between fat and not-fat? Who taught him this, and what does it mean that he is starting to see difference?
I told my son that people don’t necessarily want to be fat, and if they are, they know it already. I told him that it is neither nice nor necessary to point out that someone is or is not fat. I know that I missed the opportunity to teach him something about the inherent beauty and image of God within everyone. I wasn’t prepared for my son to notice difference and find humor in it.
2. On the plane this afternoon, as everyone was exiting, I told Obi to stand up and look at all the people who need to exit the plane before us. He stood up on his chair, and noticed something that he found humorous three rows in front of us. He exclaimed, “That guy is bald! That’s so funny!”
Teaching moment: How do I respond to his realization that someone is bald? When did he learn the difference between baldness and hairiness? Who taught him about this difference?
I told him that it simply isn’t nice to notice out loud that someone has no hair. I totally missed this opportunity. How do I teach him that everyone is different and that those differences are great, not funny? I have no idea. I am completely unprepared to help my son along in his process of becoming a human amongst other humans.
So, what is the right response? Research tells us that the way we respond to difference has a direct impact on how our children will respond to differences when they encounter them. I desperately want my son to live in such a way that he doesn’t increase the stigmas that are experienced by all of us every day. I want him to love everyone, to see everyone as uniquely loved and treasured, not only by God, but by him as well.
This is a critical time in his development. Now that I realize this, I have the chance to actually shape him into a person that changes the world, instead of one who increases the pain and stigmas that we all live with every day.