I remember the first time I saw someone who was really different from me. My family was in a Pizza Hut in Marquette, Michigan, when I walked past a little boy whose left arm ended just below the elbow. What came out of my 9-year-old mouth was..."OH MY GOSH, MOM! THAT KID IS MISSING AN ARM!LOOOOOOOOOOK!!!"...or something like that. I made sure that everyone in the restaurant was aware of my discovery, in case they themselves hadn't noticed the boy with one arm, and my mother grabbed me by the wrist and rushed me the hell out of there. I was sure she hadn't heard the news because she wasn't acknowledging what I'd just told everyone, so I kept saying it over and over and over again. I was disciplined in the parking lot and instructed to never do anything like that again.
The roles have been switched and now I am the mother of a very honest little girl. She calls it like she sees it, is very observant, but is also very in tune with the emotional vibes of the people around her. Obviously she is nothing like my child-self. So when her uncle introduced her to one of his very good friends (I'll call him Pete), Elle was very curious about the way he walked. She constantly asked me what was wrong with Pete's legs. I know Pete has cerebral palsy and thought that he was probably better suited to answer that question. I had to trust that he'd answered that question many times before.
"Mr. Pete, what's wrong with your walk?"
"Well, Elle, this is how I was born. These are the legs I got when I was born."
Yes, it was that simple.
Not too long after that exchange between Elle and Mr. Pete, she and I were in the grocery store when we passed a little boy in a wheelchair. Even I couldn't help but take a quick look because this litte boy seemed to be suffering from progeria, that disease that turns a child's body into that of an elderly person. He carried the face of an old man and I had to make myself stop staring. Then I heard it...
"OH MY GOSH, MOM! DID YOU SEE THAT???" (no, no, no, make it stop, no, no, no, Elle...please shuddup.....!!). "LOOK, MOMMY!"
"Elle, it's not nice to point. I'm sure he knows he looks different."
"Not the little boy, Mommy, the lady with the orange hair!"
Orange hair? Where? What?
And this just goes to show you how in tune some kids can be with other people's emotions. While I was busy gawking at the little boy out of the corner of my eye, my daughter was looking at the woman pushing his wheelchair. The woman with the orange hair. Elle told me that she did look at the little boy but just thought he was born that way, though she really liked that lady's orange hair.