Zach was six, Elizabeth was three and Olivia was just over a year-old the day we walked into the grocery store and were ‘confronted’ by an elderly woman who was well-known in our small town. Her name was “Virgie”, and in addition to suffering from dementia, she was living in poverty, completely alone, wandered around town all day long talking to whoever would give her a minute or two of their day. On this particular day "Virgie" was living in the part of her past that included small children. When she saw Olivia in the cart, she took her out quicker than I could bat an eye, and began to pat her back and rock her gently back and forth saying, “You’re my sweet baby. Isn’t my baby sweet?” while I was tying Elizabeth’s shoe.
It took only a second for me to realize Olivia wasn’t scared and that Virgie wasn’t going anywhere. In fact, Olivia was completely unaffected, but nevertheless, I quickly and gently proceeded to take Olivia back while agreeing with “Virgie” that yes, she was a sweet and beautiful baby. Zach, on the other hand, was not nearly as calm or forgiving of the intrusion.
“She’s not your baby, she’s our baby,” he repeated two or three times. “Tell her, Mom, Olivia is our baby. She needs to give her back.”
The whole incident lasted no more than a couple of minutes, but it was time enough to provide a HUGE ‘teachable moment’ and I didn’t want to mess it up. So once Olivia was back in my arms, I moved the kids away from "Virgie" and reassured them that I wouldn’t have ever allowed her to hurt Olivia. I told them I knew she wasn’t going to because she really did think Olivia was her baby. Elizabeth accepted my words without much comment, but when I asked Zach if he understood, he said something to the effect of “You didn’t want to hurt that lady’s feelings because that's not nice and because you didn’t want her to hurt Olivia.”
Yes, that was pretty much it. In not lashing out at "Virgie" I taught my young son that no one is undeserving of being treated the way we want to be treated. Or in this case, the way I wanted my loved one to be treated.
I knew “Virgie” was harmless and that she posed no risk to my daughter, so by not ‘going off’ on her that day I was able to give her a brief moment of the joy of memories past AND teach the kids what kindness to strangers looks like. I know this isn’t always the case—that we most definitely need to teach our children the whole stranger-danger ‘thing’. But I also know that equally important is our job to be consciously and deliberately teaching our children that everyone deserves to be respected and treated the way we want to be treated…even people who are different from us, because we never know when extending that kind of kindness might be the brightest spot in their day.
Copyright 2016 Darla Noble. No part of this can be used or copied without permission from the author.