September 2, 2014
Pool Noodle Propitiation
I walked down that long stretch of beach again, Oscar wailing in the background where I left the kids, past the pleasant man and his pleasant son, and laid the pool noodle down beside the beach chair. She was still way out in the water, not yelling anymore, but still visibly upset, even from this distance.
As I passed the pleasant man on my way back to gather up the kids and somehow wrangle the weeping children into the van, he said, "I'm sorry, I guess I should have asked you first."
"No," I said, "it's not that. I'm sorry. I don't know what else to do."
Sorry, sorry, sorry. Should have started at the beginning, I guess.
We went to the beach. There was another family there, with - you guessed it - pool noodles. My children, as they do, stood around and gawped at them. The woman gave one to Oscar.
Oscar, as he does, asked her why her tummy was so big. She did not take it well.
The beach visit ended.
Sorry, sorry, sorry. I've been thinking about this post all week, trying to be truthy and empathetic without putting this woman down. I don't know what I would have done if some kid crossed a whole beach to me and then asked me why my skin has spots on it (which would be my most embarrassing body issue thingumy). I'd be embarrassed. I'm not sure that I'd start yelling.
To be fair, she didn't yell at Oscar. She yelled at her husband at me. I know this, because he was two feet away from her mouth, but her voice was pitched loudly enough for the fish - and me, sitting twenty feet away and well out of range of The Question - to hear.
"Did you hear what that kid said to me? He asked me why my tummy was so big! I don't look bad, do I? Why would anyone say that to me?!" Etc.
At the time, I had So Many Answers, but they all boiled down to this:
It is, and he's four.
Inadequate, eh? Sounds kind of hippy-dippy: "my son is four and innocent and full of curiosity and he wasn't making a value judgement, everything is beautiful, I refuse to legitimize your emotional discomfort, la-la-la."
But at the opposite end of the spectrum was this answer "I'm so sorry that my son asked you why your tummy was big. It was so wrong of him and I'm going to force him to apologize, because asking why someone is bigger than you/looks different than you is BAD."
I know that Oscar wasn't using his question to shame this woman because her body was bigger than any other woman's body he'd ever seen in real life, mostly because I know how short the passageway is between his brain and his mouth - there isn't enough time for him to add any extra meaning to the things he says.
What I don't know is how to explain that it doesn't matter what he meant, it's what she heard that's important.
Giving back the pool noodle was the only thing I could think of.