Are Not Dirty Words

My daughter took her two small children into a Subway Fast Food to get some sandwiches.

As they were standing there a middle aged (50 ish) year old woman came in.  The children are in a “hi phase” and say ‘hi’ to everyone they encounter.  As they did with this lady.  She responded kindly and with smiles.

As she walked by the three year old little person said “mommy that lady is a boy”.   The lady had very short hair.  And before my daughter could even respond, the woman spun around and coldly exclaimed she was a woman.  The three year old said to her mother “no she’s a boy”.  My daughter explained to the little one that some people wear their hair very short, just like Mamo (me), even girls (me again).  And some boys wear their hair very long.   The three year old accepted the explanation very sensibly with an “oh”.

The lady of short hair refused to acknowledge the children as she left when they kept telling her ‘good-bye’.

My daughter then calls me, very upset.

My daughter doesn’t care what kind of hair anyone has.  My daughter doesn’t care what most people’s choices are, about anything, unless it involves unkindness to anyone.  This is the child who would cry when we drove down the street and she would see elderly people and automatically assume they were alone in life because they were alone on the street for some reason or other.  This is the child who would come home from school and cry because someone at school was made fun of by someone else.

What she cared about was this woman’s reaction to a three year old’s observation.

A three year old who’s basic norms are:  men have short hair because daddy wears his hair very short; women have longer hair because mommy wears her hair longer.

Not surprisingly ALL of my grandchildren have at one time or another told me I look like a man.  Why?  Because their fathers wear their hair short and their mothers wore their hair longer.

Can we breathe for a second?

Like it or not, the words “norm”, “normal” or “norms” are not dirty words.

A child will associate “norms” of their life and use them as comparisons as they get older.  A three year old making an observation, expressing it to her mother, and her mother taking that opportunity to start explaining differences to a child….is a good thing.

Surely the child has seen things she didn’t understand, or observed things that are starting to pique her curiosity.  She is just now able to start verbalizing in statements and questions.

If you want children, or adults for that matter, to accept differences, we cannot be afraid to notice them, acknowledge them, and explain them if someone is open to or asking for explanations.

Some people ask because they are curious, they want to know and understand.  Personally, I see that as a very good thing.

If somebody’s “norm”, for their entire life of 40, 50, 70 or 90 years has gone unchanged, unchallenged or never deviating, why wouldn’t they be confused, or curious, or even scared when it does change.  And why wouldn’t we want to take any opportunity given, to enter into a conversation with someone who notices.

Even with a three year old.

Isn’t one of the best parts of being different-sharing it-and learning about one another?

Maybe we should be a little bit more like the three year old and learn from her.  And her mother.


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71 thoughts on “Are Not Dirty Words

  1. Anshu says:

    Well written!


  2. I am so sorry your daughter and precious children had that experience. I think the lady could have smiled and reacted with a little more patience. Children simply speak, there was no malice. I enjoy the honesty of children. Perhaps the lady was having a bad day – and the poor little ones just were caught in the path.


    • I did think that we don’t know her story. And of course we still don’t. But it was just sad and you are so right, without malice. Not being able to recognize that is what bothered me. Thank you for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s too bad the woman became upset, but that’s a teaching/learning opportunity too. It’s something the adult in this situation hopefully will learn from and develop some patience. The child is innocent and no harm intended.


    • Right on watcher, it is a learning opportunity for all. Great post Colleen!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Patty says:

        When my guide dog and I go out and about, we encounter all types of folks.

        Yesterday I was reading comments to something I wrote concerning a grocerystore/deli I frequent.

        Someone had written that they got bad service in there, and said all kinds of untruths about the store.

        So, I commented back, saying how I was a disabled shopper, the staff was always kind, helpful, and polite, and this person wrote back and said, “Well, they’ll help disableds but not regular customers.”

        Put that way, the comment was offensive to me.

        Honestly what is a regular person?


        Had a child said that, it would’ve had a totally different ring to it.


        Because, children cannot know what they have not been taught.

        Had a child said something such as that, I’d have stopped what I was doing, sat down, introduced myself and my dog, and said, “Now, my eyes do not work, and this doggy helps me get where I am going safely without being run over by car monsters, and such, but I am still just a person such as you.”

        Something like that anyhow.


        I’d have had a conversation. I’d have not gotten angry.

        One must know the difference in a snide purposefully hurtful comment verses an ennocent child’s unknowing.

        People are thoughtless, and it sounds like that woman, was having some issue she needed serious help with.

        Since she was so prickly about it one wonders what was inside, waiting to come out.

        Maybe that child’s comment struck a nerve that was connected to a secret wish to be a man, and the fear of discovery took hold?

        One never knows.

        You still had a beautiful teaching moment, had the child asked why this woman who was kind on the way in, was unkind on the way out, you could’ve simply said, “Well, maybe she’s not feeling well, or has something on her mind” Or, ten thousand other things.

        My point, don’t let those who are insensitive ruin your beautiful moments.


      • Thank you Chris 🙂


    • Exactly MW51. My daughter did use this as a teaching moment. And I feel bad that the lady couldn’t join her in it. It would be have been a great experience for everyone.


  4. Thank you for sharing…. This is an excellent post…. Children of that age are innocent and mean no harm to anyone. They just tell things as they see them. Shame on the woman that got angry for that. And praise be to the mom for trying to explain…


  5. jmgoyder says:

    I have freckles and once, in a shopping centre, as small child yelled out, “Why does that lady have spots all over her face, Dad?” The dad was mortified but I just laughed.


  6. jmgoyder says:

    Great post BTW. My friend died of pancreatic cancer this morning so I am spinning a bit with shock.


  7. M. L. Kappa says:

    I have a friend who’s missing one hand and ALL kids ask her about it – she just takes it in her stride, like most things. Kids will say what they think, that’s the beauty of it.


    • That is the beauty of it. And if they learn young that they can ask about differences, and someone takes the time to talk with them about it, then how wonderful might they be when someone asks them about their differences.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Patty says:

        For the last two years or so I’ve volunteered in the public school systems, listening to children read.

        They read to my Seeing Eye dog and I and it was quite rewarding.

        During these sessions, they have opportunity to ask questions.

        We engage in meaningful conversation, and now they see me out and about and they know how to correctly interact.

        This is giving them skills to carry with them the rest of their lives, that goes miles beyond reading.


        • I think it is a fantastic skill to learn, how to ask questions, and handle our curiosity without being offensive. And to have others be curious about us without us being offended.


          • Patty says:

            I was presented, with just such an opportunity as we are speaking of, yesterday at the grocery store. While, I waited, to be assisted, I was presented, with an opportunity, to answer questions. It was a wonderful time of communicating. Teaching, and showing, those who are cited, that us blind persons do not always become offended when asked, what seems to sum as being, Offkilter. To me, these were simply people, wanting to understand, what they did not, could not, know with out asking.


            • That, is what would help us all so much more in life. Thank you Patty.


              • Patty says:

                Well, here’s the thing.

                I don’t know how much if any of my posts, you’ve looked at, but, I write very openly about my blindness and other disAbilities.

                So, I feel, if I’m going to be that open on my blog, for all to read, that’s how I’m going to be in life.

                Yes, there are times, when people ask to pet the dog, or want to talk, when it is not appropriate for me to stop and engage them.

                At those moments, I try and make a mental note of, where I am, what I’m doing, and if I can contact them in some way or write in such a way that it is posted so they see.

                Many times I have business cards, and have something that I can say quickly so that a person whether it is parent with child, or adult asking, I can in some way address it.

                I love best, when I can have moments live in public, such as at the store, when I can spend a moment having conversation.

                I enjoy getting out and about, and things happen when you do.

                Every moment can be a touchable, teachable moment if allowed.


  8. ksbeth says:

    i love this post, colleen. you are spot on. this was the perfect moment for the little one to learn by experience, instead she was shunned by the subject of her curiosity. young or old, and the lesson became more confusing. the way someone sees the world is based upon their own experiences, their frames of reference. many times a young child has not experienced many differences yet, their models of how the world should be organized and look is based on what they know – their family.

    luckily, she has a mother and grandmother who have more experience in the world, who are happy to show her and explain to her about differences, and to tell her that differences are what make the world so interesting and wonderful. i’m sorry this happened to her, but i also feel sorry that the grown woman, the subject of her wondering, wasn’t able to understand this. perhaps she never had anyone in her life tell her that differences are a good thing.


    • I was very happy with my daughter’s response. And so sorry for this woman. Whatever she was thinking or processing or having had previous experience with, she lost a great moment. I have had this happen to me more times than I can count and never would I have gotten angry or snapped at anyone. So whatever she was going through, I hope she reflected on it later in the day and maybe thought of a better way she could have handled it. I love that my daughter is open to differences and is teaching that to her children. Thank you Beth.


  9. God bless the honesty and innocence of children! They are so precious!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. markbialczak says:

    I agree, MBC. And that woman could have been a positive part of an invaluable learning experience if she’d added a few kind learning words to your grandson.


  11. Patty B says:

    How sad the woman was insulted over nothing. I would have politely explained I am a lady and continued on in conversation admiring the children, like I always do. It reminds me when we were stationed in Georgia about 33 yrs ago. I went to pick up my husband from the post and while we waited a young many came out dressed in his uniform – a young African American man. My then, my son, who just turned 2 yr old exclaimed, ” It’s Daddy” and preceded to run to him. Thankfully we both got a chuckle out of it. It made me proud to think my son did not care about his skin color and looked beyond it. Needless to say we explained all the men and women dressed alike now (it was first experience with the military). He associated the uniform to what daddy wore – that was “normal” for him. Sorry your daughter had to encounter that person.


    • I love your story Patty. It explains what I would have hoped for in this case too. We really have such opportunities to help along the way. Even with kids and people that aren’t ‘ours’.


      • Patty says:

        Especially with kids that aren’t ours.

        Our kids know to a certain degree. They learn as they grow up with us, but these other children out here that aren’t exposed, it’s our responsibility to help teach.

        It truly does take a village.


      • Patty B says:

        Children do indeed watch us more than we realize…such precious gifts we are entrusted to.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Patty says:

          The old saying, it takes a village, is very true. We, as adults, have a responsibility to be an example, to all children around us everywhere. What was done to that child and her mother, was inappropriate.

          Sent from my iPhone


          Liked by 1 person

  12. Patty says:

    So sorry that happened. I am totally blind. Sometimes, the word normal, gets under my skin. Not, when it comes from a child. Not, when it comes from someone who doesn’t understand. That person’s reaction showed but they are a very insecure unloving uncaring unfeeling person.


  13. ivors20 says:

    A nice clean story about parenting, your daughter and grandchildren are the bestest, well done Mamo…♡


  14. A good learning experience for 3 yo and her Mom. Hopefully there was no long term hurt for anyone, including the boy lady!


  15. Kijo says:

    Don’t judge the woman too harshly, guys. Parents and families appreciate their children’s curiosity, but non-family adults may find it a little bit intrusive. Usually they find it in their heart (and time) to accommodate the questions of stranger’s children, but sometimes they are having a rough day. Imagine, for example, that the woman’s had cancer whose treatment threatened her female identity. To be called a man at that point, even by a child, could send her spinning etc. etc. Be as accommodating to her reaction as you want her to be accommodating to the children’s curiosity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Kijo. I think everyone is trying to get there. Being understanding of others does work both ways. Sometimes it takes us a little longer to get there. Many comments reference what she may be going through….all just guesses of course.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Debra says:

    There must have been something going on with this woman for her to be so sensitive to the words of a 3-year old. You’re absolutely correct that a chid’s sense of the world is completely comprised of what they’ve yet known and experienced! Their limited understanding of cultural norms is basically their home and family! I feel badly that this incident grieved your daughter, but I understand how it hit her hard. On the other hand, how delightful that these little darlings are so friendly and outgoing. I love that about them!


    • Patty says:

      We never know what a person might be going through that might make them react badly.

      Our job as teachers in this life is to take those moments such as what is described here, and turn them into some sort of teaching moment.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Debra that is what I choose to believe. I don’t want to think she was just an angry woman with no concern for how she reacted to an innocent three year old. I have wished in my thoughts for her to have at some point in the day recognized the child meant her no harm and it was purely innocent. We were out today and they were just as cheerful and “hello-ing” every one. 🙂


  17. Children don’t understand “politically correct” that is for sure. It is sad someone would react in such a way to a child.


  18. reocochran says:

    Yes, yes! It was an immature woman! What a mean spirited person, unforgiving, too.
    Poor sweet little ones trying to make sense in this world. Curiosity is valuable! Love is especially important! xo 💖 to children.


    • Patty says:

      I have sadness, and compassion for the mean spirited woman.

      It may be that she was just so hurt by something she could not be anything but what she was.

      My hope is that her higher power speaks to her, and that she allows its words into her heart.

      A change needs to take place.

      We must show love, in the face of these hurts.

      It is so very hard, and daily I struggle with it, but still I try and grow forth with that.

      I’ve much to grow into before I’m done.

      It is a striving I make.

      Liked by 1 person

    • They just look at the world with such big eyes and question freely….


  19. Anie Abraxas says:

    Children tell just the truth ( if there are not already too influenced by adults). I think this is why we say “kids are cruel!” Sometimes we do not want to hear the truth, because it hurts…I also would have felt sorry with this woman, because I think she felt hijacked. I think for the kid, this is no problem, if there is an explain by the mother, about this reaction…so thekid can develope a sensibility for feelings of adults!


    • I felt sorry for the woman because I don’t know the ‘why’ of her reaction. It’s still difficult though, to see kids being curious and harmless, and not understand the reaction. Fortunately, the mom did handle things well. But it was upsetting to her.


      • Anie Abraxas says:

        I think you felt right. Probably she has a problem with this subject…so to hear this from a little child, must be doubble hard. If I imagine a child is telling the public something about me, that I probably want to hide….it´s hard to make a nice face….


  20. Val Boyko says:

    I do like this perspective Colleen. And yet … we have no idea what is going on in the mind of the other person. When people react, it’s because of what is inside of them.


  21. DiannaAnna says:

    “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
    ― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It


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