Mama she’s brown

LE has been taught that it’s ok to ask me questions about people. It’s ok to notice that someone is very fat, missing a leg, dressed differently, a different culture, or mentally challenged. And we can talk about it. The only rule is that she has to wait until they are gone to ask me.

In the past there have been slip ups. The black lady walking toward us on the sidewalk. Upon hearing LE’s joyous declaration, “MAMA! SHE’S…..SHE’S BROWN!!!” I figured the best course was to lean on into it and answered, “Yep! She sure is!” with an, “I’m sorry she’s five and we live in Western Oregon” shrug to the lady. Bless that woman’s response, which was to smile and give a cheerful hello as she passed LE. Maybe it’s not so offensive when the child is reacting to you like you’re the Beatles?

“Oh my lucky stars!”

She had a similar reaction to the waitress at the Chinese restaurant.
“MULAN!!!”
An utter crow of joy. Gus said it was ok, Mulan was folk hero. He said he wouldn’t be offended if someone pointed at him and shouted, “GEORGE WASHINGTON!!!”

“So…yeah. Save China and then some extra sweet and sour, please.”

She’s getting better. We’ve well navigated the man with the metal leg, the tremendously obese man at the hardware store, the little girl with cerebral palsy. If she forgets and speaks before we are alone, I never hush her, because somehow to me that is more embarrassing than just saying, “Yup. He’s got a metal leg! That’s pretty cool huh?” It’s risky to do it that way, because I’ve never had a metal leg I don’t know if it’s owner wants a stranger declaring it “cool” to her child. But surely a quick embarrassed hiss of, “Quiet!” would be worse?

But then there is Stevie, the glitch in my mellow philosophy of the unity of humanity.

The first time I really noticed Stevie was the day that house off the highway burnt down. Stevie somehow transported a lawn chair on his trike and set himself on the sidewalk to enjoy it, cheering and shouting “HOWDY HOWDY!” as it burned. I remember thinking, “There is a man who knows how to enjoy life.”

HOWDY HOWDY HOWDY!

He lives down the street from us with his parents in a funereal black and green ranch-house. He’s in his late 40’s, has dwarfism and is mentally challenged in such a way that he seems like a raving drunk. It’s a mix that really bothers my daughter.

“I’m headin’ on out to join the Partridge Family!” he shouts defiantly, stomping through the Bi-Mart. LE ducks into me with uncharacteristic fear. He trundles his specially made tricycle past our house, weaving drunkenly, and LE hides behind our car.

My daughter has few fears. Her entire life has taught her that the people in her world are safe and kind.  But she doesn’t trust Stevie. She’s never  met him, but her little child-gut instinct is wary of him. I feel it is my job to dispel this fear for LE, to reveal Stevie as human, struggling, and likely harmless.

But I hesitate. I don’t want her to learn to contradict her gut about people. If she thinks something is not right with the (hypothetical) creepy disabled big brother of a friend, I don’t want it hammered into her that if she’s being bigoted if she doesn’t follow him out to the garage.

Also, I’m no saint. My gut is wary of Stevie, too. He’s loud and aggressive and unpleasant, even if it isn’t his fault. So here I expose myself to you, prejudiced and irritable. I want to be the woman with a musical voice who knows just the right, compassionate, funny thing to say to Stevie’s ramblings and leering stares, to ease his already difficult passage in this world. Snow White to his uncomfortable mix of Dopey and Grumpy. But I’m not.

I have to come to terms. I’m not required to like everyone, no matter how much of an underdog they are. Neither is LE. We are only required to be courteous and respectful. Not oblivious.

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