My mother has the ability to embarrass me simply by
speaking. One time, after I returned home from a choir competition, I asked my
mother what she and my step-dad did all weekend.
"We got naked and sat all over the furniture," she responded
in an unintentional impersonation of George Carlin.
It seems that Liam has inherited her power.
A couple of weeks ago I took the boys with me to shop at
Trader Joe's. As we wound through the aisles Liam asked a multitude of
questions about this or that; he's responsible for reading my grocery list and
locating the items we need. He always greets people and knows no stranger;
despite all the worried emails I get about how homeschooling will turn him into
an unresponsive social freak.
He knows many of the checkers in the store and grills them
about their jobs, why certain things are on sale, even what my motivation may
be for denying him a box of the candy near the register. They always chuckle
and engage him. During this particular excursion our checker was a woman with a
disfigurement around her eye. I never dissuade Liam from asking questions and
try to view them as an opportunity to teach but sometimes I just want him to
shut his mouth - like the time we saw a little person while visiting my uncle
in the hospital and Liam stage-whispered in my ear: "LOOK, MOM, he's like Mike
T.V. from Willy Wonka."
I swiped my card at the register and chatted with the clerk
while monitoring Liam from the corner of my eye. He stood silent; his head
cocked to the side as dogs often do, and stared at the cashier. I could sense
his questions coming. Just don't, just
don't, just don't I said to myself. I tried to send him a message with my
eyes: IS RUDE. NO. His eyes responded: WHATEVER, I'M NOT LISTENING. WE'RE IN
"What happened to your eye there? Why does it look all funny?"
he asked. I know I said that I don't discourage him from asking questions OK, but
I was raised to not ask any question which may cause someone else discomfort.
Honestly though, I don't know what's more discomforting: asking someone a
personal question or pretending that an aspect of a person doesn't exist so as
to not cause yourself potential
embarrassment. Luckily the woman was very laid-back and demonstrated the
enduring patience of one who is used to children.
"I shot a firecracker and it hit my eye," she told him as
she put my frozen stuff in my velcro bags.
"Did it hurt?" Liam asked.
"It did. I lit up a bottle rocket and wasn't being careful."
She explained it a bit, including how he should always be careful with
fireworks. I had to practically drag him out of the store so we could leave. He
wanted to ask which particular fireworks might put out his eye, and he wanted
to know whether or not her eye came out at any time and it was all I could do
just to grip his wrist a little tight, talk over him, and usher him out to the
car. I forgot my wallet in my rush, which she kindly brought out to me in the
parking lot, right as I was telling Liam that if he MUST ask a question, ask A question, don't grill the woman. He
understood. I don't want to scare him away from natural curiosity but at the
same time, there's a way to decorously go about it.
I'm still learning how to teach him that.