I took Molly to a soft play centre last week. It was pretty busy with kids running and screaming. The usual soft play scenarios were being played out…mums drinking tea and gossiping, babies crying, kids hopped up on one too many slush puppies. They whizzed by in a blur, but one little girl caught my eye.
From a distance it looked like she was going through cancer treatment. But when she came close to me I could see that she was covered in burns. It looked like she had either been in a fire, or had had acid poured over her.
Her one hand was missing, she had no hair, and her entire face and body was scarred. I guessed that she must have been about 3. She was beautiful though, with a gorgeous smile, and was running around happily playing like all the other children.
But people were staring. Children didn’t want to play with her. I was observing this as I sat on the edge of the toddler area, watching Molly potter about. Then she came and stood next to her in the ball pit.
I could see Molly staring at her face, and I could also see her getting more and more upset. I was just about to intervene when Molly came running over to me with tears in her eyes, pointing at the little girl.
Now Molly is 2 and a half, and has never seen anyone who looks a bit different before. I would imagine that to a young child then the sight of this little girl would be quite scary. I had a split second to decide what to say to Molly to explain.
I sat her down and said that the little girl had an ‘owie’ (what we say when she’s hurt herself), and that she just wanted to play. Molly nodded, then ran up to her and gave her a massive cuddle (or cwtch as we say in Wales!). I was so proud I had tears in my eyes. Then off they went chasing each other without a care in the world.
It’s been said that ‘kids can be cruel’. But being cruel isn’t something you’re born with, it’s learned. We as parents have a duty to instill love, respect and kindness into our children.
You can sit down and read books, or watch movies and tv shows with a moral storyline, but these won’t shape the way they are. Kids learn these important traits by watching YOU. How you behave, how you speak, and how you react to situations are all filtering into their little brains each and every day.
Yes of course it’s only human nature to do a double take when you see a little girl like that, but the amount of adults I saw just staring at her open mouthed with their kids watching was shocking.
As I watched Molly and her new friend running about happily playing, my thoughts drifted to her parents. What must they be going through? I still panic now when Molly has a cold or a high temperature, but at least they are short lived.
Not only have they had to deal with their daughter’s physical pain which must have been utterly horrendous, they are obviously now dealing with the emotional/mental trauma that comes with it.
I worry about my daughter growing up in a world that is so hung up on looks. We still don’t live in a society where being different is accepted. Hate, prejudice and bullying will continue, we’ll never be able to stamp it out completely.
That little girl will probably be stared at every day for her entire life, but we can be the ones not to stare. We can teach our kids that it’s ok to be different.