Recently, my little Simon and I met some friends for lunch at a local cafe. We arrived, ordered our food, and then I told Simon he could pick out a drink for himself. He excitedly chose an Izze soda, knowing that this is the only soda I allow him to drink. (If you are not familiar, Izze is basically carbonated fruit juice with no added sugars or preservatives. And it is quite delicious.)
Full of excitement over meeting friends, and being allowed to have a special treat, he practically bounced across the cafe floor with his drink, to place it on the counter. The woman working at the counter began to ring us up. Simon politely said to her: “Excuse me,…”
“Hi!” She said to him. “Is that your drink?”
“Yes, and—” He began to reply.
“Your Mom is having a baby!” She interrupted him. “You must be excited!”
He again tried to speak, pointing to his soda: “This is—”
“Are you having a sister or a brother?” She again interrupted.
“No. This is—” Still pointing at the soda bottle.
“A baby sister or a baby brother? Do you know what you are having?” Her tone implied impatience with him, and yet she was not giving him time to reply. By now, I was feeling furious with this woman. My son was attempting to communicate with her, but she had her own agenda. Because he was not responding the same way an adult would, she was not respecting him, and not taking the time to listen.
He tried again: “But this is–” He was tapping the soda bottle frantically now, to show her what he was trying to talk about.
And again she interrupted: “You must be excited about the baby. What is it gonna be, a boy or a girl?”
Finally, Simon could not take it any more, and actually jumped up and down and wailed: “But I am trying to tell you something!”
She didn’t even hear his words, despite the fact that he was shouting them, because she was still grilling him over the gender of our baby. So this time I interrupted her. I reached out my hand, and stroked Simon’s hair. I leaned down to his level and said: “It’s ok honey.” Then, I looked back up at the woman and said: “He has been trying to tell you something that is important to him. He is very excited today.” I leaned back down to Simon and encouraged him: “Go ahead, Sweetie. Tell her what you want to say.”
She finally gave him room to speak. He spoke carefully and slowly now. I think he was afraid she would interrupt him again: “This is special soda that I get to have.”
She didn’t seem to know what to say, so she just replied “Oh yeah?” and finished our transaction.
Unfortunately, I don’t think she believed there was value in anything he had to say. I realize that not all adults know how to interact with children. However, at this point he was a customer in her cafe, and also a fellow human being. She was only interested in my pregnant belly, and thought he should be too. Of course he is, but it is a part of his everyday life. At that moment, getting a soda was much more thrilling and new, and he had a desperate need to express this to the other adult in front of him. Sure, she made an attempt to show interest in him by asking him questions, but it wasn’t genuine because she didn’t actually try to hear what he was saying.
He may have been barely able to see over the counter. He may have been wiggly, and silly, and young. However, that did not mean he was not worthy of being listened to. Children know when they are being talked down to or disregarded. They can sense it and it causes them frustration. (Just as it would for an adult.) This whole interaction may have only lasted a few minutes, but we encounter similar situations day after day. Added up all together they send a message that his opinions are less important because he is a kid, and that only grownups are worthy of being heard.
All adults, parents and non-parents, sometimes need to be reminded: Children are people too.