“Don’t stare,” says my mom as she cuffs the back of my head and nudges me along through the store. I’m 6 years old. Old enough to notice that people are different, but not yet old or experienced enough to know that I’m not supposed to acknowledge that.
“Don’t stare. Don’t point. Don’t call attention to their difference or disability.” My mother drills her instructions into my head. “Would you want to be stared at all day?” she asks. I answer, “No.”
How many generations have passed along this same advice? “Mind your own business.” “Just worry about yourself.” This advice was easy to follow and probably even made sense 25+ years ago when the likelihood that we children would encounter someone who was “different” was slim – especially if, like me, you were a child in small town USA.
It took me moving abroad to understand that there might be a better alternative to just looking away. At 5’10” tall, blond hair and blue eyes, I stood, often literally, head and shoulders above the Italians. In my small Italian town, I was the oddball. I talked funny. I looked funny. People stared or they looked away. It felt terrible.
Learn about the value of the smile over at the Nomad Mom Diary.