Jan. 4, 2012 at 9:46 AM ET
Many people have asked why I decided to write my Parents magazine article, “It’s Okay to Stare: What to Do When Someone is Different.” They probably wonder why a woman born with only one finger on each hand and one toe on each foot, with two of her three children born with the same condition, would want to draw attention? Wouldn’t it be best to do whatever I could to assimilate and not shine a light on our differences?
The idea first came to me a couple of years ago when I was at Barnes & Noble shopping with our middle son, Charlie. Pointing with his two fingers on his right hand, he shouted as loud any 4-year-old could, “Mommy—why is that lady so fat?” I was immediately mortified.
But then, the unexpected: The target of Charlie’s attention was walking with her own young son who heard the outburst. Instead of caring about his own mother’s weight, the boy turned to his mom and remarked at high volume, “Mommy, why does that boy’s hands look like that?” There the other mom and I were, faced with what could have been an opportune parenting moment. However, instead of engaging one another, we both smiled an awkward grin and whisked our children away in separate directions.
Needless to say, as I described in the Parents piece, these outbursts are not unfamiliar to me. Our experience at the Empire State Building made me realize how often this sort of thing really does happen, and not necessarily only to us. I began to realize there was not only a story to tell, but perhaps a lesson to be learned, something counter-intuitive for all of us, including me: Let Your Child Embarrass You!
After the article was published, Parents posted the piece on its website and Facebook page, which triggered volumes of comments. Once again, I received the unexpected. I read countless responses from appreciative and newly enlightened parents, and many people also posted comments describing their own life experiences. Whether it was someone who was the parent of a racially mixed child, a child with autism, or a child of someone who had lost a limb from an accident, these people had similarly experienced the stares. Like me, they were now willing to shine a light on themselves and encourage natural curiosity, and I found myself learning from the moments they shared.
Sometimes the unexpected brings something wonderful.
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Meg Zucker is a natural optimist, a lawyer who specializes in fighting money laundering, and she blogs at Don't Hide It, Flaunt It.