By Sheana Ochoa
Last night, my friend and her boyfriend came over for dinner. They brought his five-year-old, which presented me with the opportunity to talk to an “expert” of sorts since he is also raising a boy and the boy is a year ahead of Noah. Specifically I wanted to ask him about his experience with his son passing judgment.
It has only been a few months since Noah asked me, “Mommy, what does ugly mean?” Reluctant to give him a definition, I said unhelpfully, “When something isn’t pretty.” This innocent and beautiful question made me wonder when and how do children begin to judge others? Sadly, I didn’t know I’d have the answer so soon. Maybe when Noah was seven or even ten, but so soon after his earnest question about the definition of “ugly?” I imagined I’d get to revel in his purity a little longer – that innocence that prompted him to tell me that the obese man sitting next to us at Canters one evening was “just a little bit fat,” or that his grandmother, who’s pushing 70, is “just a little bit old.” I know 70 is supposed to be the new 50, but “just a little bit old” is forgiving to say the least.
That’s all over. Last week as I was undressing to get in the bath, Noah announced, “Mommy, your butt is round and fat.” My butt? Fat? When that three-hundred pound patron in Canters was “just a little bit fat?” Later, when we were driving into the Beverly Center, he looked at the woman in the car next to us and said, “Mommy, that lady is ugly. I don’t want to look at her.” I glanced over and saw a woman who wasn’t particularly good or bad looking, but that wasn’t the point: “Mijo, people aren’t ugly. All people are beautiful. Everyone just looks different from each other.” We went to do our exchange at Macy’s and the teller happened to be cross-eyed. At the register, right in front of him, Noah declared, “That man is strange.” I smiled and said, “He’s a stranger to you, honey,” trying to cover up an uncomfortable moment.
At dinner with my friend, while Noah and his five-year-old were distracted, I took the opportunity to summarize this transition of Noah’s from an oblivious working definition of “ugly,” to his recent fluency in judging others, including me. “Children are brutally honest,” the dad said.
“Yes,” I pressed, “but do you remember when your son started judging people?”
“I don’t think he judges. I think he’s just observing.”
“Ugly is a judgment.”
“Yes, that one he would have had to learn.”
And there I had it. What I had already known. He had heard it at school, or perhaps even on one of his Netflix cartoons and my angel was now a person who had judgment values. Could this have been avoided by several years? I don’t know, but I had to admit the truth. He wasn’t just observing. He had become a critic.
Before I had time to digest this revelation about my son, he surprised me by suddenly announcing: “I’m going to tell a Yeti story.” My son likes an audience, but although he can improvise lyrics while singing, I had never heard him invent a story.
I had commenced telling him stories about the mythical Big Foot of the Himalayas since he was three, sometimes never getting as far as having the creature actually appear before he discontinued the story because he was too “scared.”
“Once upon a time” he began, “there was a boy and a girl in a park.” Abruptly, he stopped, defeated and fretting that he “couldn’t do it.” I was happy he had simply achieved a beginning, a setting, and characters. My friend urged him to continue and he did:
“They were eating pizza. They had so much pizza. Then they were in a cave.” (Scene change, I thought, impressed –and an ominous one at that in line with the genre.) “They heard a sound.” He began making monkey sounds that weren’t at all scary, but a great effort. “And the Yeti was coming slowly and slowly.” (Suspense) “His teeth were very sharp and he had white eyes and black fur all over his body.” By now he was excited as the climax was mounting because just as the Yeti was about to eat the children: “Then the girl attacked him with her fork and knife (allegedly from eating pizza in the park earlier! He understands foreshadow) and poked him in the eye and cut his hand off. And the Yeti died. The end.”
My son had just created an original story with a beginning, middle and end. I was bursting with pride. He may be a critic, I thought as I was tucking him in bed after everyone had left, but he is also a soon-to-be writer and storyteller!