Insult to Injury
My advice in this column frequently comes down to, “Be polite and ignore people who are being impolite.” In recent weeks, this advice has applied to religious observance, LGBT parenting and dating status. It turns out that this advice is much easier to give than it is to take.
A couple of weeks ago, my 16-month-old son fractured his leg. Thank God, he’s going to be fine, but the whole experience has been pretty traumatizing — for me, not for him. As everyone reminds me, fortunately, he won’t remember it at all.
I have been surprised, first, by the stares and comments from strangers everywhere we go, and second, by my difficulty in ignoring people whose comments are less than helpful. It has been a rough couple of weeks, to be sure, so here are a few pieces of advice that I came up with for anyone who might happen to encounter someone with an injury:
1. Even if the person who is hurt is a baby who can’t understand what you’re saying, his companions probably can. Saying, “Did you see that baby with the cast?” or, “How does a kid that small break his leg?” as soon as you walk past may not impact my son, but I hear you, and so does my daughter. We know that you’re talking about us, and we don’t especially appreciate it. (To be fair, my daughter loves knowing people are talking about her, but I don’t!)
2. When someone is injured, being asked repeatedly, “What happened?” is not comforting. It’s possible that the injured person (or his mother!) doesn’t want to tell you, or that repeating — and thus reliving — the story over and over is an unpleasant experience. If what you mean is, “I’m sorry to see that you’re hurt,” then say that. Other options are, “Sorry you’re going through a rough time. Let me know if I can do anything to help,” or, “Let me know if you want to talk about it.”
3. If you are actually close to someone experiencing any kind of family injury/illness/difficult situation, you should reach out. The texts, emails and phone calls from friends checking up on my son and asking if we need anything have been invaluable. Strangers' comments, as annoying as they've been, haven't been nearly as hurtful as my friends' comments have been helpful.
Hopefully no one reading this will ever have an injured child or an injury themselves. Hopefully everyone reading this has already learned not to make inappropriate comments about other people’s bodies. Hopefully, hopefully, I can learn to take my own advice, and next time a stranger says, “What happened?” I’ll just say, “He hurt his leg," and keep walking.
P.S. I just asked my husband what he thought of this column, and he told me that he really doesn’t mind the comments and looks from people. So if you see him on the street with our son, feel free to say, “What happened?” and stare at the baby cast as long as you’d like.