Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Lesson on Verbal Warfare

She didn't answer his question.

I'm not shocked.

He's young, maybe 4 or 5. And adults tend to look right past young people. Not engage them.  Disregard them. Unless, of course, the people involved are special or the setting is FOR children exclusively.

Today's setting is not a kid environment. It's the elegant and recently restored Beauvoir (Beautiful View), the final home of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy.

Two years ago, we'd sneaked a peak at it from the road and saw near devastation: A shell of a house with a partial roof and dangling shutters struggling to stand amid mountains of debris. She'd taken a direct hit from Hurricane Katrina. 

Today, we see a revival of her original beauty, thanks to $4 million from state and federal agencies.

We're on a group tour (about eight of us) in this beautiful mansion, built in Biloxi, Miss., before the Civil War. Our guide is a woman of about 45, who wears period clothing (post Civil War, about 1889) and smiles a lot. She tells us inside stories about the lives and loves of the first family of the Confederacy -- the only first family of the Confederacy.

Our walk from the front to the back door takes about 20 minutes because we've stopped at each of the rooms to hear about the way the people lived in this ocean-front summer cottage, about the severe damage caused by Katrina and the restoration efforts still going on today.

All the while, the little boy with piercing blue eyes remains attentive. He listens to the tour guide's stories, tilting his little head upwards to hear with his eyes and his ears. He's so well behaved. Respectful. Curious.

A little red wooden train on the carpet in the living room catches his attention. He turns to the tour guide and asks "Why is there a train in there?" Our guide responded, "It's very old." Then just smiles.


That's no answer. That's a dismissal. Why not just answer his question?

I'm fuming. This little boy is, after all, a paying part of our tour group. He's listened to everything she said and has walked quietly with us on the whole tour, never touching a thing (well, he DID touch Jeff Davis' grandfather's grandfather clock, built in the 1700, and the oldest piece of furniture in the house ... but his mom was quick to catch and release.) 

A non-answer like "It's very old" insults that little boy. 

I start to speak up, to reprimand that tour guide in front of everyone for ignoring the child when I see his mom whispering in his ear. She does it quietly, respectfully. The boy nods his head. He likes the answer. He skips out the back door and down the garden steps.

I take a deep breath and realize my plan to right that wrong with a public tongue lashing was as rude as the original wrong.

So next time (and there will be a next time because adults often disregard our kids) I'll take a lesson from our mom and not draw my verbal sword in public. Instead, I'll kindly whisper in the offender's ear.

1 comment:

PETERV said...

Nancy, another way of pointing out the the guide's inconsiderate non-answer of the child's question would be to ask "You know, I'd like to know why the little train is in that room too.". That way, it's not a public reprimand, but at least everyone (including your readers) would know the answer to the little boy's question.