My children have turned me into a stalker.
We’re not talking about just a guilty glance here. We’re talking all-out, stare down, I-could-probably-tell-you-that-guy’s-driver’s-license-number, stalking. In conversations with more traditional parents, I try to use more tact and say “I’m just people-watching,” but we all know I’m just a few steps shy of a restraining order.
My mother would cringe (and possibly break out the wooden spoon) if she knew we stare, if she knew we make up insanely wild stories about, well, probably very boring people. “It’s impolite to stare.” How many times was I told that when I was 5, 10, 15, 32? And I tried to set an example and tell my children this same thing in the hopes that they would grow up to be better than their mother.
However, several years ago, while we were visiting the local zoo, a little blonde-headed girl in a pink wheelchair was pushed up to the glass window overlooking the lions (who, by the way, never move when we’re there. Is it just us? Do they see us coming and roar “get down!”).
The little girl had one leg and was trying desperately to heave herself up enough to see these lazy creatures. Of course, my children did what children do. They stared. And, trying to be a good mother, I ushered a “stop it.” But my then four-year-old son tugged on my jacket and, to my horror, pointed, saying, “But look, Mama.”
A tall, well-dressed man (whom I pretended was the owner collaborating with several men in zookeeper-ish uniforms – probably trying to figure out how to get lions to move without getting eaten) saw that the girl’s petite mother was trying to pull her daughter up enough to see over the wood paneling and was having trouble holding her up long enough to get a good look.
He walked over, asked the woman’s permission, and then gently picked the child up. For a moment, they watched the lions, who did absolutely nothing for their audience, and then walked away smiling–the girl still in the man’s arms–to see more animals. My daughter, who watches too many Disney movies, whispered, “I bet they get married and live happily ever after.”
Being the romantic cynic that I am, I thought, “Well, maybe . . . unless her husband, who’s at work at the moment, finds out.” But that’s not the point.
From that moment on, I stopped telling my kids not to stare. Furthermore, I stopped feeling guilty about participating. And because we are eerily talented at this sport, fascinated over gruff old men in restaurant corners or the tiny female coach rallying a bunch of gangly, unruly seventh graders, I’ve jotted down a thousand engaging characters for stories I cannot wait to write!
But we really need to stop pointing. I know. I know.
Delaina Netherland is a word-lover from East Texas. Her faith, her job, three kids, and two stray dogs provide daily inspiration and comic relief.