I dressed for Christmas Eve much as I always dress for church: blouse and blazer, mid-calf wool skirt and panty hose. I honestly don’t remember if he noticed my feet at our house, or after we went over the river and through the woods to Great-Grandmother’s house. Once there, I stepped out of my boots and proceeded to help with dinner preparations in my stocking-feet. In a matter of minutes, my not quite two year old grandson squatted beside my feet, pointed to my toes and said, uh oh. Another room, another moment of discovery, and he once again pointed, touched, and said, uh oh. Over and over throughout the evening, clearly disturbed by something he had never seen before, he looked at the slippery, stretched, sheer fabric covering my feet, pointed, touched and said, uh oh. Even after church, he made his way down the aisle where I stood talking with folks, noticed the leg covering visible between robe hem and pumps, pointed and repeated his now familiar, uh oh.
This little boy knows cotton socks and wool, and is especially fond of the colorful ones designed to be mismatched. He wears crocs, monkey shoes, snow boots, rubber boots, and slippers that remind him of minions. His mother, in light of his fascination with my feet, reflected that she sometimes wears a heavier, tight-like leg covering; so it is possible Christmas Eve was his introduction to panty hose.
I have full confidence that this little open-eyed boy with a big smile and generous heart, always on the move and in active discovery mode, will outgrow this inclination to meet new sights with “uh oh”; and if, by chance, he doesn’t, his parents will help him. Already learning Japanese, German and sign language, simultaneously with English, and being introduced to a large world filled with bright colors, bold flavors and rich variety, I don’t worry that he’ll oft be heard to say, well, I never heard of such a thing. But I also know the same cannot be said of many of the rest of us.
As I observe people, including myself, I’m often aware of the ways in which we polish our fetish of the familiar, while actively shunning that which we don’t recognize or choose not to understand. We casually describe everything from which side of the car and road people drive on to the prayer postures and holiness teachers of other faith communities to the color, length and kink of hair to who and how others are inclined to love as wrong, rather than simply different than us. When our guard is down, we sometimes toss around labels such as “subhuman mongrel” and “towel head” to describe and demean those we’re least interested in listening to. Perhaps if I pierce my nose and install a heavy ring, I can keep it from wrinkling up at body odors born in a vastly different culture and bearing no resemblance to Secret’s powder fresh scent; the thought of eating chocolate covered crickets or heating my living space with cattle dung. Perhaps, if we try, we can learn to replace “uh oh” with “tell me more” – or better yet, say nothing as we observe and learn from others.