When we were still young parents, my wife would take our oldest son, Max, to a park near our apartment. One afternoon, Jen arrived at the park to find an older woman overseeing two young girls playing on the swings and slides. Jen set Max free, and settled in on a bench near the woman.
“This one is yours, yes?” the woman asked in a Russian accent.
“He’s my first, yes.”
“I am nanny for these two.”
The Russian nanny shrugged. “I have been nanny many years, with many children. These are good girls, but . . .” She pointed to the one sister at the top of the slide. “This one here is smart. Very quick. But this one . . .” She pointed to the other sister playing in the sand near Max. “She is not smart at all. You talk and she doesn’t listen. She just doesn’t listen.” She shook her head with Old World authority. “She is the stupid one.”
Jen tried gently negotiating with the Russian nanny, offering that maybe the girl was a bit of daydreamer and that sometimes daydreamers got lost in their own imaginations, but the nanny would have none of it. She’d been a nanny all her life, in two countries. She knew children. She had no illusions. There were smart children and dumb children, and this one, the one who simply wouldn’t listen to her, was a dumb one.
A few weeks later Jen was back at the park and there were the two sisters, but instead of the nanny a weary and worried looking woman who could only be the girls’ mother. Jen asked about the nanny. “We had to let her go,” explained the mother.
“I see,” said Jen, trying not to sound too relieved. No mother wants to be told she had hired the wrong woman to take care of her children.
“We’d been noticing something odd with Ally, our youngest,” the mother continued. “She just wasn’t responding in the way her older sister would. It just wasn’t right. So we finally took her in and had her tested and . . .” The mother shook her head. “She’s deaf.”
Jen spent the afternoon consoling this woman who had that raw quality parents acquire for a time after they learn this sort of news. This was still a year before Sawyer was born, and several years before we would begin receiving news like this mother had received. I would think of that Russian nanny from time to time once our world was overrun with doctors and therapists and tests. Her mistake, it occurred to me, was not calling the girl stupid, but simply believing stupid people existed. It was an easy mistake to make, one I made over and over again. How easy it was to believe it was the world that needed fixing, not simply the stories I was telling about it.
I am the author of Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence, and Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. Learn more here.