Why Did You Ask Me That?

This morning I got Ruby to school late, and chatted with the occupational therapist while Ruby joined a table of children making Valentines. The OT told me Ruby’s been doing better at practicing taking her clothes on and off, which is remarkable because lately at home I feel like I’m dressing a large, impudent infant. A little girl looked up from her rubber stamp Valentine and asked me, “Does Ruby have a dad?”

Until very recently it would have been hard for me to answer that question for her. Today, I momentarily considered saying either, “actually, she has two dads” or “yes, she lives with her stepdad,” before answering honestly and with a smile, “Yes, she does have a dad!” I don’t think this was really an instance of a kindergartener getting a whiff of Ruby’s very slightly unusual family history and trying to get to the bottom of it. I think it’s more a case of my being beckoned into the mysterious world of five-year-old communication because Ruby doesn’t use language well enough to answer such a question herself. They probably all go around probing each other for information to build up images of the world nearly as complicated and crazy and beautiful as the truth.

Adding to the mystery, as I answered this little girl and puzzled over her inquiry, I heard another girl several feet away at another table, in conversation with a third child and not even looking towards us, saying, “Ruby does have a dad. I saw her with him at the store.” A couple weeks ago my husband took Ruby to Staples to buy supplies for his classroom and ran into her with her father. Apparently the question of Ruby’s father was part of the general kindergarten vibe this morning.

As I left, the girl from Staples gave me a big gorgeous smile and told me she saw Ruby with her dad. When I talk to Ruby’s friends, I often find myself trying to give more, adding more words to the substance of their relationship with Ruby because she has so few, wondering what Ruby would say. I said, “I know, he told me, he told me it was funny because he saw you hugging her and he didn’t know you from school.”

I’ve fielded “What’s wrong with her?” without missing a beat, and I now relish when children ask me about Ruby’s glorious, bindi-like birthmark. These kids aren’t trying to mess with  me, they’re honest. Some day, Ruby’s going to come up with her own answers, and her own questions too.

 

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