"There's a girl in my class and he walks different."
"A girl is a 'she' and a boy is a 'he.'"
"Well he walks different - the girl does."
I noticed her too, in her brown leather mary janes, carefully folded lace-trimmed white socks, matching corduroy skirt and pink top with a princessy character I'm unfamiliar with in my world of boys. She hobbled around the classroom while the other Kindergarteners walked and ran with ease. She stole glances at her mother during orientation while the rest of the kids' eyes were transfixed on their new teacher. She was different than the other boys and girls and she already knew it.
"That's OK if she walks differently than you do."
"Well it's kinda weird the way he does it."
"She. And so?"
"I'm just saying..."
"There's no reason to say it. If she heard you talking about the way she walks and how it's different than the way you do it, that could hurt her feelings. That wouldn't make school very fun for her, would it? Would you want to come to school if kids were talking about you? Saying that you were weird or different?"
"Really, that little girl is lucky. Aunt Brenda is in a wheelchair because she can't walk. This little girl might walk a little differently than you do, but at least she can still walk. That's lucky."
"OK, but he seemed really stressed during Play-doh time."
"Well maybe she needs a friend. You can be her friend. You can make her feel comfortable. That would be the kind thing to do. And most of all, stick up for her. If you ever hear or see other kids being mean to her you let the teacher know because that is not nice."
It's hard to explain to kids the differences they innocently observe when they enter classrooms and schools. You can't teach them friendship, but you can teach them kindness. You can't make them get along with everybody, but you can expect them to be respectful to everyone.
As hard as it is to try and make a five year old understand the differences in people, it's so much harder to watch that the little girl in her brown leather mary janes - at the age of five - not only know she is not like the others but already have this sad, tangible self-consciousness about her.