“A man sat next to my daughter on the bus.
The bus wasn’t particularly busy, yet he chose the seat next to her.
She stood up and moved over to me.
She didn’t make a big deal about it, she just clearly didn’t feel comfortable sitting with him.
‘Aw, you don’t need to be scared. Give me a high five!’
She didn’t want to.
She turned into me and refused to acknowledge him.
I smiled at him and then my children and I went back to our conversation.
‘Are you looking forward to Christmas?’ he asked my daughter.
We exchanged the usual pleasantries that people share at this time of year. A brief summary of my family’s plans and enjoyment of the season. Listening in turn as he shared his own.
I’m not great socially, but I try to be polite and I hate to think anyone is lonely. I was happy enough to have a conversation in that moment.
‘Cat got your tongue?’ he tried again, leaning in close to my lovely girl.
I felt her press into me. Trying to merge into my body.
Everything about her body language was screaming STOP…but he wasn’t listening.
Why do people do this?
‘She just doesn’t want to talk,’ I explained firmly.
‘She shy?’ He asked
‘Not particularly. She just doesn’t feel like talking,’ I reiterated.
I pointedly began discussing our plans for the evening with my children. Purposely tuning him out.
‘You should teach her some manners. She should at least be polite!’ he admonished me.
I looked at him.
I looked at him and I saw all the times people had ignored my discomfort.
From grandparents demanding hugs. Aunties chasing me to ‘pinch a kiss.’ Being tickled until I couldn’t breath and it was a long way from fun.
Family friends demanding I speak to them. Strangers demanding I be civil…all because it suited THEM.
I remembered the times I had been called rude because I didn’t feel like speaking.
I remembered all the times I was forced to put other people’s comfort above my own.
I remember the time a man in a nightclub called me frigid because I pushed him away when he was pressing himself up against me. A friend laughing and telling me it was absolutely fine. I should dance with him. I shouldn’t turn him away. He was just having harmless fun…and the man was her boyfriend’s friend.
Did I want to ruin their night by being miserable.
I remember wanting to go home but feeling like I couldn’t because it would upset my friend.
I remember crying later because I had felt so uncomfortable and trapped all night.
It’s not a lesson I am teaching my children.
My children’s comfort and feelings matter!
They do not owe anyone anything…and when they are feeling uncomfortable they don’t have to pretend they’re okay to stroke someone else’s ego.
‘She hasn’t been impolite. She doesn’t have to talk to you!’ I said to him.
Then I turned to my daughter and spoke clearly so she could hear and so that he could hear too… ‘Sweetie, you do NOT have to speak to this person. People do NOT get to make you feel bad. You can tell him to stop and if he doesn’t listen then HE is wrong and you can make sure he knows it! If people like this don’t listen you can shout, ‘Stop, right now! Leave me alone’ and you keep shouting it until they hear!’
The man spluttered and muttered something along the lines of ‘back in my day.’
I refused to acknowledge him any further, and I calmly moved seats further away from him and continued our journey in peace.
As we passed him to get off the bus he said loudly, ‘I know where she gets it!’
…I stared him dead in the eye and replied, ‘So do I.’
In this case my children’s interaction is between the pushy old man on the bus.
Another time it may be a relative who doesn’t respect their boundary.
Or a friend who pushed them to do something they know is wrong. One day it may be a man who doesn’t listen when they say no.
I want her to know she has a choice. She never has to stay quiet for someone else’s benefit. She is powerful and she is able to say STOP. I want her to know stop means STOP, and no means NO.
And if someone is offended by her boundaries, that’s THEIR problem.”