I have always been a starer.

When I was eight, I was sitting on the asphalt in the Warialda bus queue, surrounded by backpacks and kids. I was looking over at a girl who was much older than me, and was ye olde five star A-class schoolyard bully. Her name was Belinda, and she was, as usual, throwing her weight around. Belinda caught our bus. One day, my little brother was  carrying a little book home to mum for Mother’s Day, which he had written and illustrated in scripture class. Belinda, for some unknown reason, took great pleasure in grabbing his book and chucking it out the bus window, on route.

Back to the bus queue, and there was me, little kid, big brown cow eyes under fringe, staring at Belinda. She of course came up to me, pushed me, and said “Watcha staring at? Little freak!”

The moral of this story is that I have always been a starer. A watcher of people. An observer. My little two-year-old is the same…it takes her five minutes to walk through the aquatic complex to the change rooms because she is so fascinated by the other people in the pool.

Being a people watcher has its drawbacks, like being pushed by the schoolyard bully. But it has its advantages. From watching, I learn.

Here’s what I have learnt from strangers…

A child can be your friend

A woman sat next to her twelve-year-old-son at the Macadamia Castle. Her hair was bleached blonde and cropped tight. She leant into her son, who was holding his iPad, and chuckled. “That llama looks pretty weird,” she said. The boy smiled. Her voice was so warm as she then chatted to him, telling him about someone they knew, as if her son was her age, or she was his. Two friends, sitting side-by-side, just having a conversation as two friends do.

Losing your crap at the playground does not look cool

Two kids sped around and around the playground, one chasing the other, who was on a scooter. “Stop!” yelled their mother. They didn’t. “Right,” yelled their mother, and she grabbed one of them and his scooter and yanked him by the arm. The child cried out, but she continued to pull him and his scooter away from the playground. In front of everyone, she yelled at him, smacked him on the bottom and then walked away, leaving him to cry. It wasn’t cool. Whatever the kids had done or not done, it wasn’t cool.

Allowing a child to roam gives them confidence and security

At the same playground a few months later, a toddler, barely one, waddled gleefully away from the playground towards to road. She was wearing sweet little white dungarees and a cheeky smile. Her mother ambled after her, not in any rush, just an amble. She picked the little one up just before the road and put her back in the playground. Again, the little one waddled away towards to road. Again, the mother ambled after her, and placed her down in the playground. They did this routine two or three times more, but there was never any fuss, or any reprimand. The little one, so strong and confident on her feet, wore her cheeky smile with pride, and the mother remained relaxed and playful, pulling her back when it was dangerous, but otherwise giving her the space to roam free.

A child isn’t a rude child, a naughty child, or a good child

At the swimming pool today, a woman spoke firmly to her five-year-old girl. She told her she was a rude girl, and rude girls do not get to go dancing. Only good girls go dancing. Rude girls go home. So she wouldn’t be going dancing. The girl barely bothered to cry into her towel. Meanwhile, the woman’s toddler sat next to them in his pram, and threatened to choke on a piece of paper, which until pointed out, went unnoticed by the mother. I wondered why it was so important for the mother to make sure her child knew she was a rude girl. What value did it serve? The only option the girl had was to be a rude girl. All rud-ish character traits that emerged hence after would only confirm the fact that she was a rude girl. What good is labelling a child rude, naughty or good?

Of course, watching strangers is a mere flash of the stranger’s reality, and only interpretations and assumptions are made, which are based on my own beliefs, values and experiences. But I do learn from strangers, every day. They may not be the lessons the strangers intended, but when observing, I take the lesson, and pocket it as my own, weaving it into my life’s embroidery.

What have you learnt from a stranger, lately?

{Linking with Flog Your Blog Friday with the lovely Grace at With Some Grace and Twinkle in the Eye for Flash Blog Friday}