do(n’t) touch

My sister and I were enjoying the gardens at Villa Montalvo over the weekend – in addition to the expansive lawn there are a variety of plantings both formal and casual, including an Italianate garden and a succulent garden with many lovely specimens. A selection of sculpture, some classical, other modern pieces from the current artist in residence program, is also sprinkled about the grounds. As we were heading back to the car, I noticed a woman with two children, I’m guessing late grammar school age, maybe fourth grade or so. One of the children was visually impaired, and the woman was describing one of the sculptures to her as we passed by. The girl then wanted to touch the sculpture – part that the woman had described in particular. (There didn’t seem to be any signs prohibiting touching.) “Oh no, that’s got a lot of bird poop on it.” Then the woman said perhaps another part that was low enough for the girl to reach, but then, “oh, that’s broken off, that probably wouldn’t be very nice for you to touch.” and then there was some other “problem” with something else so she ended up leading the girl away without letting her touch anything.

Especially when she said about how it probably wouldn’t be very nice to touch I really had to bite my tongue on something along the lines of, “well she’ll never really know if she doesn’t get to touch it – why don’t you let her decide for herself whether she thinks it’s nice to touch or not.” Or mentally willing the girl to just touch the sculpture anyway. It seemed the girl’s experience was being so harshly edited – that the woman was choosing what was appropriate for her. I have no idea if it was an intentional control dynamic, feeling like she “knows best”, or being (over)protective and trying to keep the girl safe. I also have no idea what their relationship is – didn’t quite seem like she was the all the time primary care person, so this might have been a special outing that they might not have gotten otherwise, perhaps something better than nothing? But still, it made me sad.

After mulling it over for a few days I’m realizing that, besides the sads of it, it really struck me as being so obvious when I hear the limiting voice externally – from one stranger talking to another. I found myself hoping the girl doesn’t internalize that voice and start disallowing herself from trying things. It made me think about the ways I have that voice, and the things I’ve disallowed in my life. Why don’t I feel the same urgency to speak up to the limiting voice inside me with the things I wanted to say to that woman?

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