Teen to 60-year-old Woman: ‘Your Mask is Completely Inappropriate’
By Paula Schuck
Photo © lamapacas/Twenty20
Nov 25, 2020
This past week we were walking through a grocery store near my home when my teenage daughter spied something scrawled on a face mask.
In fact, I heard her speaking to a stranger before I even saw why.
My teen is woke. She is not afraid to call people out in public when it comes to instances of racism, sexism or homophobia.
Paula Schuck’s daughter requires assistance at school, like many Canadian kids. Read about her roadblocks here.
Here’s What Happened
It’s a rare day when we go to the grocery store together. My oldest teen has an anxiety disorder and we’ve been following the rules, trying to make grocery shopping infrequent during the pandemic. It’s typically me who goes to the store with my mask on — and geared up with plenty of hand sanitizer, for when I can’t wash my hands.
I try to get in and out efficiently.
But occasionally grocery shopping is a mental health break for my teenagers. They can buy materials for what they want to make that week. Cooking and baking are things that give them joy right now. So, there’s value in that some weeks.
“My daughter is mostly a ray of sunshine.”
On this particular day, we went shopping at a grocery chain store near my home in London, Ontario. I was following the arrows up and down the aisles respecting the traffic flow and trying to strategically get what’s on my list when I heard my daughter speaking to a stranger: “Your mask is completely inappropriate.”
Needless to say, my cart came to a halt.
My daughter is mostly a ray of sunshine. When we go outside for walks, she makes a deliberate effort to engage people in our community — especially now. Above all, “be kind” is her life motto.
But on this day, her tone was definitely not cheery, as is typical. Instead, it was calm, clear, steady and assertive.
'Your mask is completely inappropriate.'
A woman in her sixties appeared wearing a white mask. On it, “THANKS CHINA!” was handwritten in black marker.
In-person confrontation is not usually something my daughter would ever seek out, and yet there she stood in front of a woman who looked slightly taken aback that a teen had stopped her in a grocery store full of adults.
“I was in stealth grocery store pandemic shopping mode, like so many parents.”
In front of her, the woman in the mask stopped to say: “Well, that’s your opinion.”
I am embarrassed to say it took me a good five minutes to actually piece together what was happening. I was in stealth grocery store pandemic shopping mode, like so many parents. When I finally realized that my daughter was calling her out on her racist mask, I was shocked, both at what I was seeing and what I was hearing.
“It’s a fact, not an opinion. It is offensive,” Payton said, and the woman kept walking muttering: “My mask is perfectly fine.”
Kids Are Paying Attention
When we reached the checkout line, my daughter was literally vibrating.
Sometimes her gift is seeing things that others don’t. And like many kids, she’s anxious and sometimes impulsive. When we walk together or go camping, she sees all of the leaves, trees, dogs, birds, owls and tiny children. And she stops to examine or say hello to each.
Where I may see a smattering of stars cutting through the night sky, she identifies constellations, picking them out confidently by name.
“She has a distinct way of looking at the world and sees the things I sometimes don’t.”
She is my dreamer and my artist, and she sees the world as a canvas, the most miniscule things adding up to a framed work of art. She has a distinct way of looking at the world and sees the things I sometimes don’t.
But it isn’t just the stars and nature that teens are observing with a watchful eye. They are living at a unique time in history, witnessing social injustice, racism, sexism and homophobia — daily. They have been raised on anti-bullying programs, told how to be an upstander, not a bystander.
And they are not afraid to speak out or speak up when called to do so.
Even in a grocery store during a pandemic.
Paula Schuck understands the power of self-advocacy, especially when a child has a diagnosis. Read about how she's raising a health care self-advocate here.
On the way home, my daughter talked about all the reasons the mask was offensive to her and how irate she was to see a person wearing a racist mask in the baking aisle of a neighbourhood store.
She could have looked away, ignored it or mumbled something under her breath. It would have been easier for a kid with social anxiety to turn away.
Instead, she used her voice. While it caught me completely off guard, I’m proud of her for recognizing what was standing right in front of her and for calling it out when she had a chance.
Because she was right: the mask was completely inappropriate.
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