Dear woman in the grocery store,
I had a life-changing realization after our short interaction. I was having a bad day with my two little chickens (i.e. my 5-year-old and 8 month old), tantrums, seemingly never ending screaming, throwing breakfast, and resistance to doing anything I wanted from my 5-year-old and wanting to be held all the time from my 8-month-old. My older one had woken up early (like 3 am early). I felt like a zombie but I steeled myself for my busy day. I had so much to get done and by 8 am my patience was already wearing thin. Whoa, was I in for it. I had to sit in the bathroom chanting internally, I can do this... I can do this... Show no fear, they smell fear.
Finally, by some miracle, I was able to get out the door to do some much-needed grocery shopping, which I usually pawn off to my husband because shopping with my little darlings sometimes feels like wrangling cattle. I nervously pulled up to the grocery store and went to take out my older daughter out of the car and discovered that she didn't have any shoes on and they were not to be found anywhere in the car.
How did she get her firmly strapped on sandals off so fast before we left? How could I have overlooked her bare tootsies as I buckled her in? It was the last thing I did before I left. UGH... With the hot pavement, walking wasn't an option so I grabbed her, my enormous purse/diaper bag in one arm and my baby carrier my other arm and wobbled into the store grunting with effort until I was able to load them in the cart. Let's just say I barely made it into the store because there was not one cart in the parking lot I could just grab. It was just not my day.
Just imagine me trying to shop as my baby is screaming and I am haphazardly trying to get her to take a bottle, all while chasing after the older one who is running everywhere inside the store with her bare feet. My hair is in disarray and I am pleading with my 5-year-old to stop, not touch that, don't knock that over, etc. To anyone seeing me I must have looked like "one of those moms." I am used to looking like "one of those moms." You know, the ones where you think "geez get some control over your kid" or that my sweet daughter is a brat and I am an indulgent pushover.
I pushed those negative thoughts from my mind. No one really cares or takes the time to notice me and my seemingly unruly girlie and screaming baby who wants to be held NOW. I was wrong. I discovered people were noticing me and that judgmental inner dialog was re-affirmed that day as I saw a woman approaching me.
She looked to be in her mid-fifties, thin, and fashionable. Before she said anything I hoped she was coming to lend me a hand or give me a kind word like, "I have been there, keep your chin up." But no. As she got closer I saw her lips pursed into a thin line and I knew then that this wasn't going to be good.
She abruptly said, "You must be a horrible mother, your daughter is going crazy and isn't even wearing shoes."
The next few moments felt like an eternity. Did that really just happen? What do I say to that? I felt rage. Blinding, seeing red, rage. She had no idea. I wanted to yell some very choice words at her. Who was she to judge me as a mother and my daughter after seeing us only in this inopportune moment?
As I sat there and debated all my options for a curt response, almost involuntarily I found myself saying, "Sorry, we are having a tough day." To which she huffed and walked away. Immediately, wished I could take back every syllable of those words.
I have thought long and hard about what I would say if I could re-live that moment because I am NOT sorry. I am NOT sorry that my daughter's behavior bothered your peaceful shopping experience. That looking at me and my little family bothered you enough that you thought what you said and did was ok. I am NOT sorry that my five-year-old, though she struggles with self-regulation and focusing, is the strongest, most pure, brave person that I know. She battles with having so much to say and not being able to find the words to say it.
Can you imagine the frustration YOU would feel if you couldn't express your wants, needs, and emotions? She wants so much to connect and make friends with other children but she doesn't know how, and yet she courageously continues to try after seemingly endless experiences of social rejection. Have YOU ever felt that way or experienced that?
I am not sorry that my daughter's exuberance and energy bothers you, but in truth, she experiences a myriad of sensory issues daily (including hating the feeling of having shoes on), but still has the strength to go out and find joy in discovering new things. Can you say that you have conquered such challenges and still find happiness in life? I don't know, but you don't know either.
Even though I was hurt, angry, and embarrassed that day I am grateful you happened. I realized something invaluable because of you. I really am not sorry and I will not apologize that my daughter has autism.
I am not sorry that she is mine because every day I am delighted in some small thing that marks her progress as she learns or says something new, something more. Those moments are my rainbows after storms, my silver linings. When her eyes brim with pride at her new accomplishment or when she kisses me good morning or rests her head on my shoulder as I try to engage her in a bedtime story.
I am grateful to you, the judgemental lady in the store, for what I gained from that terrible interaction with you. That I am not embarrassed or ashamed, I am not sorry, and I don't have to say it anymore. Not ever, not for anyone. I am proud of my daughter and proud to be her mother. She will not learn from me that her sensory issues, which she cannot control, are something to be apologized for or embarrassed about. If only you could see what I see, that she has walked, inched, and clawed her way a million miles from where she came.
She will not hear me apologize anymore for any minor inconveniences she may cause people we meet. She will know that no matter what, whether it is a stressful, off, or a great day that I accept her, love her, and have her back no matter what. That is what I want her to grow up hearing and the mother I want to be. I am NOT sorry.