Sunday, January 3, 2016

A First That Most Certainly Won't Be a Last

As a parent of a child with special needs, I have accepted that our lives are constructed differently from most.  At three and a half years old, Mila still requires full care.  I dress, feed, and bathe her.  She still requires a lot of supervision with walking.  She has not figured out how to safely navigate stairs or changes in outside terrain.  She doesn't remember to always put her hands down to brace her falls.  She isn't potty trained.  She's nonverbal but makes lots of sounds.  She bops her head and flaps her arms excessively when she is happy.  I don't mention these things repeatedly for anyone to get out their violin and play any sad songs.  Most of you already know these things.  I mention these things again because her assistive care and quirky behaviors create a lot of attention when we are out in the community.  

I have dealt with other moms attempting to be friendly, but as soon as they open their mouth, everything goes south.  They could very well have good intentions, but their lack of experience with "differences," leaves an awkward presence.  I have learned to simply avoid those situations.  It makes it easier for everyone.  I have also learned that in the midst of stares, I simply don't make eye contact with anyone who's eyes are burning holes in my side.  Again, it makes it easier for everyone.  If I don't acknowledge stares, I don't get defensive and react negatively.  

Living 1800 miles away from family and friends, we do not have any childcare for date nights, errands, etc.  We take Mila everywhere we go.  That's how it's been since she was born.  Would we enjoy some date nights? Sure.  However, I'm that mom who enjoys taking Mila with me wherever I go.  I like going out as a family to run errands or have dinner at our favorite spots.  

Friday was no exception for us.  As a family, we went downtown and had dinner.  Mila had already eaten so I brought along her Kindle and turned on Finding Nemo.  Any of you that know us, know that Finding Nemo is Mila's most favorite thing in her entire little world!  It makes her smile, squeal and laugh.  This time was no different.  She would squeal and laugh about every 10-15 minutes.  I ssh'd her a few times, but she doesn't even know what "ssh" or "be quiet" means.  As usual, the people sitting to the left of me had been staring at us since we sat down.  Granted, their booth faced us, so they didn't have multiple viewing options,  However, they had a conscious choice not to stare.  I am always on guard for these things, but Michael has no clue this ever happens. An example of how different mom and dad's are :).

About 30 minutes into our restaurant time, I noticed a woman standing at the back of our booth.  For a second, I couldn't figure out why she was standing there.  Our booth was right in front of the kitchen, so there was only employee traffic in that area.  Then, I realized she kept turning around making faces.  Raising her drawn eye brows, twisting her mouth in weird directions, pointing her head motions towards Mila at the same time.  I quickly realized this lady was trying really hard to get my attention.  When her face games stopped, she turned her back to us but remained at our booth.  After ignoring stares beside us, I was not willing to ignore this woman's actions.  I stood up and tapped her on the shoulder.  Me: "I notice that you keep making faces at my family, is there something you would like to say?" Crazy lady: As she's swirling her finger in the air, pointing down at Mila, "Yes, she is too loud.  She needs to be quiet.  She's disturbing the entire restaurant."  Me: "She's not disturbing anyone.  Why don't you go back to your seat and mind your own business."  Crazy lady couldn't even respond, before the "staring lady" to the left of me started yelling.  "She is too loud.  She's been loud all night.  She's disturbing us.  What the heck is she even doing here?"  Me: "Excuse me?" as I'm standing up out of my booth, at the edge of her table..."She has every right to be here as much as anyone else."  I wanted to slam my fists on her table, clear the dishes out of the way, and smash her face in.  I was beyond furious.  The manager came and stood in front of me and kindly asked me to please have a seat.  

As I sat down and glued my back to the booth as hard as I could, I looked over at Michael.  His face was sad and his eyes were glassy.  I forced a gentle smile, "it's going to be ok."  I was saying it was going to be ok because I needed to hear those very words myself.  It didn't feel ok.  I was so angry. I was insulted.  I was hurt.  I was sick to my stomach.  Mila was still in her world of Nemo joy, oblivious to what just took place.  The waitress quickly arrived at our table, "are you ok."  Me: "No I'm not.  Please clear our table and bring our check."  I had barely eaten half of my meal before this happened.

"Staring lady" and her husband had finished their meal before her outburst.  They had paid and had leftovers bagged on the table.  I guess she borrowed her husband's balls for a few minutes and felt brave enough to say something.  I was literally in shock.  

There was a man playing the piano and singing the entire time.  There was so much background noise.  I couldn't imagine Mila's squeals disturbing anyone.  In all of our restaurant ventures, I have never had one complaint about Mila.  She wasn't crying and screaming.  She wasn't running around.  She was sitting in the booth, watching a movie, and laughing from sheer JOY.  I couldn't believe I had been verbally attacked by two old bats who were complaining about my child being HAPPY!  

The Manager came to our table and was overly apologetic.  He didn't even understand what happened.  As I'm explaining Mila, when I shouldn't have to say anything at all, tears are rolling down my face.  "She's developmentally delayed.  She's nonverbal.  She squeals when she's happy because that's how she expresses herself." Ugh!  I was so mad at myself as I'm saying every word.  I was mad at myself for not having a more clever rebuttal to those pretentious, asshole women.   I will never reprimand Mila for being happy, nor apologize for her joy.  

A free meal, desserts to-go, and all the apologies from staff didn't alleviate the hurt I felt.  I silently cried the whole way home.  I just wanted to hold Mila.  I wanted to feel her joy.  I wanted to be reminded of how perfect she is.  I felt like those ladies were trying to rip away everything I value as being Mila's mom.  I'm definitely wounded from their ignorance and hostility, but they didn't break me.

In was recently encouraged to have compassion for the most despicable people.  See them for who they have the potential to be.  How does one do that?  How do you have compassion towards ignorance?  It would be easy to seclude ourselves from the outside world, but I refuse to do that.  It will happen again and I have to be better prepared.  I have to react differently.  I haven't quite figured it out yet, but my wheels are turning.  I am so grateful for Mila and what she teaches me everyday. I'm grateful we live in every moment and celebrate the smallest successes. I'm grateful for every time I'm within inches of her, she thinks it's time for a kiss. I'm grateful for her quirky head bops and arm flapping.  I'm grateful for her loud squeals and constant laughter.  For a child with no words, she speaks to me everyday.  My Hope is that we'll strive to have a little more compassion towards others.  Embrace those who are "lost" and need love.  Remain quiet during times its easier to be loud.  We don't always have to be the strongest or wisest to be an example to others.

*Sometimes you've gotta wear it to make others believe it*