“What is your name, child?” she asked my son.
We were standing in line at the post office. I had my (way big for his age) 16-month old on my hip and my 6-month old daughter in an infant carrier on my arm. Balanced in the crook of my elbow was the package I needed to mail and both my arms were starting to ache.
A. didn’t answer her. Of course he didn’t. While I didn’t know at the time that he would be silent for more than another whole year, I did know with certainty that he wasn’t going to answer her question. I kindly told her as much, saying, “Oh, he doesn’t actually talk yet.”
I didn’t think much of it. After all- it’s certainly not uncommon for 16-month old toddlers to not yet speak. Yes, he looked older than that. Still, I assumed this conversation had ended.
She spared my baby daughter a brief, pitying glance. Perhaps she had never seen a baby with an NG-tube and an oxygen tank before. She raised her eyes back to me. What she said next will remain with me until the day I die…
“This is why people shouldn’t just go popping out babies back to back. Didn’t even give yourself a chance to realize that, obviously, you must have genetic problems.” (as she pointed her chin at my precious little girl)
I’m feisty. I can be flippant and clever and cut people off at the knees with a single scathing sentence. I don’t list these as my best traits, but I want you to know how I can be. I’m quick on my feet and I don’t tend to be one of those people who only thinks of the cunning replies after the fact.
I could say nothing that day.
My heart plummeted and I cried my way through mailing a package back home. I can still remember watching the hot drops fall onto my carefully Sharpie-d printing, hoping the letters wouldn’t run.
I know, dear readers, that none of you would say anything so cruel. I truly do know this. So what is the lesson here?
Maybe we all need to just remember that things aren’t always as they appear. A wild, unruly child may not be the result of lax parenting. A picky, lousy eater may not stem from a steady fast food diet or indulgence. A hyper, spastic child may not be jacked up on refined sugar by a careless mother. A child who refuses eye contact or doesn’t speak may not be rude at all.
Let’s all try something new next time we see some behavior that doesn’t quite measure up to our standards…
Let’s give a little grace and just assume the best.