Dear Lady In The Bookstore,
I have something that I need to say to you. This isn’t going to be easy and I’m likely to stumble a bit. But I owe it to you to say this. And more importantly, I owe it to my daughter. So I hope you’ll bear with me.
You see, I was wrong about you.
And being wrong about you means that I have to face some really hard stuff about me.
It took until your third lap around the kids’ section for me to really look at you. I mean really, actually look at you. To realize that you were simply trying to find something to do while staying within sight of your daughter as she looked for a book. I’ve been there a thousand times. I’ve poked around looking at the same books, the same toys, the same stuffed animals, then people-watched to pass the time.
It took until the third pass, the time that I smiled up at you and realized that you didn’t return my smile not because you were cold, but because you really weren’t taking much notice of us at all, to see.
It was then that I played back the video in my head. Then that I paused it as you came to us, glanced down and took a beat to process something out of the ordinary – a nine year-old girl and her Mama on the floor of the board book section – reading Elmo. And I zoomed in on your face and I searched for the judgement that I’d been so sure was there. And I caught my breath as I realized that I was looking in the wrong place. The judgement of me and my daughter that I’d assigned to you was my own. I’d watched you through the lens of my own insecurity and it had changed what I thought I saw. And I’m sorry.
You see, I’ve said this before, a bunch of times actually, but it will be new to you — autism has this way of laying us bare in the village square. Of forcing us to examine our own insecurities about fitting in and standing out – about being strong enough to be who we are as we allow our children the room to be who they are. And sometimes, no matter how far we think we’ve come, our own prejudices, our own insecurities – creep to the surface unbidden and muddle our perceptions of how other people are looking at us – at our children. And it’s so much easier to think that it’s you. I can be angry at you; I can resent you. That’s easy. But if it’s me, well, that’s a whole other messy ball of wax, now isn’t it?
At the bookstore that night, I’d wrestled with the same questions that I’ve wrestled with for years – Am I doing the right thing by indulging my girl’s need for sameness, for predictability, for the characters that she knows and finds comfort in? Should I be pushing her into finding things that are (God I hate these two words) age-appropriate? Am I doing her a disservice by giving into what makes her happy in the moment but may make things harder for her in the longer term? Are there any right answers? And there you were, walking by, looking down, taking notice, briefly registering something amiss and that was all it took for me to assign all of my questions, all of my fears, all of my own intolerance to you. For no other reason than you were there and you happened to see us.
I hope you’ll accept my apology. It hasn’t been an easy one to make. But truthfully, it’s a lot easier than the one that must follow. To my daughter, who deserves a mother who doesn’t give a crap if we’re on the floor reading board books at nine or nineteen – as long as she can be exactly who she is.
Thank you for listening.