Sunday, January 13, 2008

Opportunity wasted

I burst into tears at the grocery store this morning.

I was wheeling down an aisle chattering happily to Graham who was munching a free cookie from the bakery when I heard a strange sound.

It was a hooting sound, like an owl makes. Except it wasn’t an owl, it was a little boy.

He was about seven, eight maybe and, I assume, autistic. He was handsome, He was hooting wildly and flapping his arms while his mother tried to hold him and rubbed his back, speaking to him in soothing terms.

And people were looking at them, or rather, trying not to look at them. And Graham lost all interest in his cookie and his eyes grew wide, out of curiosity, but not fear. And as we got closer I saw her face.

Oh, her face.

She looked tired. She looked resigned. But even more heartbreaking to me, she looked embarrassed.

And I wanted to stop and put my arms around her and say “Don’t be embarrassed, people understand. Do not be embarrassed.”

I wish I had said to her, “You’re doing a great job, you really are.”

Or even, “Is there anything at all I can do to help you?”

But I didn’t. I smiled as long (not long enough) and as warmly (not warmly enough) as I felt I comfortably could.

And then I wheeled around the corner and into the next aisle and my sweet Graham resumed chewing his cookie and I thought There, but by the grace of God, go I.

And I burst into tears.

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52 comments:

Christine said...

what a brave and lovely post. I have to say, I myself struggled with what comment to leave in response to your 'missed opportunity'

so I don't have anything eloquent to say in response. just that I really felt the emotion of the moment as you described it. and am glad you about it here

BlondeMomBlog (Jamie) said...

I think just by smiling at her and not looking away you spoke volumes to her.

Sometimes I think moments like these are little reminders from God to remember how lucky we are.

Brittany said...

God puts things in front of us like that for a reason. I think His reason for today's situation is so that you could post about it, to help us all remember how blessed we all are. Maybe he even did it so that next time, you could say those words. You certainly made me think, and maybe next time I will say something. You never know. Don't feel guilty for not speaking to that mother- it just wasn't the time. :) Great post!

Holly said...

If you see that kind of situation again, just remember this one and you'll already be prepared. I have been where she was and I can honestly tell you that the fact that you did smile and didn't look down on her made a difference. Trust me.

Kyla said...

You have such a good heart, that's what struck me about this post, moved to tears on someone else's behalf.

Eye contact and smiles go a long way, longer than you might think.

Nap Warden said...

This post almost made me cry. Sometimes it's easy to forget all the gifts we have...

Dawn said...

A smile means so much and you probably really did brighten her day with your kindness. I'm so touched by your warm heart just by reading this post.

Jenifer said...

I must agree with the others. Perhaps that Mom was thinking to herself, "could someone please not scowl at me today" and that someone was you.

I sometimes just freeze up and think of all the things I wanted to do or say later, but still a smile will always go a long way.

Kellan said...

This brought tears to my eyes! I wish too, that I had been there to give her a hug - we need to do that next time - we all should do what you said! I will make a special effort. Take care. Kellan

Mighty Morphin' Mama said...

Aw sweetie, you so touched me and I am sure your smile touched her too. I too mourn those missed opportunities and my own fear of reaching out and am so thankful for relatively easy children to raise.

MamaGeek said...

You are so right. My 16 month old staired at someone in a wheelchair out of curiosity sake alone. And I felt the same way.

Beautiful tale.

linds said...

Thanks for the heart warming post!

Melissa said...

Do you think you missed it though? While you didn't reach out you were there in the moment. You knew the mom was struggling, you smiled and then cried at the next aisle.

If you were a mom that was going through those things would a stranger hugging you help? I think it would kind of freak me out. Of course a pat on the shoulder or a kind word whould be nice.

I think sometimes its more about getting a situation than it is being an active part of it. Not sure if that makes sense.

mamatulip said...

I have a feeling that you conveyed your thoughts without using words just fine. I really do.

Jen said...

Nonverbal speaks volumes. I would like to just echo what Christine said.

Damselfly said...

Aw. I have chided myself when I didn't act when I thought I should have. I just tell myself that next time, I will know what to do. You will too.

Amy said...

You can only hope that your desire to reach out to her came across in your smile.
Very good post.

Family Adventure said...

I hope the mother saw your heart in your eyes. That's all you can wish for. It may not even have been appropriate to talk to her in that situation. You never know. Sometimes just an understanding or supportive look is the best thing.

She could have been any of us. If that thought does not promote tolerance and respect, I don't know what will...

Great post, DMD! Thank you.

Heidi

Beth said...

It's always hard to know what to do in a situation like this. And no matter what you would have done you would have felt it would not have been the right thing, or what not have been enough.

I think I too would have smiled and kept on going but after reading this I'm hoping that if I'm ever in this situation, maybe I will have the courage to stop.

Thanks for such a touching and thought provoking post.

sky girl said...

You'll remember this forever and then in 20 years time a similar situation will happen to you and that time, you WILL say something.

But in the meantime, don't beat yourself up. You did what most of us would have done too.

a kelly said...

Yes... thanks for reminding us how blessed we are...autism is such a huge challenge and seems to be increasing...
I know your smile spoke to her heart.

OHmommy said...

You have such a good heart. I am sure she saw that through your smile. Great post!

GoMommy said...

The memory of going through so much testing on Big E will haunt me for the rest of my life. The parents who have to go through this everyday- I am in awe.

You did the right thing- while most people pretended to ignore the situation out of awkwardness or annoyance, you met her eyes with a smile. As parents, we're all on the same team!

Stella said...

What a great post!! You have a very kind heart and I know exactly how you must have felt.

We were in the doctor's office about a year and a half ago and a woman was there with her son and her mother. The son was clearly autistic. He sat for a bit but then got up and was waving his arms around and making noises. Nothing disturbing, no one was bothered but it was a situation where people were trying not to look. The mom and grandma were very good. They were calm and did their best to calm him and have him sit down. I had my son with my and I was leaning forward playing with him while he was standing between my knees. The boy who I believe was named Andrew, was moving around and came over to us and happened to hit me in the head and pull my hair. I won't lie- the kid was strong and it hurt. But I gently removed his hand and by that time his mom and grandma were ALL OVER HIM. The mother was SO so so so apologetic and all I could say was, "Please do not apologize. It's ok. It's not a big deal." The grandmother took Andrew out of the waiting room and the mom sat down and began to cry. I wanted so desperately to go to her and comfort her but I had no idea what I could possibly say. Like the mom you saw, she was tired, and worn out and just defeated. I felt for her so much and I just wanted to comfort her and I could not figure out how.
We went through with our appointment as normal but when I got in the car I couldn't help bu cry for that mom and not because I felt bad for her but because I wanted to help so badly.

Beck said...

This was a beautiful post.
It's hard, sometimes, to know how to help other moms, and it's also hard to feel like we could have helped, maybe, and didn't.

Oh, The Joys said...

Yes!

What a beautiful post.

Magpie said...

Good on you to offer your heart and understanding to her.

Nice post.

Laura said...

I can so relate to this post - in every day life and also when I bring DJ and Madie into the Children's hospital for their routine check ups...I count my blessings every day and wish I would one day learn the grace to really connect with that stranger who is struggling.

Thanks for sharing

newduck said...

Who is this girl Brittany? She looks so young in her picture, but I completely agree with what she said. What a wise girl! My heart goes out to that mom in the store, and I think you witnessed what you did and posted it here to remind us to be grateful for what we have and to reach out to others, even if it's only through an understanding smile. It probably meant more to that mom than you can even imagine.

tommie said...

Like many have already said, this is a heartfelt post. Now the next time you are faced with the same sitution, you will do what feels right.

tommie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jennwa said...

I think we all struggle in this situations like this. What to say or what not to say, is always a hard call. I am sure you smile was enough to brighten her day a little.
And you have brighten our day by making us all think how truly blessed we are with the children we have. Thank you!

Jen M. said...

Oh - how often I say that very same phrase.

That poor, poor woman. Bless her!

Kat said...

That was a really touching post. I think you may have made her day by trying to connect with her.

Queen of My Domain said...

I think all us moms have at least one moment like that where we are the ones dealing with our children. I always appreciated the warm smiles and try to return them. You never know how something so simple can really affect people. Beautiful post.

Corey~living and loving said...

oh and you now have me in tears.
why is it so hard to just do those things....and say those things? it is so dang hard. but I am sure you warm smile meant so much.

Great post!

ewe are here said...

I'm sure that sympathetic smiles and eye contact really do make a difference, even if it doesn't feel like much to you.

And you're right ... it could have been any of us.

Dawn said...

There's some more bling for you at my blog :)

MBA Mommy said...

And next time you will say something to that mom, or another mom. It haunts you now, but I suspect you won't be haunted by the same situation ever again.

Nights_that_never_end said...

Wow, that was the most heart warming post I've read. I would of felt I should say something too, I'm sure a lot of people would feel the same. But what if you did, would it embarrasse her even more?

Mrs. Chicky said...

I want to cry and I wasn't even there. Very powerful.

kittenpie said...

Crap. Now I'm feeling teary, too.
It's hard sometimes, to know how we can offer our sympathy or support or understanding without butting in and having the intention taken wrong, because we all know that sometimes we just want people to not notice us struggling, you know? But I bet she was grateful for a kind smile. It's got to be a long, hard road she's on.

shay said...

I felt both teary and convicted when I read this. We are so blessed to have these healthy kids.

Sometimes a smile IS enough.

suchsimplepleasures said...

the smile spoke volumes!!!

Karen MEG said...

What a poignant post.
I'm sure she really appreciated your smile as it likely spoke volumes to her.
And you're right, now that there's more public awareness about conditions like autism, people around her do really understand.
We are indeed very fortunate to have healthy children.

girlymom said...

Don't feel bad, I always think of what I should have done, said or acted way after the fact. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed in the moment and just wish I could be more on my toes and react better to these kind of situations. You were a smiling bystander, not a gawking critic.

Zoe said...

you'd be amazed what a "knowing/sympathetic" smile can do....much easier then the stares and dirty looks.

bubandpie said...

What Kyla said.

This was a great post.

hillsmithfamily said...

I've been there before, and wished that I too, had done more... Thank you for sharing.

Her Bad Mother said...

Tell yourself that she knew. She knew. We search the faces around us, looking for sympathy, always, we frantic moms. She knew.

Llama Momma said...

You say this so well. I have been there too, right down to the regret over not saying something. But it seems I can never think of the right thing to say until the moment is passed, so I keep quiet for fear of saying the wrong thing.

Beautiful post.

Kathryn said...

And now I'm crying. I think about that all the time. "There but for the grace of God go I".
What a beautiful post, and reminder.
I am just lovin' your blog!