Dealing with stares and whispers

The other day I was sitting in Wal-Mart. I was finished with my shopping but was sitting on a bench at the end of the checkouts waiting for my mom and grandmother.

I heard some shrieking coming from my left and I turned to look. There was a couple with three children with them. One of their kids appeared to be about eight or nine and was riding on a seat in the “big kid cart” (as I call them – you know, the ones that have two seats attached to the cart and make it impossible to maneuver through the store?).

This boy appeared to have some special needs because he was shrieking and throwing his head around – different from a child having a tantrum or just being obnoxious. He continued to do this as the parents traipsed through the store to the outer doors, getting louder and more persistent in his shrieking as they went.

I noticed that everyone in the store near the commotion was pausing to watch this family. Some shook their heads, others rolled their eyes and I’m sure a few were thinking “They shouldn’t take that kid out in public where he can disrupt everybody else.”

I felt intense empathy as I looked at these parents. Their faces spoke volumes. They had that downtrodden, resigned look that said “I’m tired.”

It’s human nature to turn and look – maybe even stare – at things that are different or that stand out from the crowd. We can’t help it, but I understand how those parents felt. Sometimes you just don’t want anyone to notice you – or your child.

Sometimes you wish you could carry a sign for everyone to see that says “My child is special. Please don’t stare.” Other times you wish you could carry a sign that says “My child is special – instead of staring and whispering, why don’t you ask me about him?”

Two extremes – pretty much a common arc that I swing through – wishing people would ignore the unusual behavior, and wishing people would just ask what’s going on so I can explain.