themighty logo

Dear Special Needs Mother in the Grocery Store, I Have a Question


I think we squash children’s genuine curiosity about differences by telling them we are all the same. I don’t think it’s just my children who regularly see the differences – in their shoes from another’s, in their skin from another’s, in their eye color from another’s. They say it in passing, like you or I might comment about the sky being so blue or the weather feeling hot. Thus far, their comments about differences and similarities are without judgment; they’re really just commenting.

I think that many times we, as parents, superimpose the judgment over their innocent comment and then hurry to rush them away or cover up their statement. The more I think about who I hope my kids will be in the future – the kid who sits next to the kid who’s being left out, the kid who stops others from mocking someone – the more I think that I need to allow comments and questions to happen without me worrying and overlaying a judgment on their comment. Kids are different. People are different. Different doesn’t equal bad.

Parents of children with special needs, I promise to teach my kids compassionate understanding. Sometimes I may need a favor, though. Can you help me?

Could You Spare a Moment?

The loud hum
of the combined voices
that fill the room
like an airplane’s engines
pack your ears
drops
in an instant
and, it seems, that all noise has stopped.
Except for one
voice
of my little boy who fills the silence
with his question,
“Does he have special needs?”

I just needed a loaf of bread.
And some eggs.
But this is it:
the moment
that mother wit
is supposed to fill up my head.
For these were the questions
before I had kids
that I was sure
I’d rise up to meet
so that my kids would be
aware, unafraid, compassionate,
if not discreet.

I glance at the child first.
Then, at the mother.

I try to read her face,
a mirror of tired and just-trying-to-get-through-the-day-ness of my own:
Are you just trying to get
bread and eggs, too?
Could you spare a moment?
Could you help me teach
my kid about your kid today,
or is today just not the day for that?

Or,
has today
only been the day for that?
Have you had to answer
this question
at the library when you just wanted to drop off books,
and at the preschool when you just wanted to pick up your other child,
and at your own home when the plumber asked, too?

I look away.
I look down at my own son.
He’s confused now.
He is confused
the way your son is confused
when he is left out
or left behind.

We are all the same in that
we are all different.

“Yes, it seems he does.”

And, “Yes, he is different than you.”
And, “Yes, he is the same as you.”
And, “Yes, we can talk about this.”

And, “Yes, I will rise up to meet
the promise I made
to try and raise kids
who are aware and accepting.”

I promise you this, Mother in the Grocery Store.
I promise you this, My Son.

This post originally appeared on AnnieFlavin.com.

Want to end the stigma around disability? Like us on Facebook.

And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night.