When a Stranger Commented on My Parenting Skills and Made Me Cry

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Christmas shopping can be stressful enough. But it was getting down to the wire and I only needed a couple more things, so that day I was Christmas shopping with four of my seven children ages 4, 5, 8 and 10 years old.

Into Barnes & Nobles we went, not to browse, but to beeline it straight to the cookbook section to find a book on Indian cuisine for my stepmom. The older two took the littlest one and went to the children’s department since my 5-year-old son with autism couldn’t go anywhere without an adult.

It was the year of shorts and Bob the Builder boots and screaming. Eventually, I pinned him between my knees, grabbed a couple books that looked good and tried to pick the best one. I noticed a couple of women starting to look our way and I smiled and said, “Some day I’m going to get him a shirt that says ‘I’m Autistic, Not Rude'” and they laughed uncomfortably.

By this point he was done, and as we walked the quarter mile to the front of store, he kicked his Bob the Builder boots high into the air and dropped the ground screaming, “I’m autistic not rude! I’m autistic not rude!” over and over again. My other children walked behind us at a safe, nonchalant distance as I tucked the boots and prized gift under one arm and alternately dragged and carried him to the line in front. He sat on the floor screaming as I nudged him forward in line, talking gently and reassuring him the whole time. We could’ve left, but this was our life and life went on.

As it got closer to the front I realized there was a woman at the end watching us. She was waiting for us. Oh no, not more advice! Or worse yet, was she going to criticize me right there in front of the whole store and my children? By that time, I thought we’d heard it all from everybody with their two cents. We paid, we finished and head held high, my screaming son and I approached her (we had to if we wanted to get to the front door).

And she smiled. And she said she thought I was doing a good job. She said she thought I was patient and kind. She said I was a good mom. And I cried.

And 10 years later, I’ve never forgotten her.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. No gesture is too small! If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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To the Woman at the Store Who Reminded Me That I’m ‘Different’

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I went to our local home improvement store just a few days ago. My family and I were laughing, making jokes and having fun just by making the best out of everything, which is what we do no matter where we are. We were waiting at the checkout line when an employee approached me.

She had paused a former conversation with another employee, and walked behind and all the way around a counter, to come stand awkwardly close to me. Then she looked me in the eyes and asked me the words, “How are you doing?”

I felt like knew all too well why she was asking me this question.

I was in my wheelchair…

I looked at the employee and said “Fine,” as I unlocked the brakes and started rolling toward the exit. There were many other customers around me at that time, all of whom she could have approached to ask how they were doing. But she didn’t; she chose me. She didn’t even seem to notice my parents or my sister, who were all standing next to me at that time as well. She didn’t ask how they were doing, just me.

This conversation, this woman, made me both mad and sad, intertwined into one. I believed I knew why I was the only person she asked that question to, despite the many others around me at the same time. She saw my disability. She saw my physical limitation. She saw a young woman in a wheelchair. She didn’t see me. She didn’t see me as a person.

In the middle of my state of contentment, she reminded me that I’m not like everyone else. She reminded me of my differences. She reminded me that some people look at me and see the wheelchair, not the person inside of it. She reminded me that some people feel sorrow and pity for me.

So, to that employee:

I’m sorry if my differences attracted your attention. I’m sorry that you felt the need to end your conversation with someone else to move closer to where I was. I’m sorry that you felt the need to ask me how I was doing, as if you expected a long, honest answer that was going to be anything other than “fine.” I apologize if the sight of my wheelchair made you feel as if you had to come talk to me, as if I was anything other than normal.

I’m sorry that it took away my happiness in that moment. I’m sorry that it changed my mood that night all because you had one question for me. I’m sorry for the reminders it gave me. I’m sorry that it seemed like you felt pity for me.

I understand employees ask customers “How are you doing?” or “Did you find everything okay today?” But, I don’t understand when an employee doesn’t ask all of the other customers around those same questions. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t ask the person who is actually checking out, and not someone who is three people deep in line.

Did you expect me to not think anything of it? Well I did. Want to know why? Because I’m still me. I’m still another human who is just like you. I may do things a little different than you, but I’m still me. I notice when people look at me differently. I notice when someone is “overly enthused” to talk to me, as if because I’m in a wheelchair, it means I don’t talk to people much. I still notice the “aww…” that people whisper as I roll by them, as if my being in a wheelchair is a symbol for “feel sorry for me.”

So, next time you see someone in a wheelchair, casually continue with everything you were doing. Treat them as if they are just like everyone else, because they are. Don’t remind them of their differences, like you did to me.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment someone changed the way you think about disability and/or disease. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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Why My Son Eats 3 Bowls of Oatmeal Before Breakfast Every Morning

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My 7-year-old son starts his day with at least three bowls of hearty, nutritious oatmeal before his portioned school breakfast and recommended lunch. The rest of his meals on a typical day are: two after-school snacks, more oatmeal, Special K cereal and yogurt and then dinner with the family.

One of my son’s favorite meals are Southern fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, cornbread and broccoli. He’s only allowed that dinner once a month; the rest of the time, he has baked or grilled chicken. Other favorites are salmon, turkey spaghetti, my mother’s meatloaf, tilapia and of course, McDonald’s happy meals.

People are always surprised at the amount of food he can consume. At times, he eats more than his father, and at least the equivalent of his brothers — both in their twenties. At first glance he would appear greedy, especially if you also consider the speed at which he eats, usually rushing as if he’s about to lose his turn on the Wii. What 7-year-old devours this amount of food?

The best answer we’ve come up with is that it’s a side effect of the medication he takes for his triple diagnosis: autism, oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and attention deficit disorder (ADHD). What his doctor later told me was a trifecta diagnosis. At 2 years, 9 months old, when he was first diagnosed with autism, I remember refusing all medication. I thought he was too young and that pills were too much. For one, I was afraid of the side effects and wondered what would be needed in the future if medication was the best option at that time. He was a baby, a toddler at best. A writer friend of mine said, “If he had diabetes, would you deny him insulin?”

Her simple question resonated with me. She had a son who suffered from mental illness. She’d advocated for him all his life so I trusted her opinion. While I wasn’t certain what category my son’s diagnosis fell under, I was assured by his developmental pediatrician that the medication were necessary and would help. I eventually agreed to the  prescription but hoped the ABA therapy would ultimately be what allowed him to be rid of the drugs. Every child reacts differently to medication and  lab work became routine. My son never gained weight, a very common concern and side effect of some of the medication, nor was he underweight. He was always right where he should be — a healthy, average kid.

As a child, I was thin, lean with long legs. I enjoyed a fast-burning metabolism and could eat just about anything. Now, I didn’t eat at the rate of my son, or 8-year-old daughter for that matter, nor did I take medication. I did, however, eat more than my parents, and was constantly asked where did I put my food. Perhaps, my son is just eating what his body requires and the medication kicks it up a notch.

The problematic component to this is that to most people who can’t take the time to know him see him as greedy, picky and demanding. It is not fathomable to the average adult that a child can consume this much food. They often have to witness it to believe it, and see that he really is hungry. And, on more than one occasion, to verify that we have not starved him for effect.

This is how oatmeal became the breakfast of choice. It usually fills you up and it is cost-effective. Yet, even with a low-cost start to the day, the money adds up in feeding the equivalent of a teenaged football player with a picky diet. My son would much prefer to have several bowls of Special K, his favorite cereal for the time being, with just enough milk to cover but not too much to make it where the cereal doesn’t crunch as he hums while he eats each bowl.

When there’s more time, like on weekends, he requests pancakes with bacon and eggs after at least two bowls of cereal or on rare occasions when we will have french toast. For the most part, he likes to eat the same thing every day until he decides he doesn’t like that thing anymore and moves onto the next item of choice. I try to get him to eat fresh fruit but that’s a real struggle. He will eat strawberries and grapes, but counts out how many he will bite and swallow. Sometimes we compromise on fruit in his yogurt. Luckily, with some coaching and modeling, my son’s food choices have become healthier. The two of us have come a long way with food.

I’m no expert on autism, oppositional defiant disorder or attention deficit disorder, but I am an expert on my son — he’s hungry. But this also doesn’t discount his from being a typical 7-year-old boy who on some days will be greedy simply because he wants something extra, his eyes are bigger than his stomach or just because, well, he’s a kid.

I work with him on quiet bites at the table knowing that everyone won’t appreciate his musical renderings of “Everything Is Awesome,” “Wanted Dead or Alive” and “There Goes My Baby.” And I remind him about proper etiquette while eating, except his lessons aren’t over at a specified age, as they were with my other children; these lessons can happen daily when your child processes information in an alternate way.

Parents know about patience. What I’m saying is not new. But when your child faces additional challenges, you are also prompted on the resilience inside of you. So the next time you see or hear of a child eating more than what you think is his/her fair share of a meal, don’t assume greed. Consider the possibility that they might just be hungry.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment someone changed the way you think about disability and/or disease. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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Why I Lie to My Daughter About My Body Image

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I’m standing in front of the steam covered bathroom mirror, naked, dripping wet and quite honestly ashamed of what’s looking back at me, when my tween daughter barges in. “I need a hair tie!” She couldn’t care less that I’m naked. Hell, she’s naked and comfortable with being in the buff.

Me, not so much.

She bounces in front of me, grabs a hair tie, blows me a kiss and is off. I’m left feeling perturbed. Not because she barged in — I’m a mom; I haven’t been alone in a bathroom for 15 years — but because I detest my naked body, and I don’t want her to know. Each morning it’s the same thing: me standing in front of the same mirror, trying to get clothes on as fast as I can so I don’t have to look at my naked body. Crazy, right? To me this is the norm; this is how I’ve lived my entire life, and I don’t tell anyone — especially not my daughter.

I’ve done everything in my power to raise a smart, independent daughter who has a healthy body image. But it hasn’t been easy, especially with my self-image being genuinely distorted. As far back as I can remember, no matter how skinny I was, it never seemed adequate; I’ve never looked fit enough. I’ve often thought I was a disgusting pig.

The obsession turned into anorexia and bulimia in my early twenties. It consumed me. Every minute of every day I spent thinking about food, how not to eat food and how to purge the food I did eat. These weren’t just random thoughts here and there; it was all-encompassing. Every second of every day.

The obsession takes away from your psyche, it twists your perception and lies to you. It controls you and everything you do. I don’t want my daughter to go through this. So I’ve done everything in my power to show her that loving her body is important — even if it means lying to her about how I feel about mine.

Look, I know I shouldn’t lie to my girl, that I should genuinely believe I’m beautiful, practice what-I-preach and all that bullsh*t. The issue isn’t that I don’t want to believe it — I do — I just don’t see it. I would do almost anything to be able to walk into a room without wondering how fat I must look or if people are judging me based on how I look. It’s not vanity; it’s pure anxiety that runs deeper than having a bad hair day. I’ve chosen to not leave the house on occasion because I can’t get past it.

It’s debilitating at times. I could be a size 2 and not feel comfortable enough to put on a bathing suit. I have been a size 2, and even then, I had a hard time with my body. Never good enough.

I don’t have an eating disorder any more. OK, technically, I will always have a disorder. But I no longer throw up what I eat, and I don’t starve myself. Still, the longterm effects of my eating disorder linger. My perception is not a reality; I’m not fat and know this with the utmost confidence, but I just can’t see it. So I lie to my daughter.

I will continue to lie to my daughter about how I feel about my body until I can genuinely say I love mine. I won’t jeopardize her self-confidence and the respect she has for herself — the respect I’ve helped build by not letting her see her mother have anxiety and panic attacks while looking at herself naked in the mirror.

I know I have a long way to go when it comes to my self-image. I have confidence I will get there eventually. But she doesn’t need to be dragged into it. I can’t possibly let her know I detest my body when I tell her every day not to worry about hers, that beauty is only skin deep. It’s difficult to raise a strong, independent girl as it is. More difficult is convincing myself, I am good enough.

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Masters Champion Learned His Greatest Lesson From His Little Sister

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Jordan Spieth, a professional golfer from Dallas, Texas, just won the 2015 PGA Masters tournament, one of golf’s most prestigious competitions, with a record-breaking score. But it didn’t take him long to turn the spotlight over to his younger sister, Ellie — a 14-year-old who has autism.

“I love having her around. She’s an incredible sister, my biggest supporter,” Spieth told CNN following his victory last weekend. “She is somebody who you can watch and then reflect on the big picture of life and understand that all these frustrations in a day, or in a round of golf, are really secondary.”

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Ellie and Jordan Spieth via Instagram

Spieth, 21, has always had a close relationship with his sister and says Ellie played a large part in shaping who he is today. “Being Ellie’s brother humbles me every day of my life,” he says on his website. Ellie is also the primary inspiration for the Jordan Spieth Charitable Fund, which works to find better schooling opportunities for children with special needs.

Though Ellie couldn’t make it to the Masters tournament in Augusta, Georgia, she was able to see her brother play at the Houston Open in early April, Disability Scoop reported.

She was out there in Houston and after each round, she said, ‘Jordan did you win, did you win?’ Spieth said, according to the outlet. “I said ‘not yet, not yet’ and then ‘no.’ So I can tell her I won now.”

Check out the heartwarming video produced by the PGA Tour to learn more about Spieth:

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My Job Makes Me Cry Every Day

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I cry every day at work.

Sometimes I walk to the bathroom to do it. Sometimes I take a lap around our office building. Sometimes I just let it out at my desk.

I don’t sob or wail. It’s a silent cry — a head-feels-clogged, vision-slowly-blurs, cheeks-get-warm kind of cry.

It feels good.

I cried when I read The Mighty’s first original blog post, “My Daughter Was Alive for 23 Minutes, and Every Second Was Beautiful,” written by Michelle Nagel, who I’d only met via email. I cried because she found beauty in tragedy.

I cried when I watched 40 boys put on suits to stand up for their friend, Danny, a dapper 6-year-old bullied for his Frank Sinatra style and severe apraxia of speech. I cried when his mother later told me how kids now only call Danny out for being on TV.

I cried after an interview with a woman named Hope Cross, whose now husband, Steve Dezember, told her she didn’t have to stay with him when he was diagnosed with ALS early in their relationship. She stayed. I cried because she chose love over a seemingly easier life. And she didn’t have to think twice about it.

I cried when professional wrestler John Cena noticed a fan with Down syndrome standing ringside and made this happen:

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I cried because little moments like this matter.

In the last year I cried when a little girl noticed a boy with autism swimming without any friends and when a breast cancer survivor bared it all in a John Legend music video and when a friend of mine wrote openly about going to a mental health counseling center for the first time. I cried when a woman wrote a letter to a stranger on the other side of a hospital curtain and when a stranger helped a woman in a wheelchair deal with a broken elevator and when a lady in a bathroom let her kids say hello to a boy who looked different than them.

Happy tears, sad tears, I’ve-been-there tears, I’ve-never-thought-about-it-that-way tears, I-couldn’t-tell-you-why-I’m-crying tears. Even maybe-I’m-just-a-sap tears. I’ve cried them all. Hell, I’m choked up right now.

When we started The Mighty a year ago, we hoped it’d be a place where people could come to feel less alone and find beauty in their challenges. We pictured this website as an uplifting, inspirational hotbed of news stories. I didn’t know so many people would lend us their voices. To date we’ve had nearly 900 guest bloggers. These people let us share their stories. They let us read about their darkest moments and their highest points. They were honest and heartfelt and vulnerable. They’ve driven me to tears.

Our founder, Mike Porath, likes sports references, so I’ll make one here. In his famed ESPYs speech, the late Jimmy V said we should all do three things every day:

Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. Number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.

So to our readers, to our contributors, to the people who volunteered for an interview in the last year while we’ve tried to grow this thing, I want to personally thank you. You’ve made me cry every day. Seven days a week. That’s something special.

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