To the Hairdresser Who Changed How People Saw My Child With Special Needs
Dear Hairdresser Who Sang to My Kid,
I should know your name. I can’t believe I don’t. I was busy trying to corral my two children, pay for their haircuts and maintain my sanity. I remembered to profusely thank you, and I could have very well asked your name. In fact, I’m sure I did, but that important detail has faded. Unfortunately what I do remember is that people were staring at us prior to you calling my daughter, Lola, back. I remember my face feeling flush. I remember thinking the outing was a bad idea when Lola began to run in places she wasn’t supposed to and grab at things she shouldn’t have. I remember the piercing scream she belted out when I tried to redirect her behavior. I remember my mom trying to offer assistance. Most of the final encounter you and I shared is now a distant memory (even if it was only a few weeks ago), but one thing I will never forget is this: how kind you were to my daughter.
I once read a story where the mother shared her fear that there would be a day when people didn’t think her child with special needs was cute anymore. As the child aged, the little nuances her kid had would no longer be adorable or socially acceptable. She voiced that for some reason, strangers love babies and toddlers with special needs, but the cuteness factor clearly wears off with time. This struck a chord with me because my Lola is now pushing 4 and a half years old. She’s a delightful little soul who’s faced tough medical challenges in her short years on this earth. She has a rare genetic condition called NR2F1, which has caused cortical visual impairment, developmental delays and epilepsy. Lola has always been ridiculously charming, and she sure is a beauty, yet I’m starting to understand the writer’s concern. A tantrum by an almost 5-year-old is not really that cute anymore. Her occasional tantrum used to be a cue for others to say, “Don’t worry, it’s just the terrible twos,” but that has now turned into uncomfortable stares and awkward whispering. Because she’s now becoming a little girl, so a screaming fit or my inability to get her to stand up and walk now makes her look like a spoiled child who doesn’t listen. I totally get it because I was once on the other side. Before I had a kid with special needs, I probably would have been curious as to why a child couldn’t be easily calmed. Now it’s our life. Now I wish I could go back and have more compassion. It’s not that I was ever rude; I was just naive. I wish I could have offered an empathetic look that said, “I’m not looking at you. I see you.”
Lola has incredible hair. You even noted how gorgeous it was. She’s had more haircuts than any other kid I know — without incident. So it came as a huge surprise when she began to have a meltdown as you started to cut. You and I tried everything. You took extreme caution because you didn’t want to upset her more. You were gentle in your actions and words. You tried to talk her through it, but she was angry. I gave her my phone, and she just threw it. Thinking quickly, I grabbed your mirror because she loves mirrors, but she cried even harder. Nothing was working. Her unusual behavior baffled me even though we were getting used to her fits of displeasure. She’s on an anti-epileptic drug called Keppra, and I didn’t have it in me to explain its awful side effects. I just wanted to get through that moment. And just when I was about to give up, you did something I didn’t see coming — you began to sing to her. I’m crying now thinking back to that moment. Finally, we began to see Lola relax.
A lot of people are genuinely curious about Lola, yet others will say the most asinine things like, “She doesn’t look like she has special needs.” Really? That sure is comforting. “God only gives special kids to special people.” That’s a bunch of bologna, in my opinion. There are awful stories in the news every day about parents doing horrific things to their kids with special needs. I do feel pretty lucky that she’s mine, though. “I don’t know how you do it.” What? Love my kid? Me either — it sure is hard. “Well, can’t she talk?” No. As a matter of fact she can’t right now. Why do you think she is screaming so loudly? Because she can’t voice her dismay. “She doesn’t look visually impaired.” Why? Because she doesn’t use a white cane?
I’m telling you, the comments are something I couldn’t make up. Most days I educate and other days I ignore the comments. I almost always want to adamantly defend her because she’s worked so hard to get to where she is today. But I’ve realized a lot of people just don’t know any better. So you can understand why it came with great surprise to see how warm and gracious you were with Lola. You would say, “It’s OK, Lola,” and then you would start singing another song. You would look at me for approval, and I would just smile. I think the tears in my eyes said it all. I was grateful for you. Near the end of the haircut, you quietly shared that you had a daughter with Asperger’s syndrome. And that you understood what I was feeling in that very moment. You said you were able to cut your daughter’s hair at home but that she had similar meltdowns like the one you saw my daughter experience. You didn’t have to share all of this with me, but I was thankful you did. It meant a lot to me.
Your act of kindness seeped into the hearts of the onlookers.Stares that once said, “Get your kid together,” became looks of empathy instead of pity. Some were quick to say hello to Lola. Some asked if she liked her haircut and jumped at the chance to get the door for us. You see, showing compassion is a trait not everyone embodies, but the compassion you showed my family mirrored what others can easily do in their everyday lives. Perhaps the next time they see a child having a tantrum, they will remember that Saturday afternoon. Hopefully they will recall the songs you sang and the calmness you instilled in my daughter. Hopefully they will remember how easy it is to be kind.
The Tearful Mom in the Salon
Follow this journey on Say Hola, Lola.
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