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We Thought the Diner’s Patrons Were Judging Us Until the Waitress Said This

Everyone is looking at us.

That’s the thought I had as we sat down at the roadside diner where we stopped for a quick bite on our way to the beach. We live just outside of Atlanta, in a very diverse area, and I never think twice about the glances that are inevitably directed our way when we take our three kids out in public. Our youngest daughter, Julia, has a severe form of cerebral palsy that has left her nonverbal, nonmobile and unable to eat by mouth. I never feel uncomfortable on my home turf when we’re out and about with her.

This felt different. We were in a rural area in the middle of Georgia, and I had the feeling that most of these folks had never seen a G-tube in their lives. A well-dressed couple seated two booths away could hardly take their eyes off us as I unpacked her feeding pump and my husband started to fill the large syringes that contained her specially blended diet. Another middle-aged man, wearing a shirt with a large patch that seemed to indicate he works in a service station of some kind or another, blatantly stared while he waited for his to-go order.

Honestly, I have never felt so uncomfortable before. Julia is the youngest of three kids, so we’ve always taken her everywhere with us. I’ve always been determined to show, through our actions and her sweet, full-bodied smiles, that she’s a blessing and not a curse to our family. But with every head flop, spit up or beep of the feeding tube, I felt judged.

Eager to get out of there, we asked the waitress for our bill. With a shy smile and a glance around the restaurant, she told us that the gentleman that I thought was silently judging us had actually paid our tab. With a tear in my eye, I started to pack up our things so we could hit the road. As we were getting ready to leave, the couple from the booth came over and said, “I just want you to know that you have a beautiful family. I can tell how much you love those kids.”

As it turns out, everyone really was looking at us, but not for the reasons I had thought. While they were all certainly curious about some of Julia’s differences, what they were seeing is a family who loves their children, challenges and all.

The next time I notice someone’s gaze lingering a little more than I might normally be comfortable with, I’ll remind myself of this day. I’ll choose to believe folks are seeing the best in our family instead of imagining the worst. And I’ll remember the way those sweet strangers took the time to make our day a little brighter.

Kelly Gouteix the mighty.3-001