When I Approached the Little Girl Staring at My Child With Cerebral Palsy
It happens almost every time we go to the grocery store. Or the toy store. Or the school. Or a sports event. Or really anytime we leave our house. At first I didn’t know how to react. Being a mom to a little girl with special needs does not automatically arm me with some power to deflect stares and pointing. I didn’t ask to be the center of attention and neither did she, but the most awkward situations usually leave the most room for growth.
I remember the first time I found a different end to the stares. We were standing in line at the grocery store and an innocent little girl stood staring from the next checkout stand over. I could sense her little eyes and I had the deep feeling for her to know my little girl as I did — not as someone different than her, but as someone with so many things in common. With the little girl’s eyes glued to me, I reached forward and kissed the top of my daughter’s head as she worked hard to balance herself in the cart. I continued to talk to her as we stood in line, gave her hugs and sang songs. By the time we were both checking out, that little girl was staring even more intently at us as her mom led her away out of the store — but not because she noticed my daughter was different. She was smiling and wanted to be a part of our fun games while we waited in line.
That experience shed the first bit of light on a way to shape how people view those with disabilities. Gaining confidence, I used this little game several times in circumstances that the staring could have been uncomfortable. Maybe I was ready for the next step.
Again in line at the grocery store several months later, I heard a little girl ask her mom something about my daughter. I looked over in time to see the mom grab her little girl’s pointing finger and say, “It’s not nice to point. Don’t stare at her.” My heart sank again.
I have always been touched by the innocence of children. It was OK for her daughter to be curious.
Going against everything that seemed logical and socially acceptable, I wheeled my daughter over to the little girl and her mom and said, “This is Bryer. I noticed you were looking at her. She is 4. How old are you?”
The little girl perked right up” “I’m gonna have a birthday and then I’ll be 4 too!” Ding! Ding! Ding! We found something in common! I told her that Bryer loves to sing songs and listen to music on my phone. “I play my mom’s phone!” she giggled, holding up her little fist with a tight grip on her mom’s phone. Bonus! More things in common!
At the sound of the little girl’s voice, Bryer smiled her big, whole-body smile. I explained that Bryer’s body doesn’t work like ours, so she is still learning to do things that we do. I told her that she understands almost everything we tell her and she answers questions to tell us what she needs. With a little explanation, I could see the mother’s face soften and I knew I was on safe ground with her, too. For some reason it was easier to talk to the curious little girl than the grown mom.
After a couple questions from the mom and quick answers about what cerebral palsy is, we walked away and found ourselves at the back of the line. I hope that little girl will stare next time — and then I hope her mom helps her follow it up with a hello. I hope she will step outside her comfort zone and make friends with someone with special needs down the road. I hope her mom won’t feel ashamed that she caught her daughter pointing, but instead honors that curiosity and sees it as an opportunity to get to know someone that may look or act differently than she does. Everyone deserves kindness. Everyone deserves a friend, even if it starts by staring and just being curious.
As a special needs mom, I love it when people ask about my daughter. I am not offended in the slightest and welcome an opportunity, as most moms do, to talk about my pride and joy. It’s more awkward to avoid the obvious and wonder what someone thinks. Before I was a special needs mom, I always wondered what the “right way” to ask about someone was. Now I know a friendly hello or a sincere compliment is all it takes and conversation will follow.
Follow this journey on The Briar Effect.
The Mighty is asking the following: “Staring” is a topic that comes up so much in our community. Tell us about one unforgettable “staring” experience you or someone you love had that’s related to disability, disease or illness. 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. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.