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To the Fellow Mom Who Judged Me in the Nike Outlet, From a Woman With Anxiety

Thank you, fellow mom, for judging me.

Yes, you.

Thank you for judging me in my moment of weakness. It was just what I needed. I didn’t want my social anxiety to determine the outcome of that day.

We were on Day 2 of our getaway to New Hampshire for some winter fun. We were having a blast. Tubing, hiking, snowshoeing. It was wonderful. We decided to take a break from the frigid outdoors and go shopping that afternoon. New Hampshire has great shopping outlets. You know that. That’s where you found me.

We’re a sneaker family. We collect sneakers like a bee collects pollen. We have tons of sneakers. So, of course, we didn’t need any more, but we walked into Nike anyway. My husband went to his section, and I walked to my section. My son, Landon, came with me.

I fell in love with a pair of Nike Air Force 1s immediately. My favorite. My husband stopped by after he found a pair he loved. With our sneakers selected already, we helped Landon look at his section. We grabbed ones he couldn’t reach and showed him what was available in his size. And here’s when it happened. My moment of weakness. My social anxiety was starting to build brick by brick and was paralyzing me.

You were in the aisle next to us with your daughter. My son came over to us with a box and said, “Mommy, you will be so proud of me. I found sneakers in a size bigger for me to grow into, and they’re on sale, which you love.” I laughed. He knows me too well. I’ve trained him well. My anxiety was starting to dissipate. He then opened the box and there they were. The brightest hot pink sneakers that were ever created. With a speck of black.

My husband, bless his soul, didn’t bat an eye. He said they’re awesome and we should get them. My social anxiety was back. And then it came out like “word vomit.” I knew what I was saying was wrong. But you were staring at me. More like glaring. And I froze. I told Landon I didn’t think we should get those because kids would make fun of him.

If you know me, you know that statement is not me. I buy my kid hot pink shirts to decorate himself from the craft store. Hot pink shoelaces to go with his Spider-Man sneakers. Hot pink party favors. Hot pink lunch boxes. My son’s favorite color is hot pink. I’ve known this for years. He even had a hot pink birthday cake for his eighth birthday. I immediately felt awful for what I said. Landon said, “Mom, it doesn’t matter. Let them make fun of me. I love pink, and that’s that.”

He walked away, and then I heard you and your daughter talking. Your daughter asked if my son was a boy or girl. You replied with, “I think he is a boy with long hair.” Your daughter then asked if he was a boy, why was he trying on hot pink sneakers. Your reply was priceless: “Of course it has to be a girl then. What mother would let their son wear hot pink sneakers?”

Thank you for that. I needed it. Sometimes — a lot of the times — my social anxiety gets the better of me and I say things I don’t mean. There have been times when I only say what I think people want to hear. Sometimes it’s for fear of rejection or acceptance. Other times, I can’t explain it. There are moments when I don’t say anything at all, even when directly asked. My lack of response is often misconstrued as being rude and unsocial. When I’m feeling anxious, the thoughts in my mind are on a rollercoaster, and I can’t grab an appropriate response. So instead of saying something I know I don’t mean, I don’t say anything at all.

I judged my boy that day because you brought out my own anxieties and fears. A mother should never judge their child. Thank you. I needed to be reminded we don’t judge in this family. I used to. I’m not going to stand here and lie. Who made up the rules anyway? Who says girls can’t play with trucks and boys can’t like dolls? Who says long flowy locks are only acceptable for girls? Who says the color blue is boys and pink is for girls?

Being different is often synonymous with being bad. Please stop teaching your children that. This is a more than just about hot pink sneakers. People are labeled every day for many reasons. My son has labels thrust upon him. He is labeled because of his sensory processing disorder. He is labeled because of his anxiety disorder. He is labeled because he loves the color pink. I am labeled because of my own mental health diagnosis. I know some labels aren’t meant to hurt, but they do. Labels are for jars. Not for my son. Not for anyone. Being different is being unique. Isn’t being unique what makes each of us beautiful? 

So thank you. Thank you for helping me find my way back and not succumbing to my own anxieties. Even though my anxiety is a part of my life, I don’t want to parent my child based off of my own fears. I will falter on some days, but I will come back fighting, and I thank you for igniting my strength to fight through my fears.

It was a lesson within a lesson that day. I’m thankful my son and I share the connection that is anxiety. In a world where people with anxiety often feel alone and misunderstood, I’m grateful my son never has to feel that way. At only 8 years old, he knew that Mommy was saying something that wasn’t quite her. I’m thankful for his unconditional love. I’m proud that he knows who he is. I’m honored to be his mother.

Without you judging me, I wouldn’t have been able to parent my child the way I truly feel in my heart, even when my head (and society) tells me otherwise.

Follow this journey on My Sensational Kid

Tell us about a stranger’s comment about your (or a loved one’s) disability, disease or mental illness that has stuck with you for one reason or another. Why has it remained significant to you?. If you’d like to participate, please check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images