To the Young Man in Barnes & Noble Who Scoffed at Us in Line


You were standing behind us in line, waiting to check out at Barnes & Noble. I had three kids in tow: a 6-year-old, a 2-year-old, and an 8-month-old. We had several books to purchase, as I tried to wrangle my impatient and rambunctious 2-year-old while futilely attempting to console my fussing infant. You let out an indignant sigh, and when I turned and locked eyes with you, you looked to your mother to protect you from my discontent at your action. She looked to me as if to say, “You should get a better handle on those kids,” followed by an ever-so-slight eye roll.

I was disappointed to see a fellow mother not use this as a teaching moment for her son. You see, I hadn’t been able to bring my infant out of the house to a place that isn’t a doctor’s office, hospital or a lab in ages. And the reason I picked Barnes & Noble was to search for books that could explain to my 6-year-old what it meant to have a sibling with an intellectual disability.

You are the reason I don’t often take my kids out. The disapproving and judgmental glances and scoffs are not what I needed right then.

baby working hard during physical therapy
Working hard during physical therapy.

People often whisper to each other when my son needs to be fed through his feeding tube. Most recently, my son was publicly pointed out and used as an example to define the word “misfit” to a few children. My heart has never broken before like it did that day, and my faith in humanity is slowly slipping away.

To that boy’s mother: You could have made a big difference that day by teaching your son to have patience with others. I know you’ve had your days — when the kids are being a handful but you need to buy that gallon of milk during a snowstorm, when it’s late and probably past bedtime. I know you’ve been there. Maybe not exactly where I am, but I know you’ve felt the same impatience, frustration, embarrassment and even anger when taking your kids out because you had to do it out of necessity.

baby Visiting Neurology at Boston Children's
Visiting Neurology at Boston Children’s

So that day at Barnes & Noble, I was saddened to not have the opportunity to point out to your son what we were there to purchase. To not be able to make use out of our struggles to show you and your son why compassion and gratitude are such important traits of good character.

The thing is, though, I’m not asking for special treatment. I’m only asking for compassion and maybe some understanding or appreciation, for everybody has their own challenges. It isn’t just our family — it is also everyone around you, as well as yourselves.

If there are two things I wish more people would understand it’s those: gratitude and compassion. If you have a tough time grasping what true graciousness and compassion look like, that’s OK. Let’s begin by teaching our children that we never know what others are going through or what they are dealing with in any given moment. That’s the first step. I know one day they may be faced with their own struggles, and it will finally come full circle. We have to start somewhere, but scoffing behind a frazzled mom isn’t it.


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Other

Heather McCarthy with her son, Christian

5 Travel Tips for Families of Children With Special Needs

With summertime in full swing and vacations spots ready to explore, here are five tips for reducing stress and maximizing fun when traveling with children with special needs. 1. Do your research. The more you know, the better prepared you’ll be. Research crowd sizes, wait times, guest assistance and disability guides for your destination. These days, [...]
A young girl peers into the lit display cabinet in a museum

My Daughter's Comment on a Field Trip Gave Me a Special Needs Parenting Revelation

A few weeks ago, I was able to take a day off work to do one of my most favorite things today – chaperone a class field trip. I was with my daughter’s third grade class at a living history presentation about the daily lives of Native Americans. The educator giving the tour asked, “What was the [...]
Heather's daughter Maya playing in the sprinkler

3 Reflections I Have After My Child's Hospital Stay

As a mom of two children with special needs, hospital visits are unfortunately inevitable for my family. Whether we’re there a few hours or a few days, there is always a period of reflection after my child is discharged. Here are three thoughts from our last visit: 1. The hospital staff doesn’t know how truly [...]
brothers about to go down a slide on a scooter

A Parent's Failures

I have failed at a lot of mommy things. You probably don’t see it from the outside looking in; I’m pretty dang good at looking like I’ve got it all together. Lately I’ve heard a lot of “I don’t know how you do it” and “Wow, you’re super mom.” I don’t want to wear that [...]