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When a Stranger Commented on My Parenting Skills and Made Me Cry

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Christmas shopping can be stressful enough. But it was getting down to the wire and I only needed a couple more things, so that day I was Christmas shopping with four of my seven children ages 4, 5, 8 and 10 years old.

Into Barnes & Nobles we went, not to browse, but to beeline it straight to the cookbook section to find a book on Indian cuisine for my stepmom. The older two took the littlest one and went to the children’s department since my 5-year-old son with autism couldn’t go anywhere without an adult.

It was the year of shorts and Bob the Builder boots and screaming. Eventually, I pinned him between my knees, grabbed a couple books that looked good and tried to pick the best one. I noticed a couple of women starting to look our way and I smiled and said, “Some day I’m going to get him a shirt that says ‘I’m Autistic, Not Rude’” and they laughed uncomfortably.

By this point he was done, and as we walked the quarter mile to the front of store, he kicked his Bob the Builder boots high into the air and dropped the ground screaming, “I’m autistic not rude! I’m autistic not rude!” over and over again. My other children walked behind us at a safe, nonchalant distance as I tucked the boots and prized gift under one arm and alternately dragged and carried him to the line in front. He sat on the floor screaming as I nudged him forward in line, talking gently and reassuring him the whole time. We could’ve left, but this was our life and life went on.

As it got closer to the front I realized there was a woman at the end watching us. She was waiting for us. Oh no, not more advice! Or worse yet, was she going to criticize me right there in front of the whole store and my children? By that time, I thought we’d heard it all from everybody with their two cents. We paid, we finished and head held high, my screaming son and I approached her (we had to if we wanted to get to the front door).

And she smiled. And she said she thought I was doing a good job. She said she thought I was patient and kind. She said I was a good mom. And I cried.

And 10 years later, I’ve never forgotten her.

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Originally published: April 15, 2015
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