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To the Woman Who Objected to the Leash on My Child With Special Needs

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When I first saw you behind me, I smiled. We stood near each other in line for security at the airport. I had just finished loading the last of three bins onto the X-ray belt when I looked up to find you scornfully staring at my child. The blistering look you gave me didn’t go unnoticed, either. For a second, I thought maybe you were just having a bad day, but then I overheard the comments you made to your friend. I heard you tell her I’m a lazy parent. I also heard you say that people, such as me, shouldn’t have children. I heard you ramble off a list of things you would do differently. I overheard your entire conversation.

Based off what you saw, I don’t blame you for having said what you did. I understand where you were coming from. It’s nice to know you were feeling protective over my child. After all, you saw a cute 2-year-old brunette with big brown eyes, jumping, laughing and having fun with her tether strapped onto her back. I agree with you; children don’t belong on leashes, and I often feel as if I’m not good enough to raise such a beautiful child. Not that you would have cared, but I wish I could have shared with you a few things that weren’t so obvious at that moment. I wish I could have talked to you about what you couldn’t see.

Lynda Coto the mighty.2-001

The little girl you saw in the airport isn’t your “typical” child. I know she looks “normal” on the outside, but on the inside, she’s special. What you didn’t see is that my child is partially blind. As a newborn, she suffered a stroke. Her brain injury has caused her to have a very difficult time in public places. What wasn’t apparent is the noise in public places, such as an airport, can be very distressing and overwhelming for her, often causing her to run away. What wasn’t so obvious is she has difficulty seeing and listening at the same time, not because she is unruly, but because she can’t divide her attention between sight and sound. What you didn’t see is that she has difficulty walking, often tripping and falling down. What I wanted to tell you is I tried your stroller idea, but she started to lose muscle tone from lack of exercise. I really wanted to talk about the daily struggle to keep her safe, but before I could address your concerns, you walked off to catch your flight.

You see, the day I left our developmental pediatrician’s office to buy my daughter’s new accessory, I knew you and I would meet one day. I knew what you thought of me long before I heard your spoken words. I knew you would talk about me and disagree with my parenting choices. What I didn’t know is how bad your words would hurt. I didn’t know that something as silly as an opinion would pierce through my heart every time I secured the tether onto my child.

I still think about you. But now, when I recall our encounter, I am filled with gratefulness. Thank you for causing me to recognize how strong of a woman I am. Thank you for shining a light on the lengths I will go to ensure my child’s safety, even if it means taking one for the team. Thank you for helping me understanding that in moments of pain, I can find happiness in my daughter’s smile and sound of her laughter just as I did that day in the line of security.

Follow this journey on A Beautifully Messy Life.

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Originally published: September 14, 2015
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