Dear mother in the park,
I still think of you occasionally. Our interaction has become something of a turning point for me. I have no doubt you have long since forgotten about me. But I wish to thank you. In a time of uncertainty you forced me to find a strength I wasn’t sure I had. It has shaped me into a better parent and added advocate to my repertoire.
The day I met you was not your finest hour. You must have been having a bad day. Maybe you were just so sheltered that you had never encountered a child with an invisible disability. We all .know ignorance breeds discrimination.
There must have been a reason for your behavior. I refuse to be a person who just labels someone inherently bad. It is too simple. Human beings exist within the greys.
My eldest son had only recently turned two. My second son, then a newborn, was sleeping in the pram. I was juggling three hourly feeds (and all those snacks in between) with a two year old who was self harming, an extensive autism diagnosis process and chronic illness of my own. No one was to know that. I
was just another exhausted mother in the playground. I was trying to work off the famous two year old energy before dinner time, looking forward to a couple of hours of precious sleep before the night feeds began. Our sons tussled on the slide both vying for the first turn. We were both on hand. Neither was hurt or bothered. It could have ended there. To be honest it should have. But I wouldn’t remember you if it had.
Your reaction surprised me.
You turned around, addressed my son directly and scolded him. Now let’s ignore that this was a result of normal toddler behaviour and no one was hurt. In fact your son was already climbing up for the next turn on the slide. Nor am I against other parents telling my son’s to knock off bad behavior if it is done right. It takes a village to raise a child doesn’t it?
This was not done right.
You demanded my son apologize.
When I explained my son couldn’t say sorry because he was completely non-verbal you responded with a look of disbelief. You attempted to get in his face requesting he look at you when you were talking to him. It’s not just I knew he couldn’t do what you asked, I also knew he didn’t have to. It bought out the tiger mother inside of me. You had crossed a line. I’m sure my face darkened.
I got between you and my anxious two year old who was on the brink of a full autistic meltdown, and told you to back the hell off. You reached out you arm around me. I quietly told you if you so much as touched my son I would be calling the police.
You were angry. I was angry. This had gotten out of hand very quickly. I picked up my gorgeous little boy and wrapped my arms around him. As he nuzzled into my shoulder, whimpering and overwhelmed, I took a cheap shot. I told you I hoped you never had a child with special needs, you weren’t cut out for it. It’s not something I’m proud of. It was said in the heat of the moment. In anger and protection. Who knows what sort of day you had? Who knows what stressors you were facing behind that face lacking compassion but I wasn’t feeling particularly empathetic at the time.
It is the next moments that I am proud of. As I walked away I made a decision. I was not going to give into the impulse to slink away. My little boy was not going to get his playtime cut short. He had just as much right to be there as any other child. Tears were filling my eyes when another mum showed kindness by giving up the prized swing. As I pushed my son he calmed. Enjoying the movement. You left shortly after.
It wasn’t anyone’s best moment but it had a lasting effect on me. Ever since I have been determined that my son’s right to be present, to enjoy and to participate be enacted. A medical diagnosis did not diminish him as human being. I decided then I would move heaven and earth to protect those rights. His light would never be diminished by a label.
A year and a half later I want to thank you. Your lack of compassion and quite frankly bizarre reaction forced me to discover my inner advocate. My son is better off for it.
Someone you don’t remember.
A version of this post has appeared on The Mighty