I want to share a little story about one of my recent eye opening experiences. This experience changed my outlook on others when in public, and really brought to my attention how selfish, short, and inconsiderate I had been. I’m ashamed to admit that’s how I was, but I want to share how I’ve grown. I’m not sharing this to get praise for my actions or anything like that, but because it really helped me grow as a person and I think it might help others, too.
I want you to think about the last time you were in a restaurant, at the movies, on a plane, or somewhere in public when you heard a little kid throwing a royal fit. How did you react? My reaction used to be shameful. I would mumble under my breath, “Seriously? Why are they letting him/her act like that?” or “That’s why I am NEVER having children. Listen to how they are carrying on.” And I think if everyone is honest with themselves, they can remember a time they mumbled those words, too.
But one trip to Cracker Barrel changed how I view parents and children in public. I was eating my dinner with my parents, husband, and brother when a young couple with their little boy and an older woman (I assume a grandma) were seated at the table behind us. The little boy was holding his GameBoy and sat right down in his seat. However, after about 10 minutes, the little boy starts screaming bloody murder.
He stands up in the aisle and does not want to be touched or consoled, he does not want to sit down, and he does not want his Game Boy anymore. To the other diners in the restaurant, who are packed in like sardines like all Cracker Barrels, this is ridiculous and unacceptable. They start rolling their eyes, leaning in and whispering to their other family members, and dropping comments like, “They should just take him out of here.”
I have a front row seat to the whole outburst. The grandma is so embarrassed at the outrage that she just continues to eat like nothing is going on, the mom is sitting in her chair begging the little boy to sit down, and the dad is standing up in the aisle gently grabbing his arm and begging him to just sit down. It becomes very clear that the little boy is Autistic. He is shaking his arms and hands, rocking in place, looking at the floor, and only freaks out more when the dad gently nudges him towards his seat. The dad finally tells his wife that everything is okay, that she should finish and enjoy her meal, and that he will take the little boy outside where he can calm down. He tells her to box his food and he will eat it at home.
My heart broke for several reasons. 1) The selflessness and act of kindness/love that the man showed his wife in an embarrassing situation was just beautiful. It was obvious that he wanted her to enjoy her meal out, probably because it didn’t happen often. 2) The mom had tears rolling down her face. She was so embarrassed. The stares, comments, and atmosphere after the little boy left was apparently all she could handle. 3) She looked at the grandma and said, “People just do not understand what it is like. It is so easy for them to say things when they have never walked a day in my shoes with him.”
About this time, our waitress brings our bill and it is time for my family to leave. My heart starts to pound and tears fill my eyes. More than ever before, I felt God urging me to talk to that mother.
I dreaded it. I did not know this lady. She could tell me to leave her alone and to let her eat in peace, but I knew I had to say something. After my family walked ahead of me and passed their table, I stopped and bent down towards the mom. “Ma’am, I just want to let you know that I heard what you said about other’s staring and making comments.” Her eyes got really big like I was about to attack her. I continued, “I just want to let you know that I sat right at that table and watched how you and your husband handled the situation, and I think you guys are awesome parents and are doing a great job raising that little boy.” Tears filled her eyes again and they started to roll from her cheeks. I finished by saying, “I also wanted to let you know he did not bother my family at our meal and I am so sorry that you felt that way tonight.”
She stands up beside of me. In front of the whole restaurant, with the same people watching that were minutes ago judging her, she asked if she could give me a hug. I hugged and cried with a total stranger in the cramped dining room of Cracker Barrel.
It was the most rewarding thing I had ever done.
I learned so much that night. I thought about how I want so badly to be a mother someday. I thought about how someday, if I am blessed to be a mother and my child has autism, how it will affect my daily life. I wondered if those people choose not to go out in public because of the possibility of a melt down and being judged. I wondered if it was fair for me to put my night out at a restaurant at higher value than the two parents with a child with autism. They are allowed to have that night out just like I am, and I vowed to never judge parents again.
I also learned that we do not always know a person’s situation, but God does. God knew the walk she walks every day with her little boy. He knew that they needed a night out at Cracker Barrel. And he knew that she needed to hear she was a great mother. Imagine the difference she would have felt leaving that night if I had not done what God wanted me to.
I think about her and that little boy a lot. She probably thinks I stopped to talk to her to help and uplift her, but I wish she knew how much she helped and uplifted me.