In that aisle was a woman pushing a cart with two boys. The older boy looked about eight. He seemed nonverbal and slightly aggressive. He kept hitting his mom. The younger was probably around four and was sitting in the seat up front. He was talking a little bit and looking around. She was looking at wrapping paper, but kept getting distracted by the older boy. Finally she said, "Maybe we should skip the party and just go home."
I could tell that the mom was overwhelmed. There have definitely been moments when I'm so overwhelmed with my kids in public that I feel like all eyes are on me, judging my every parenting move. So I smiled and said, "we were just having that same conversation!" Without missing a beat she turned to me, anger and resentment flashing in her eyes and said, "well I bet both of yours aren't autistic, are they?" I stood there, shocked. My attempt at connecting with her had the exact opposite effect I was going for. And what could I say? Before I could form a coherent thought she turned and walked away pushing her cart, scolding her one boy for hitting her.
We finished our shopping and as I was loading everything in the van, I saw her walk by, still yelling at her kids as she made her way to her car.
I think about her every time I go into that store. I wonder how she is. I wonder if I caught her on a bad day, or if her version of motherhood looks like that daily. I often think about what I would have said differently if I could go back. I would have told her that I know her journey is difficult, much more so than mine. I would have asked her about her sons, praised them for their beautiful eyes and smiles. I might have offered to buy her a coffee and listened to her stories.
Sometimes the trenches of motherhood are a lonely place to be. I feel it at times with my own children, and if you have your own, you probably do too. It can be so easy to judge someone by the quick moments we see of them. But instead we should be encouraging each other, be it with a smile, a gentle word or a knowing nod.
So to the mom with the two boys in the cart, your children are just as beautiful, unique, and intrinsically valuable as my own, and I pray you have strength for the hard days, and that you find joy in their smiles and embraces... And if we meet again... The coffee's on me!