We were bumbling our way through Target last week.
Owen standing up in the seat of the cart. Laughing in the face of the strap restraint. Wrestling his tiny limbs back into place, a mess of baby toes and thighs.
Lucy’s wild curls bouncing on her head. Little hands begging for every toy, candy, food item, and brightly colored package of band aids we passed.
Jilly in her walker. Casually strolling. Taking her oh-so-sweet time. Wandering and gawking. Suddenly quite hard of hearing when I called for her to hurry along. This way Jilly. No, not that aisle. Over here. No Lucy. You have plenty of dollies. Owen, you are going to crack your head open in the middle of Target. Jill, seriously…
I was flustered. Sweating. That moment when you HAVE TO GET OUT OF TARGET RIGHT NOW…like, so Right Now, you are considering leaving your cart full in the middle of the aisle and not even taking the time to wait in line and pay?
Yeah, that moment was like 20 minutes ago.
But, Jill is getting bigger. Her lanky legs harder and harder to pull in and out of a shopping cart without some acrobatics, knees painfully jammed, and oftentimes, tears. So Andy and I, deep breath, resigned ourselves to the fact that we are the Next Step in this journey. The Step where we must allocate more time to activities so that Jill can walk alongside us. No more carts. She’s a big girl now. Every task is going to take longer. But training is what we Parents do, isn’t it? And training takes time. Lots of it. Precisely when time is the last thing you have lots of.
On paper, this sounds all exciting and adventurous. In reality it is…notsomuch. Any mama, special needs or not, who graduates from the cart to Stand Next To Mama and Walk Slowly, knows. Knows exactly this exercise.
Girlfriend is darling, but she isn’t always the best listener. Especially when we get anywhere near the candy aisle.
So I’m forcing a squirming baby back into his seat, cursing that silly seatbelt strap, which, for the record, I have never used with any of my kids, and apparently it’s just a ruse anyway because clearly I am raising the next Baby Houdini…telling Lucy No for the 4,075th time…and begging Jill to “Come On”, you know that syrupy sweet “Come on Honey” you do when you’re in public, but your teeth are clenched and you are about TO LOSE IT…when a woman blurts out:
“What happened to her?”
“What happened to her?”
I eyed the woman. My words more than a little short. Curt. Annoyed. I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing. Mama Bear.
“Nothing happened to her. She was born that way.” My tone venomous.
“Oh. Then what’s wrong with her?”
“There is nothing wrong with her.”
“Well, why does she need that thing?”
“Excuse me?” Come on lady, I’m giving you a chance to fix this…
Words of hurt are stinging the end of my tongue. I hold them back. Barely.
“That silver thing. Why does she need it?”
“She needs it to help her walk. She has Cerebral Palsy. Come on Jill, let’s go…”
“Oh. Well, she’s beautiful! She’s doing really well! I bet she runs like crazy around home! What a sweet little girl! She’s doing great!”
“Yes, yes she does.”
We walked away, tears brimming.
What is hard to convey is that this woman’s tone changed completely between the first few questions and her final sweet cooing about my girl. It was like two completely different conversations.
But that doesn’t really matter. Mostly.
What frustrated me, was not that this woman had no tact (albeit was obviously well meaning even if it took me a while to figure it out), was…
SHE IS STANDING RIGHT HERE. Do you not see my girl? Do you not see her little blonde head standing three feet away from you? Do you think she is also deaf? Because she is not. She is not deaf, maybe a little disobedient, but not deaf. She hears every word you say. In fact, you have no idea that she is non-verbal…but regardless she UNDERSTANDS. So much. So much more than any of us realize. And I hate that well meaning or not, you referred to her as being imperfect and somehow defective.
Right. in. front. of. her.
Moments later, my heart still in my throat, I happened upon a friend. I recounted the entire exchange. I told my friend every word.
With Jill standing right there.
I believe the saying is something about a pot calling a kettle black.
Self Righteous thy name is Jeannett.
I forget. And that makes me so sad. I do not want my little charge to ever believe that her mama was anything but head over heels in love with her. That her mama was real and human and cried sometimes…but that she was loved fiercely and without condition.
I must remember that the rules I wish the lady in Target followed, are the same rules I must follow.
I do not want to leave marks and bruises on the spirit of my little girl. Even if unintentional.
That children’s book on Helen Keller affecting me months later.
Getting a glimpse into Helen’s mind was like getting a glimpse into my own daughter’s mind.
If Helen, both deaf and blind, could write so eloquently about apples, it seems that Jill might think about apples in the same way, even if she can’t articulate it to us.
If Helen, both deaf and blind, could learn about astronomy, seems to me that Jill might too. Even if we may never really know for sure.
I read and read and re-read that picture book like it held a map to a buried treasure. Although, I suppose it kinda did. For me, anyway.
Annie took Helen walking in the forest, jumping in the salty ocean, tobogganing down snowy hills, bicycling in tandem, and sailing in a boat. And she spelled out each new experience.”
So we take Jill with us. We do our best to never leave her out. Family activities are always tempered with her needs and abilities. We take special note of her favorites. Ariel. Singing. Dancing. Books. Always, always books. Books about The Little Mermaid while humming Part of Your World are like hitting the Jilly Jackpot.
From trips to Disneyland to boating to swim lessons to walking through Target like a big girl.
I couldn’t download The Story My Life onto my Kindle fast enough. Yet, I haven’t begun reading it. I think I’m afraid. A little overwhelmed at the possibilities. A little scared of the work.
But mostly terrified of what Helen will say about her mother. I’m so imperfect. I’m not afraid for my children to see my failures…just that I desire them to see my heart. The good parts and the bad parts. Side by side.
I hope the good parts win. Even if just by a little bit.