Dear Nosy Onlooker
I know you’re watching me. You’re everywhere. I pray for a positive outlook on my situation and I find it. But then I have moments. Moments when you onlookers just look at me funny and make me feel negative, not about my daughter’s handicaps, but about you. Moments when, for some unknown reason, you feel the need to tell me that I must be doing something wrong because my child doesn’t seem to be doing things the way you see most other children doing them. Duh! Don’t you think I know that? She’s doing things differently because she is different.
Like the time at Old Navy when Chloe was arching her back really hard. She does this because she has a neurological disorder. Some days it’s worse than others. This day it was really bad. I left my house in a hurry because I felt cooped up and stressed out from one of her bad days and I forgot her stroller. This was unfortunate because she can’t hold her head up, let alone her body, so she isn’t able to sit in a cart. So I walked around Old Navy, browsing at clothes, and literally wrestling with my daughter’s arching body. It was a fight with her and a struggle with my emotions because every time she arched, I felt that ache in my heart—something is wrong with her and I can’t fix it. You had no idea what was going on, I know this. But for some reason you, Nosy Onlooker, you insisted on shooting unfriendly glances my way for a few minutes, then coming up to me to tell me I should just put my daughter in a cart. What I wanted to do—slap you silly and tell you to mind your own business. What I actually did—looked at you with a frustrated stare, then turned and walk away.
Then the time at the outlet mall. Chloe was wearing hand braces to help hold her thumbs and fingers in proper place since she is unable to do so on her own. You were working and making small talk. You told me my son was cute. I let that slip, since my beautiful daughter was wearing a green shirt and her bald little head didn’t have a bow on it that day.
I wanted to be polite so I just let it go, even though I wanted to say, “Duh. The green shirt has glittery silver lines on it. Do boys wear shirts with glittery silver lines? And hello, she’s wearing capris! C’mon now, you’re a guy—do you wear capris?” But no, I’m a nice person. I just smiled and didn’t want to make you feel dumb. So I let it go and let you keep thinking my adorable little girl was an adorable little boy. No biggie.
Then you had to go and ask, “What are those funny bracelets he’s wearing?” Okay. That’s it. I let your ignorance go for awhile, but, Nosy Onlooker, you have crossed the line. And really, you still think she’s a boy, but you’re asking about bracelets? Oh my, do you have a lot to learn. So this time I go with my instincts and I react curtly. It’s not usually my style, but you have pushed my limits. “My daughter has physical disabilities. These aren’t bracelets. They are braces.” Then I leave the store, and leave you stumbling over your words. I feel bad for you, really I do. But honestly, what was I supposed to say?
Yesterday was one of those blissful days where love and gratitude filled my heart. The sun was shining, not a cloud in the sky. Chloe was being delightful and we ran errands. We stopped in at Costco. I grabbed the jumbo-sized Costco cart. I got out my handy-dandy infant car seat and clicked it in to the cart. I sat my extra-long (98 percentile) eighteenth-month-old in the car seat. I immediately burst into laughter at the sight. Her head is sneaking up over the top. Her legs are dangling over the bottom. It is quite a sight. I know this. But it works for us. She can’t sit up, so I use the infant carrier when we go shopping.
I stroll gaily through the large aisles, humming songs and chatting with Chloe. I am so happy; nothing can change that. Then you come into the picture, Nosy Onlooker. I notice you gawking, but I ignore it. Then I see you walk toward me, out of your way, and come up to share your opinions. I try to find somewhere to run because I know what’s coming and I don’t want you to ruin my happy day. But there’s nowhere to hide and you manage to get out the ignorant statement, “Your daughter really is much too large for that carseat. You should get one that is the proper size. It is unsafe to have her in that carseat.” I don’t know how to respond; I’m at a loss for words. This gives you time to throw in another dagger. “And did you know she can sit in the cart? If you’re worried about germs, they make little covers you can put over the handles so she doesn’t get germs.” I’m flabbergasted that you think I’m the dumb one. I’m speechless.
I want you to walk away, but you stay, insisting on a response. I envision picking up the Costco-sized fruit platter I’m standing by, and lugging it at your head. I start to smile as I think of your body covered with grapes and pineapples. I snap out of my daydream, and you’re still standing there! … just insisting on a response. So I decide this is not my problem and I’m not going to respond in a way that will make me feel guilty and ruin my happy day. So I smile and simply say, “My daughter has special needs. She has a proper car seat. We only use this one when we’re shopping. I wish she could sit in the cart, but she’s not able to hold her body up.” I continue smiling and nodding as you are finally at a loss for words, then I go on my way thinking, Poor, poor Nosy Onlooker.
I wish you thought before speaking. I wish you realized that everything is not as it seems and you just don’t know everything like you think you do. I wish you understood that some things are just none of your business in the first place, and you have no place to tell complete strangers what they should or should not be doing. But as out of line as I think you are, 95 percent of the time, I will smile and nod and explain politely that my daughter has special needs. I know this will make you feel dumb, but really that is the best response I can think of. In the future, though, please just keep your uninformed opinions to yourself!
Know this, that not all children are the same and not all parents are yearning for your completely uneducated advice. Please forgive me if I seem curt, but I just don’t know how else to respond to you. I will try to be as polite as possible, but my situation can be frustrating as it is, and your impoliteness just adds to the frustration. It would be wise of you to follow the advice of William Penn. “If thou thinkest twice before thou speakest once, thou speakest twice the better for it.”