Dear Woman at the coffee shop,
I saw you this morning. You ordered your coffee before I did and waited patiently as the barista made it to order. I paid for my coffee and walked behind you with my two children in tow. I had just finished a 4 mile walk with a friend, a rare occurrence these days.
I got up early and went to Pilates, came home to find my oldest daughters fighting over which cereal bowl was their’s for breakfast. My youngest needed a diaper change and was grumpy due to the fact she has severe sleep apnea and wakes up several times a night. Her body doesn’t get the rest it needs causing some unpleasant moments for this mama every single day.
I was elated I made it to drop off on time for my oldest but then disappointed when I realized I was running behind to meet my friend. I apologized and proceeded to load my two girls into the stroller and enjoy the fresh air, exercise, and good conversation.
My youngest wasn’t happy in the stroller part of the time. She didn’t want the snack I brought and couldn’t quite manage to fall back asleep even though her eyes were heavy. She wouldn’t keep socks on or the blanket tucked around her. Her little feet were cold. I carried that 20lb toddler of mine while pushing my almost 4 year old in the double stroller up and down the hills while talking about sleep apnea and sleep endoscopies as we headed back towards the cars.
I felt refreshed and accomplished as I loaded the girls back into the car, even though the youngest was upset and the middle just wanted to go on a treasure hunt. I drove away and called my mom.
We chitchatted and then she asked if I would stop and pick up coffee for us. I happily obliged. I drove up to the drive-thru and decided the line was far to long to sit in with a grumpy, rear-facing toddler and thought it would be better for everyone if I unloaded both girls and head inside. That’s where I saw you.
My girls were content and my middle was telling me how excited she was for her cake pop. A rare treat for her. My youngest was in my arms waving to everyone who would catch her eye.
I saw as you watched. I looked over and smiled, but you quickly turned away. Confused, I carried on waiting for my coffee while gushing over my girls. I smiled again when I saw you looking back towards me at my youngest in my arms. Nothing. Your eyes darted away as if you had been caught redhanded.
I looked at Bernadette, her eyes wide with excitement as she looked around at all the unfamiliar faces looking for someone to share her contagious joy with. The thought entered my mind, the one that I think of often when I find myself in similar situations.
Did you notice my daughter is different?
I quickly dismissed the thought and moved on. Until you walked by me. I felt as if we were invisible as you stared straight ahead, insistent on not making eye contact.
My heart sank for a brief moment. I’ve been here before. I try to fight the thoughts threatening to overtake my entire day.
I want to give the benefit of the doubt. Maybe you are having a terrible day. Unforeseen circumstances hit like a ton of bricks. Work is difficult. Or maybe pure exhaustion has caught up with you after a sleepless night. I’m choosing to believe one of those things is true as I stood there in the coffee shop.
I quickly look down at my beautiful daughter. Her contagious energy permeating the air around us.
Oh, dear lady at the coffee house. I do hope to see you again one day. I hope to extend the same genuine smile I showed you today, ready and willing to answer any questions you might have. I also hope you will be able to meet someone just like my daughter and really get to know her if you don’t already have someone differently abled in your life. I hope that one day you will be able to see past my daughter’s differences and see her as the unique individual God has created her to be. I hope that one day, your discomfort will be used to prompt you to reach out and share a smile instead of using avoidance to look the other way.
I know it can feel hard and you can feel unsure of what to do in those situations when you haven’t spent much time around people that are different. But I can assure you that a simple welcoming and friendly gesture like a smile or hello goes a long way to a mom like me. Kindness really does matter. We are mamas doing the best we can, loving on our adoring kiddos the very best we know how to. Fighting for them to be seen and known, included and celebrated.
In all sincerity,