…It was not too long after, I witnessed a scene in the cereal aisle of the grocery store. A woman was standing there watching her son flip out, doing nothing to control the situation. He was maybe four and was sitting on the floor screaming at the top of his lungs with his hands over his ears rocking back and fourth. As she stood there watching, a man walked by and scoffed at her. He was trying to maneuver his cart around the screaming child. He said to her, “Lady, control your kid. People are trying to shop.” Now, personally, if this were my kid I would pick him up and leave the store. A week ago I would probably be thinking something like, “Why isn’t she removing him from the store?” But just coming off of my public judgment on the street corner, I decided to change my approach of silent disapproval. I too had something to say to her. So I walked up and said it.
“Don’t worry,” I said in my most sympathetic tone, “This was my whole day yesterday. Gotta love life with toddlers.” The woman said nothing. “Honestly,” I continued “it happens to all of us. Don’t worry about it.” I said gesturing to the man who was now further down the aisle. The woman broke into tears. She explained that her son was recently diagnosed with Autism and he would freak out for unknown reasons. Right now, in the cereal aisle, she had no idea what triggered the episode or what to do about it. She did know that touching him or attempting to move him would only worsen his hysteria. My heart sank at her story. This woman was in an extraordinarily difficult situation and doing everything she could. Sadly she was only met with judgement. As I reached for my box of Cheerios, I told her to hang in there. I reassured her that she was doing a good job and was a good mother. To my surprise she grabbed me, hugged me and said, “I really needed to hear that today.” Her words hit my heart and echoed what I have felt so many times before.Over the years I continue to think back to those two events and they have been forever burned into my soul. Because of these two random encounters I feel compelled to offer words of encouragement to parents who I catch publicly struggling. I force myself to smile approvingly at parents who seem to be doing the odd and unconventional and I am constantly surprised. I’ve met a wide range of unexpected and extraordinary circumstances. The eight-year old girl who was saying mean things at her mum in the kitchen store was angry that her dad had just been deployed to war. The mum who was indulging her son with candy every time he fussed was fighting cancer and had no energy for a battle of wills. The dad who was on his phone at the park while his son begged to be pushed on the swing had just lost his mother. In years past, I might have silently disapproved of these interactions. But because of one mean stranger I was able to offer words of encouragement, load a tired cancer patient’s car for her and push a grieving man’s son on the swing. The more extraordinary situations I uncover, the more I realize that at one time or another, we all fight something extraordinary.