Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sensitivity Story

Something I read on Equal not Special got me thinking about those moments when some clueless soul says something totally insensitive about disability and what you say back to them…

Back when my daughter who has Down syndrome was nearly 2 I took all three of my kids shopping with me one afternoon. In one of the stores, while I was paying for my purchases, my darling daughter threw a wild tantrum in her stroller because she wanted to me to pick her up. I ignored her wailing while I wrote my check (no sense giving her the message that screaming is how you get the world to stop—it was only going to be a minute…) The salesclerk who was working with me was quite efficient and pleasant.

Unfortunately she was not working alone.

Standing next to my salesclerk was another store employee who clearly had nothing to do, so she was watching me pay. In the middle of my transaction this idle clerk pointed at my screaming child and yelled, “What’s wrong with HER???”

“Oh, she’s just mad. She’ll be ok once I stop paying attention to you and get back to her,” I answered.

“No,” this lovely woman said, “I mean what’s WRONG with her?”

“She’s nearly 2—she has temper tantrums. Kids are like that,” I said.

“But she’s SPECIAL…..:”

Just then my clerk handed me the sales slip.

I didn’t say a word.

I gripped the handle of my stroller with both hands, and with my 5 year old daughter and my 3 year old son clinging to each side of the stroller for dear life, we ran out of that store and halfway down the mall.

While we were tooling along, my son looked up at me and said,

“Mommy, pant-pant-pant, why pant-pant are we pant-pant-pant RUNNING???”

I looked down at him and, using my absolutely sweetest voice, said,

“We are keeping Mommy out of jail, honey.”

Yeah, that’s not the funny part.

The funny part is that for months after, whenever my son really got running hard he would look up at me with his sweaty little face and say, “Whew! I really kept you out of jail today, Mommy!”


I would have liked to say something perfect--perhaps even educational, or at least corrective (or sarcastic, let's be honest!), but this was the best I could come up with that day.

The good news is, I did not, in fact, end up in jail--

Which is always a plus!

Picture from here.


lonestar818 said...

That's too funny about your son! I'd have had to book it out of there too, I'll never understand why people are so rude.

rickismom said...

Oh boy, this happens to me so much! I can really identify! (By me its either clerks offering to give Ricki whatever I decided I won't buy her, as she is throwing a tantrum, or people who see the tantrum and come and tell Ricki, "Oh but you're SO sweet.*) (13 years olds can throw BEAUTIFUL tantrums. Luckily they are getting better under carefull work.)
* Can someone explain to me what's so sweet about a 13 year old throwing a tantrum????

Anonymous said...

Wow, Terri, you are really back! - I was behind by 4 posts! (But I have been out-of-town.)

You tell your story so well - effectively supporting those who have had a similar experience. I also think you handled that long ago situation perfectly. You gave two responses that were educational to the sales clerks. Walking away quickly was also a correct cue to them about the rude questions. Barbara