Nothing boils my blood faster than hearing derogatory comments uttered by people about other people with special needs. I once heard two store employees talking as one described someone else as a retard. I yelled out, “Hey! That is rude and unacceptable!” The young men cast their eyeballs in my direction and grimaced. I stood my ground and glared.
“Sorry!” one mumbled. “We’re sorry.” said the other. And I walked away hoping they’d feel ashamed enough never to do that again.
After a successful equine therapy session today, Zach and I ventured to a store where, I hoped, he’d use his device to ask me for crayons or a summer toy of some kind. Then I could tell him that yes, we could get him something fun as a reward for having a great lesson. Positive reinforcement was what I was after. I didn’t predict that I would be in for another retail blood boiling.
While on line, I counted our purchases knowing that twelve items would come to $12 plus tax. Off to the side, a man in a white polo shirt was filling balloons with helium. One by one as the machine filled Mylar, the balloons floated up to the mineral fiber ceiling boards. They’d lightly touch and bounce a bit. At each bounce Zach emitted a squeal of delight. I recognize it as delight, and it’s really not as much of a squeal as it is a hum combined with an “o” sound. When that sound is made, it can turn some heads. It’s not your everyday heard-that-noise-before sound. But generally people take a quick look and then go back to whatever they were doing.
This time, if there was a look, I didn’t see it. I was narrating the colors of the balloons for Zach. But I sure as heck heard what came next.
“WHAAAT the…? What IZZZ that?” a woman said with enough irritation in her voice to fill ten Mylar balloons. Zach continued mmmm-ing and oh-ing.
“Who is making that sound?? My God! Is there an animal in here or WHAT?”
I spun my head around at the exact moment the machine barked at me to remove my credit card. I caught a glimpse of a brown head of hair and a pea green shirt walking down an aisle. The cashier had an eyebrow raised, and I looked at her and said “Wow.”
My blood was boiling pretty good at that moment. I tucked Zach’s arm under my arm and whispered, “Bud, I have to go tell that woman something.” He nodded yes as if he intuitively understood my mission.
She was easy to spot. Pea green shirt, green leggings, leaning over a green shopping cart. My eyes only saw red.
“Excuse me. Were you just up front questioning a noise you heard?” She gave me a confused look.
“Yes. Why? You know what that was?” She liked really heavy eyeliner.
Controlling one’s voice while one’s inner kettle is about to steam over is not easy.
“The noise you heard was my son. A human being. NOT. AN. ANIMAL.” I did not blink. Another woman standing close by ducked around the corner.
“HE was making that noise?” She came closer to me.
“Those are happy noises. He was happy. And your loud question was rude and insulting.” I must have been digging my feet into the floor because my broken toe started throbbing.
She stood there a moment looking at him, looking at me, and back at him.
“Special needs.” I said. “Want to ask me something?”
“No no.” she said. “Sorry.”
I’ve thought quite a lot about what message we send when we quickly or easily reply “It’s okay” when clearly it is not okay. Why would I have confronted her if what she did was “okay?”
“Good.” I said as I locked eyes with her.
“I work with special needs kids,” the woman then told me.
With narrowed eyes I hissed, “Then you ought to know better.”
She stepped to the side and poked my elbow intentionally. “You’re right,” she said. “You’re exactly right.”
“He should hear your apology,” I told her as I tipped my head toward Zach.
She looked at him and said, “I’m sorry. Truly.”
Zach nodded, and I said, “We appreciate your apology.” I blinked, and we turned and left.
That woman is the type of person I would NOT want working with any special needs child. Mayyyyybe she is skilled at what she does. Maybe she helps certain people in ways that most would not want to. But an insensitive remark spoken loudly for anyone within twenty feet to hear: that speaks to character.
I once overheard a special education aide at Zach’s school say, “Sometimes you gotta treat ‘em like dogs and train ‘em that way!” I was more reserved back then and probably too stunned to form a comment. When it happens enough, you get to a point where remaining silent extends the harm somehow. So you gotta speak up.
I hope that the pea green shirted black eyeliner-ed woman went home and thought about her exclamations. If one speaks aloud at high volume in a public place, especially in a rude manner, one better be prepared for what follows. I didn’t open my can of whoop-ass tonight. I’m reserving that for a five-alarm type of incident. But quiet I will not be anymore.
As we walked to the car, I put my arm around Zach and said, “Thanks Bud. We had to let her know, didn’t we? I love you with all my heart. You’re my boy.”
He did his Tigger bounce on the sidewalk and scooted into the car with his crayons. I may see pea green in a different way now.
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