There I was minding my own business while waiting to check out at the grocery store last week. Not wanting to engage with anyone or deal with anything besides what was on my To Do list, I tried to ignore everything around me. That worked until I glanced behind me and saw that several employees from various departments of the store had gathered in the same spot. One of the women, an older gal, smiled brightly as a fellow employee approached the group. The employee, in her early 30s and not in uniform, joined the women’s conversation. She’d brought her toddler in with her. Everyone beamed.
After greeting each other, all eyes and smiles were directed to the child. Snuggled into his mama, I couldn’t see him too well. Giving them their privacy, I turned around and took more items out of my cart. As the conveyor belt moved my food closer to the cashier, I reached back into the cart for more items. Stealing a glance at the ladies, I heard them chit chatting about the store, other co-workers and the weather. Before long, the conversation turned, and the ladies’ expressions changed. I didn’t hear what the young mama had just said, but I could hear the older lady’s voice quite clearly as she reached for and rubbed the little boy’s knee.
“Oh, poor thing! You got your shots today.”
As their smiles turned into frowns, chills went up my spine.
Looking away from the doting older woman, I could finally see the boy’s face. His eyes were a tad puffy, and his nose needed to be wiped. Staring back at his mom, I noted that he was able to make eye contact.
‘Good,’ I thought, ‘….for now,’ I added.
I shuddered then focused back on what I was doing. Unloading the last few things from my cart, I shook my head. Still curious, I glanced one more time at the child. The ladies were smiling again trying to make him laugh. One in particular, that older one, kept the conversation going.
“How old is he now?”
“Two,” the mom replied, “It’s his birthday.”
“Oh, it’s today! Happy birthday!” the older gal squealed.
‘You mean Happy Shot Day!’ I said to myself.
They were too far from me for me to chime in. Had I been closer, I might have said something like, ‘…couldn’t help but overhear…but, you know not to give him any Tylenol after shots, right?’ to start a quick convo with the young mother. On that day, I didn’t have it in me to say anything. It was the first day that I was kid-free in over 2 weeks. I was tired. I had a lot to catch up on. I had lots to do and to finish before the kids would all be back home. The last few food items were being scanned anyway. I needed to load up the car and head back home. There was a short hold up with the card reader though. With the delay, I had ample time to say something. But, I chose not to. Instead, while I stood there, I watched the young mom walk over to the customer service desk. Saying hello to the workers she knew there, I observed similar reactions from them. Big smiles. Ohhhs and ahhhs. Then, the immediate sad-face response. Mom again shared that he’d just gotten shots.
Hope he feels better!
I hope so, too.
Six people in less than 10 minutes reacted in the same way. I was the only one who reacted differently – negatively. Some may think I missed an opportunity. I have to agree. But these days, and especially that day, I am finding that I need to put my energy elsewhere. If I don’t, I help no one – including myself.
Yes, I could’ve said something to the young mom, but honestly, the more I heard the more I realized that it wasn’t worth my effort. Don’t worry. I’m not giving up on sharing our story. I’m not going to turn away from other parents, especially the ones who reach out to me privately, because those kinds of conversations are absolutely worth having. Those are the ones that keep me going.
Leaving the store a little less enthusiastically than I’d arrived, I loaded up my purchases and drove home. On the way home, I thought about 2-year olds and what they’re capable of. I thought about my children when they were 2. Then, I specifically thought about Ronan. He was not a healthy 2-year old. He was not a happy 2-year old either. He’d just gotten shots. Post-vaccination, he’d changed. Life as we knew it changed also and not for the better.
Pushing those thoughts out of my head, I tried to think of something positive. Immediately, I recalled a conversation I’d had with a friend about her son. He just turned 2. He is not like how I remembered Ronan at that age. This boy is different. He’s happy, healthy, and chatty. His gaze, verbal responses, and behavior are age-appropriate. His skin tone, play skills and his ability to connect to his environment are perfect. One time, while observing him playing, I apologized to the mom for staring and explained that I couldn’t help myself. She was not offended. In fact, her response was the opposite - she was rather pleased.
I told her, “It’s rare to see a typical 2-year old. I don’t mean to stare, but he’s just so…so…engaged!” She smiled. I continued, “I also don’t mean to compare him to Ronan…while it’s sad to recall everything that my child couldn’t do, it’s rewarding to see your son doing so much and at such a young age.” She knew exactly what I meant.
That mom had reached out to me after she’d heard our story. Our story rattled her, so she started to read. She started to ask questions. She started to learn. Her hard work paid off. Long before stepping foot into the pediatrician’s office, she discovered that she had a choice about vaccines, something many new parents learn too late.
It wasn’t an easy decision for this young mom, nor one she took lightly, but with the information she’d gathered, she knew that she was going to opt out of getting vaccines for her child. She made the decision confidently and hasn’t waivered. Because of that, her child is meeting, and if you ask me, exceeding his developmental milestones.
That mom chose a different path than I did as a parent, and I couldn’t be more proud of her for doing so. She is like other mothers who also wanted to hear more of what I had to say. After overhearing a conversation in a waiting room, or reading something on a message board, or remembering what I’d shared while at the car dealership, the ones who seek me out do so with purpose. Some are just starting out while others are ready to go against the norm. No matter where these moms are on their journey, they are the ones I’d like to devote my time and energy to. So, I’ll continue to offer them exactly what they need – be it a book, or website, or simply a vote of confidence, I will do all that I can to help them.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.