Walmart Checker Lady: "Autism? (looking meanly at Jack)
Me: Excuse me?
Lady: Does he have Autism?
Lady: Are you sure?
Lady: How old is he? (even more condescendingly)
Me: 3 (flatly, conveying that just more one thing out of her ugly mouth will result in quite the scene)."
There it is, folks. About the cruelest encounter we've had thus far. I've blogged a lot about what not to say to a preemie parent. About guarding your mouth. About how even thoughtless comments and questions can hurt. But this. This was beyond innocence. This was blatantly being cruel.
After being rendered silent by her mission to wound with words, my mom and I slowly walked away. Then the dissecting began. What made her say such things? And keep asking, asking, asking. Three times, no less. Why Autism? Does she know someone with Autism or think something of it? What could make someone berate an innocent 3-yr-old?
To say I was angry at this exchange, well, you can only imagine. The mama bear in me wanted to do everything in my power to protect my son. But I had failed. Jack heard the whole thing. He heard you, Walmart Checker Lady! I was plain mad at myself for letting it slide and just walking away. Why didn't I say anything? Do something? It's not normally my nature to keep silent. I was disappointed in myself that I didn't immediately go to a manager to report her. I got on our Facebook page later that day and asked (pleaded), someone please tell me how to handle situations like these! Because I know it won't be the only time.
The sad reality is that as Jack gets older, and his differences more apparent, mean people will be primed to pounce. They are always looking to hurt, and when they find someone that they think is an easy target, they will go to town. It's how they operate.
And it breaks my heart.
Beyond having to worry about Jack's day to day life, his health, his growth, I now have the reality check that this probably won't be an isolated incident. I now have to worry about trying to shield him from the horrible people of this world. The people who give no thought to the ugly words that escape their ugly lips. The people that look down upon those who are different and give no thought of pointing it out.
Let me get one thing straight - I don't care that she chose Autism as her weapon. It would have been just the same if she got Jack's correct diagnosis! She was using that word to wound. As if being called Autistic, would in and of itself, wound me, wound him. No. I am not insulted by my son being called autistic. It was the intent that really bothered me. I wasn't wounded by the word. I was wounded by what it represents.
What really tore at my heart was the reality check it gave. Jack is different and this probably won't be an isolated incident.
So now what to do? How do I handle these cruel people in the future? Punching them is always an option, but I'd prefer to use my words. What do I even say? Where do I even begin? I already feel like I have a handle on what to say to innocent questions and thoughtless comments. What I'm talking about here is what do I say to the blatantly mean and rude person? I don't want to walk away, silent and shocked. I want to say something, to stand up for my boy. I am asking for advice with one caveat: Please, please do not belittle the situation. All you wonderful peacemakers out there will be chomping at the bit to tell me to put this under the rug, to say that maybe this person was having a bad day. And I get that. But I also believe that wrong is wrong. And this is my son we are talking about here. Put yourself in my shoes for a minute. I need real solutions and real experience to answer this. Would love to hear from those who have been in my place.
After a lot of thought, I've come to the root of the issue. The Walmart Checker Lady was jealous. Jealous of me, jealous of our happy life. She had made some comments, before going off on Autism and my beautiful boy, about what I was purchasing. She probably doesn't enjoy her job, or her life, for that matter. I, on the other hand, was having a wonderful morning. I was loving the beautiful weather, in my sundress, with my mom by my side and Starbucks in my hand. Jack was in his cute little outfit, sitting in the shopping cart. We were at Walmart to pick up some kid birthday gifts, cards, and yummy food for a BBQ later in the evening. That must have just rubbed her the wrong way, I guess, and she chose (what she thought would be) the most painful thing to say. I get that. I get that she is a sad person.
But being sad, messed up, whatever, doesn't give license to be cruel to a special needs 3-yr-old. It is wrong. And I won't stand for it. I will say something. Who is going to protect Jack, but me?