My mom insisted that she would watch my son, JL, and I could shop.
There were a number of furniture stores near my parents’ house. Plus, an extra adult would be helpful since shopping for bedroom furniture wasn’t exactly a kid friendly trip.
So against everything within me, I agreed to the morning of shopping.
The Shopping Trip
The morning was a bit stressful, as expected.
Despite the electronic babysitter (the Ipad), JL found the numerous pieces of furniture far more interesting. My poor mom spent most of the morning retrieving JL from a bunk bed, a couch, or from underneath a table.
It wasn’t long before she realized it would probably just be best to keep him in the car.
When we had all finally had enough, we decided to do what I always do when I am stressed: Go get some ice cream.
The Gas Station
There was a Dairy Queen close to where we were shopping, but this particular one was part of a gas station.
I needed to fill up the car with gas anyway, so I decided to get some gas before going inside to eat ice cream.
Of course, right as I started pumping the gas, my darling little four year old announced:
“I HAVE TO GO TO THE BAFROOM….NOW!”
Quickly, I got JL out of the vehicle to jet to the bathroom.
This was a very busy gas station right off of the highway.
A little four year old boy running through this parking lot would have spelled: disaster.
So, as any safety-aware mother would do, I grabbed his hand.
And that my friends, is where the day went awry.
“No, don’t hold my hand! Let me go. I don’t like that,” he screamed.
I held his little hand tightly in mine and tried explaining the importance of holding hands in a parking lot.
My explanation was met with more yelling and then….
He dropped his weight.
Now, y'all, I have to explain something right here…because if you haven’t met me….you cannot get the full visual.
I am a petite woman. When I say petite…I am 4’11.
At the age of 4, JL was more than half my height and almost over half of my weight.
So here I was….at this hectic gas station… basically dragging a screaming and kicking preschooler across the parking lot.
Finally, I mustered up my strength, grabbed JL by the middle and rushed him to the bathroom like a sack of potatoes. (I am shocked nobody called me in for a possible kidnapping.)
At this point, we had definitely raised the eyebrows of bystanders and I was desperately trying to get my kid to the privacy of the bathroom.
Inside the Bathroom
Quickly, I pushed the women’s bathroom door open, only to find a crowded room of women waiting in line. (shocker)
We squeezed into the crowded bathroom and I put JL down, keeping a grip on him for fear he would run out.
At this point, he was having a full on tantrum, and I couldn’t have been more relieved when it was finally our turn to go in a stall. As I closed the rickety metal door behind us, he continued with his rant:
“I hate you. I wish you weren’t my mommy. I don’t like you.”
I calmly responded in a hushed voice:
“Thank you for using your words JL. I am so sorry you feel that way.”
(Side note: My mom actually walked in the bathroom around this point. She said when she walked in, she immediately picked up on the uncomfortable tension. She heard JL yelling and everyone was looking at one another. )
By the time we came out of the stall, the chatter of our female audience had turned into an awkward silence.
With burning ears and flushed cheeks, I kept my eyes down. The judging stares felt like daggers, as we briefly washed our hands.
After what felt like an eternity, we finally escaped the bathroom. JL (who was completely fine by now) looked up at me and asked
“Can we get ice cweam now?”
ICE CREAM?!?!? Ice cream???!!!!
I was well past the point of frazzled, but I managed to keep my composure as I informed this little guy that there would be NO. ICE. CREAM.
Well, folks. Guess what??
He immediately fell apart and we were back to:
“You are mean. I hate you. I don’t want you to be my mommy.”
Luckily, mom had pulled the car close to the door by now, so I picked my little guy up again and took him to the getaway vehicle.
I buckled that kid in as fast as I could and hurried to the passenger’s seat, because I was in no frame of mind to drive. We couldn’t get the car doors closed soon enough.
As we pulled onto the highway, steam might as well have been spewing out of my ears, but tears were seeping from my eyes.
My mom didn’t say much….but eventually she commented
“I know you told me….but I didn’t realize it was that bad.”
Everybody at that gas station saw a little boy being extremely defiant and completely disrespectful to his mom.
Those little ladies in the bathroom probably had plenty to say about my “Thank you for using your words. I am sorry you feel that way.”
I am sure they thought I had no control over my child. Our episode was probably the topic of a number of conversations that day.
But what NOBODY at that gas station knew was the complexity of the situation they witnessed.
You see, we were in the process of adopting JL through foster care.
He had just come to live with us permanently which was why I was buying bedroom furniture.
Those ladies didn’t know that I had just become this boy’s mommy.
They had no clue how hurtful the preschooler’s words truly were to me in that moment.
They didn’t know his life had been turned completely upside down as he moved out of his foster home of almost 3 years to a new adoptive family.
They didn’t know my world had been turned completely upside down as a new parent.
They didn’t know this kid had sensory issues that were set off by things like holding hands (and neither did I).
They didn’t know that I was simply handling the situation the best I knew how.
They didn’t know the story behind the behavior.
(You may have even wondered why I took my son with me that day. Why didn’t I just leave him at my mom’s house and go shopping alone. But JL was just getting to know my parents and my parents were just getting to know JL. Everything was new and somewhat “scary”. )
A Day I Will Never Forget
After five years, that day is still branded in my memory (and my mom’s…she reminisces to that day often).
More than anything, though, that day taught me a whole new perspective.
Parents raising foster children and special needs children, often face the scrutiny of others for the simple fact that most people are completely unaware of what they face on a daily basis.
We are raising children that don’t fit the social norm. Our entire lives are impacted by our children and their needs.
We have to think through almost every situation beforehand, considering any possible way our child might be set off. There are times we have to avoid particular scenarios all together, which can feel alienating. We have to view behavior in a completely different manner, therefore disciplining in ways that, at times, seem unconventional.
I don’t share this for pity. I share this, to create an understanding. Adopting our oldest son, opened my eyes to a whole world of parenting that I had no idea existed. It isn’t one that is nice, neat, and pretty. Instead, it is one that can be ugly, hard, and messy.
It is so easy to look at another parent and critique how they are handling a situation or to judge them by their children’s behavior. It is also easy to see a child’s behavior and jump to a million conclusions about that child or about their parents.
But the truth is, there may be more than meets the eye.
So….if you know a parent raising special needs children or foster children, let me challenge you today.
Send them an encouraging note. Take some time to pray over them. Offer to to do something tangible for them – like do their grocery shopping, run errands, or pay for a housecleaning. And depending on the kids and the situation, you may can even babysit (for free) – giving them a day to breathe.
And the next time you see some petite lady carrying a screaming preschooler through a parking lot of a gas station….just remember….