It was long and more than you expected, I’m sure. But what you don’t know, what you must not have considered despite your career, is that special needs moms prepare for this type of encounter from the time our children exhibit their first behavior that sets them apart from the crowd.
You see I know. I know what we look like sometimes. I know it takes her a few tries to answer your questions and even at the age of 20 she has held on to some cute mispronunciations of words. I know I have to remind her to use napkins and patience and that her whisper comes out like our speaking voices. I know her meltdowns rival a toddler after an espresso and not everyone appreciates brutal honesty.
So I’ve been waiting for you for years. I’ve been on the lookout since the day I knew something was wrong that couldn’t be neatly explained. The age when strangers began pausing for a beat before asking “How old is she?” and the moment where they decide whether it appropriate or not to ask if we’re seeing a doctor about “this.”
For years I’ve walked slightly behind her or far in front with battle gear on. I’ve watched for stares that are too long and muttering between girlfriends and waited for anyone, anyone who would think of saying something to upset my child. I know I’m wound too tight, it comes with the territory of loving someone who needs protecting.
As we’ve done this dance, as we’ve navigated the world of public appearances, I’ve built my speech. I’ve crafted the perfect short response to a sigh in our direction and the extra long version for someone who treats her as you did, like she doesn’t matter. I knew as you shrugged her off, interrupted her and ultimately turned your back on my daughter’s answers, my speech would finally spill out. I was aware how long I’ve held it in, how it’s changed over the years and how fiercely I would fight tears to get my point across.
I barely remember it now, The Speech, but I know I got it out. It started with telling you how hard she works, how much she needs to practice independence and what a disservice it is to her to dismiss her competence. The middle went as I had planned in my head (yay!) and somewhere at the end you apologized and said it wouldn’t happen again.
I sincerely hope you meant it. But not just for my child, I hope some piece of the long speech-you-didn’t-know-you-were-in-for stuck with you and you can’t peel it off. I hope you carry it with you as you meet other people who require extra patience and understanding and you think twice before writing them off.
I hope you are never again on the listening end of one of these speeches and not because you haven’t encountered anymore special needs mommas, out of patience on a Friday afternoon, but because you’ve changed your ways and don’t need to hear again.
I’m not mad at your lack of understanding as long as it is changing, as long as you take experiences like this and learn something from them. It felt good to finally give someone the speech I’ve been editing and revising for so many years. And in a way I appreciate that I had the chance to finally give it, to show my daughter her feelings matter.
I do want to warn you though that if you didn’t take to heart my speech, if you shrugged it off as you did my daughter that day, you will hear it again. There are plenty more special needs mommas with their own well-rehearsed speeches just dying to give them to someone who needs to hear them.
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