Last night, we took my mother out to dinner to celebrate Mother's Day. While at at the restaurant, and on cue with the arrival of my own food, both my little ones let me know they had to go to the bathroom. So, off I head to the ladies room, with my 3 and nearly 5 year olds holding my hands.
Now, let me pause here for a moment to point out that I was a special education attorney for almost a decade before I had children. As a result, I have approached parenthood with a background that few have when they embark upon what is already scary for most. I was a pediatrician's nightmare, as you can imagine. The first time my oldest imitated something I said, my husband said “she imitated you, that's good, right? Didn't you say imitation was a good sign?” My response was “yeah…yeah…it is…OR it could be echolalia.”
Knowing that we have gotten through early childhood with kids who appear to be developing well (though I am constantly aware that throughout their schooling there will be any number of possible disabilities which might become apparent at any given time), I feel especially blessed. Seeing how so many of my clients struggle with the most basic things humbles me, and puts into serious perspective how upset or overwhelmed I allow myself to get over the fairly “run of the mill” types of challenges I face with toddlers.
So, when my kids say they have to go to the bathroom right as I am about to eat dinner, in my mind, annoyance is fleeting. I am cognizant of how lucky I am that my kids CAN tell me that they have to go to the bathroom, that they CAN use the bathroom appropriately, that they CAN walk with me and understand me and, most of the time, follow my instructions. Hell, I'm grateful that I can take my kids to a restaurant to begin with!
All of this brings us to the bathroom at the restaurant. I walk in with my little ones in tow, and there are two stalls. One is being used, and the other is open, about to be occupied by what appears to be a “tweenage” girl. She spots me walking in, and without missing a beat, offers the stall to us. I thanked her but said we were fine, but she politely insisted that we should go ahead of her, which we did at that point.
I was blown away that this girl, who should typically be texting friends, rolling her eyes at adults, and generally self-absorbed, would instead be thoughtful and self-less enough to recognize that two little children might need the potty more than she did, and to figure that out on her own. This type of kindness one doesn't see much these days, especially in this particular age-group, so I was duly impressed, and thanked her again when we got out of the stall.
As we were leaving dinner, I looked around to see if I could find the girl, hoping she'd be with her parents. I wanted to make a point to tell them what a lovely, kind, poised young lady they had raised, who was more concerned with others than herself. We happened to pass their table on our way out. I asked the woman sitting with her, who appeared to be her mother: “is this your daughter?” and she said yes, she was. I said “I just want you to know what a nice young lady you have raised, she allowed me and my little girls to use the bathroom in front of her and it was just such a nice, kind, and mature act that I wanted to be sure to tell you if I saw you.” The parents smiled a knowing smile, and told me that, in fact, they were out celebrating her report card; what a great kid they know she is; how they appreciated the gesture…and they thanked me for stopping by.
Then, I noticed a boy sitting next to the girl, who I assume is her slightly younger brother. Within a moment I understood that he is a child with significant special needs. His behavior was escalating, probably because I was standing there out of the blue with my very active little kids. His sister was able to quickly redirect him and regain his attention. What looked like it might become a problem was almost immediately diffused by this young girl with the skill of a veteran teacher. It was a sight to be seen.
I am never quite sure what to say in moments like this. These parents don't know what I do or who I am. Perhaps they are annoyed, or just tired of having to explain. I, on the other hand, want to just say “I understand, please don't feel uncomfortable. I talk to parents like you every day. The whole focus of my law practice in Connecticut is special education law, and I imagine I have a better understanding of what life is like for parents of children with disabilities than many. Though not as much as you.”
But I don't say anything. They're enjoying their dinner and I'm a stranger. And hey, let's face it, it's hard to make comments like that when you're a lawyer without sounding like you're trying to drum up new business.
In retrospect, it made a lot of sense to me that this young girl was so compassionate to the needs of others. And I'm still glad that I let her mother know how impressed I was, because I'm guessing she appreciated it.
Being a mother can be a thankless, exhausting, terrifying job, under the best of circumstances. Being a mother of kids with special education needs requires an entirely different level of strength, patience, and perseverance. I am humbled by how many mothers do it so very well.
I wish you all a very Happy Mother's Day.