In an instant, the whirly toy in my daughter’s hand finds its way into the long blond tresses of the little girl beside her in the toy store, twisting her locks into a gnarly bird nest.
Her Grandma pounces with shock and horror.
“How dare you!” she shouts at 5-year-old Noni. “Look what you’ve done... Not nice… You should be ashamed...”
You get the picture.
In the chaos, I collect my four kids and try to calm the one frightened and wailing. Gusty Grandma plops her oversized pocketbook and wad of keys into my already full arms, saying, “Here. The least you can do is hold these while I try to untangle this mess.”
On my knees, I try to explain to my distraught child the consequences of her actions, aware she can’t quite understand. I reassure her: It was an accident, you didn’t mean it, and we can fix it.
I wipe the snot from her face. She quiets down.
So does Grandma suddenly. She lets go her frantic detangling and goes pale.
“Ohhh," she gasps, "I didn’t understand, but now I do. I am so sorry. Please forgive me.”
Having a child whose disabilities at first glance may be invisible, I try to be forgiving, and most times I am.
Okay, I admit I went off on a guy who challenged me when I parked in a handicap space.
Picture this scene. I'm treating the kids to a lunch outing. It's snowing. I park in a handicap spot, because wiping out on snow and ice is in Noni’s DNA. A nearby driver rolls down his window to scold me for having no handicap and no business parking there.
Steaming, I scurry and settle the kids inside the eatery, then step outside. I unleash on him, starting with, “How dare you!”
Sound familiar? Same words Grandma used on me.
The difference is my words were not followed by an apology, which I’m not proud of looking back. Blowing off steam can feel cathartic in the moment, but opening eyes with compassion versus anger usually works better.
So does reminding myself to breathe.
It's a good reminder too for finger waggers who object to able-bodied people using accessible toilets in public restrooms. I go easy on these interlopers.
Why? Because most individuals with disabilities can hold it for a few minutes.
While they are waiting, oversized stalls offer relief to the delicate needs of small families, large individuals, claustrophobics, travelers with suitcases, shoppers with packages, and quick-change artists.
The heart can see what the eyes can't.
Is the youngster having a meltdown a spoiled brat? Or does he have autism?
Is the neighbor a grouch? Or is dementia setting in?
Is the unsteady woman a drunk? Or recovering from a stroke?
It’s easy to leap to the wrong conclusion. It’s easier to just breathe.