I had another terrible experience on the weekend. It was worse than the time it was kindly suggested to us by our waitress that we could leave the restaurant if we needed to (by bringing us some take out boxes for our uneaten food). It was terrible enough that I rank it with the time a stranger said in front of Eric (not knowing he was my hubby) that our “poor child obviously just needed someone to love her, and that her mother is withholding her love.”
We were shopping on the weekend. I don’t want to name the store, because it has been dealt with, and I am very pleased with the response the manager gave me – but it was not exactly a fancy place. It’s the kind of place that you can go wearing the clothes you were just painting or gardening in, if you really wanted to. It’s also exactly like a shopping store – bright lights, brightly coloured sale signs, crowds, noise, smells. It’s a very stimulating environment. Maddy struggles in stores. They’re hard for her.
On this particular day, within ten seconds of entering the store, Maddy lay flat on her back and started crying in the middle of an aisle. She would stand up and cry for me if I stepped back, but as I approached her, she would flop back down, start crying, and hit me and yell “No!” if I tried to pick her up.
Other shoppers walked by, and I apologized that Maddy was blocking the aisle. Not a single shopper made me feel awkward, and in fact, many said very encouraging things to me. I was at a loss of what to do, and was trying to gently encourage Maddy to stand up on her own.
I didn’t pick Maddy up, because I know that it can cause her meltdown to escalate, leading to aggression, more crying and screaming, and an overall increase in the length of the meltdown. Maddy needs to be in control in order to feel safe. Picking her up when she doesn’t want to be touched, makes her feel the exact opposite, out of control.
What happened next still makes my heart jump into my throat. An older female employee of the store, walked over to Maddy and picked her up. She carried her at arm’s length from her body, shoved her into my arms and said,
“I didn’t tolerate this kind of behaviour in my own children and I won’t tolerate it here.”
My heart stopped. I froze. I couldn’t get my mouth to work. I was humiliated and angry. Just like me, Maddy froze in the arms of this woman. Maddy still has severe separation and stranger anxiety. There are times when she won’t let her own grandpa pick her up, and she sees him weekly. Maddy stopped crying and just looked at me wide-eyed.
I walked away and found Eric. He took one look at me and knew something had happened. I refused to point out the employee to him, because he was infuriated. For those of you who don’t know Eric, he is one of the most calm and level-headed people you will ever meet. It takes a lot for Eric to become irate. In the 10.5 years I’ve known him, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen him this way.
We were both so angry. I felt like this woman had hurled words of hate in my face – overriding my right to parent Maddy in the way that I choose – insinuating that I wasn’t doing a good enough job, so she would do it for me. It broke my heart to see the look of fear on Maddy’s face, not only being picked up when she didn’t want to be, but by a stranger.
I kept running through my head visuals of what could have happened:
- Maddy could have become aggressive, hitting and kicking this woman or myself
- Maddy could have flailed her body, and this woman could have dropped her
- Maddy could have become even more agitated and inconsolable, and we would have been left to pick up the pieces for the next few hours
It is never okay to intervene in a situation that you know nothing about. Maddy might look like any other 20 month old, but she has unique challenges that can’t be seen on the surface.
My mom, my sister, and one of the women I work with told me that I needed to call and file a complaint. I was afraid to – so I told myself that Eric would do it. But, Monday night, I got home from work and decided that I needed to be the one to do it. I needed to find my voice.
I called and spoke with an available manager. I could not have expected anything better from her. It made me feel good when she gasped at my story. She informed me that her nephew has special needs, and that hearing my story was bringing her close to tears. She apologized profusely, repeatedly telling me how we didn’t deserve to be treated like that. She took my name and number so that she could call me back to let me know how it was dealt with. She said that it would be addressed with the employee immediately. I hung up the phone with a feeling of closure and peacefulness.
Parenting Maddy has been a journey with lots of ups and downs. Being Maddy’s mama is helping me to find courage. It’s helping me to find my inner voice. I’m so proud to say that I am becoming one of those parents.