The other day, someone’s words completely devastated me.
Here’s how the conversation went:
SETTING: Standing in line at the cash register. I have Solly on my left hip and am dancing and singing with him to whatever music is playing while balancing my purchases on my right hip. As I get closer to the front of the line, the cashier starts commenting on how cute Solly is. And then, as she starts ringing up our items…
Cashier: “Is he going to be artistic?” (Note: this is what I heard. It may not have been accurate.)
Me: “I think so.” (With a smile, thinking about how the creative side of Sol’s brain is far less affected.)
Cashier: “He reminds me of my grandson. He’s artistic, nonverbal – never said a word in his life.” (This is when I start thinking: shoot, I totally misunderstood her. She said autistic.)
Me: “Oh, well, Solly has cerebral palsy…”
Cashier: “So does my grandson. He lives in a special home.”
That was the gist of the conversation. I smiled politely as she told me a little more about her grandson and thanked her as we left. Admittedly, it took a little while for the shock to set in and it took even longer for me to realize exactly why this conversation made me feel like someone had knocked the wind out of me. After texting with two other Moms of stroke survivors (also known as my support team), I figured out why it bothered me so much. She had labeled my son after observing him for less than a minute. Because he was interested in the lights, because he is 19 months old and unable to stand or walk, because he does not yet speak, he reminded her of his grandson who has cerebral palsy, is autistic and nonverbal, and lives in a home. She made a snap judgment and shared it with me, making me drastically rethink what Sol’s future held for him.
Here’s the thing: if that is how Solly’s life turns out, so be it. We will figure out how to live with that type of conclusion.
However, keeping that kind of ending in my mind completely removes all the steam I have in my engine, the steam that keeps me getting up each morning and taking Solly to therapy, urging his brain to continue to make new connections. My goal for Solly is, one and most importantly, for him to feel loved and be happy, but, two, I also want him to live as productive a life as he can. And in a short conversation, that woman took away all of the hope I have for my son. I’m sure she thought she was being helpful and was just making polite conversation, but ever since I had this conversation with her, I haven’t been able to think of his future in the positive way that I usually do. It is amazing how someone’s words can affect you so deeply.
Here’s the thing I realize after reflecting on this brief moment: we are so quick to label each other based on short observations. We may share those labels with the other person as that woman did with me, we may share it with others, or we may keep it to ourselves. Labelling anyone without living in their shoes is something that most certainly should not be done, and especially shouldn’t be shared. She has no clue as to any of Sol’s background, how hard he works at therapy, how smart he is.
Nobody knows how any part of life will turn out for anyone. The most we should say to one another is words of encouragement, and instead of labeling each other with the worst case scenario, label each other with goodness, purpose, and promise, and nothing else.