I'd love if you would try something with me. Close your eyes.
You're in a public place. You're a child. You're feeling afraid. The public space you are in is an overwhelming sensory explosion - you hear every single sound until a buzz rises around you. You can smell a nearby perfume, the body odor of another person, maybe something deep frying in the distance. Your eyes are being bombarded with bright lights, the movement of people around you, loud colours. You try to control the input - hands over ears, maybe closing your eyes. When that doesn't help, you try to make your own noises to drown out the buzz. Maybe you repeat something you heard earlier. Maybe you start to rock slightly, or careen off people around you. You're afraid. It doesn't matter what caused you to feel afraid in the first place. Because you don't have the ability to express your fear, you cry out. Then the cry becomes a wail, becomes a noise and feeling you have lost all grip on. Your are in the grips of a panic deep and inescapable.
Now, you are the parent of that child. You are trying to calm them, and what you tried yesterday is not working, so you try something else. Maybe you hesitated to come out at all for fear that this might happen. Maybe it's been weeks since you've even left the house with your baby. But your child is afraid, locked in panic and anxiety, and you are trying everything in your power to help.
And you are being stared at. People passing by give you looks of disgust, or they mutter under their breath. They have solutions - take that kid back to the car. Take that kid home if it can't be out in public. Smack him. They would never, ever let their child behave that way in public. They look annoyed as they step around the spectacle, or they stare.
You want to stand up, scream at them, tell them to stop staring, to shut their mouths and keep their opinions to themselves. You want to tell them that this is the fourth time this has happened this week, that you are exhausted and embarrassed and you want more than anything in the world to have that perfectly behaved child who can go out in public. You want them to understand that your child is not misbehaving. You want them to have just the slightest glimpse of what your child is feeling. You want them to see that you are trying, that you try every single day to help your child get their emotions back in control, and that they will not learn to control their emotions by being dragged through a crowded, public place, kicking and screaming and panicking, back to the car to make some point about how you just won't stay somewhere if they can't handle it. Because the fact is, they can't handle it, because they have to learn to handle it, and you can't teach them to handle it in the parking lot.
You just want a little bit of compassion. You don't want to be stared at or judged. You really don't want to hear their solutions. You'd love a kind smile, even though it might unleash a torrent of tears. You'd be over the moon if someone staring paused a moment to help you manage your other child or children, or offered to take something from your full hands. You just don't want to feel as profoundly alone as you feel in that moment.
Stephanie O is opening up on her blog, sharing pretty pictures, and wants you along for the ride.