On Sunday, my family and I were traveling back home from visiting family in Central Ohio. We stopped at a restaurant that was at the same exit as a medium-sized university. The five of us were placed at a back table, which is always a good idea. Shortly after we were seated, a young college-aged couple was seated diagonally from us.
I kept noticing the young woman watching the children, and when Claire pulled out her iPod, I saw her roll her eyes. I watched her and heard her saying to her mate, “that girl has an iPhone.” Not too savvy, the mate turned around to get a good look at Claire and her technology. He turned back around, and the young woman says, “no, it’s an iPhone! Even I don’t have an iPhone!” Then they start having a discussion about this, and she says, “I can see if a child is in middle school and needs a phone to call their parents to pick them up from somewhere.”
Watching this smug college co-ed made me furious. Usually, I can roll my eyes and ignore it all, but for some reason, this girl got under my skin. How dare this girl judge my daughter, who uses her iPod to keep herself busy from being too disruptive or too anxious in certain situations? And how dare she judge my husband and me for giving our daughter an iPod? Even if it were an iPhone, how dare she judge us?
I think that is what bothered me most. It wasn’t that she was judging my child with special needs; it was that she was judging the parenting of my child with special needs. Claire doesn’t look like she has special needs, which is a double-edged sword: while there are times we can make it through the grocery store and she acts like a typical ten-year-old, there are the times where she is talking to her invisible friends or going after her younger brother that many people probably see her as an unruly child with a bad mother. These are the times I can usually ignore the stares, but not this time.
This time, this young woman’s comments had nothing to do with Claire’s behavior; in fact Claire was behaving wonderfully, sitting nicely and playing a few flash card math games on her iPod, patiently waiting for her food to arrive. Her brothers were even acting well while we waited for our dinner. There was no need for our family to be judged. Rather, they should have been praised for all being dressed so nicely (despite the chocolate-stained dress and hole-in-the-knee tights Claire was wearing) and behaving like civilized children.
Instead, we were being judged for giving our daughter something that was very beneficial. Yes, it was an expensive gift, but as Claire’s parents, we do what we can to help all of our children in any way possible. The reason Claire received an iPod for her tenth birthday last year was so she could use the Math and Reading apps that she so clearly needed during car trips to visit family. Also, Claire adores popular music and we knew that she could strap on her headphones during a long trip and spare the rest of us having to listen to the Jonas Brothers and Justin Bieber.
Maybe I was tired from a busy weekend, or spending two hours in the car, or going through a jellybean overdose, but I felt it was necessary to set the record straight with this young woman. After we finished eating, my husband took the boys to the bathroom. I was in charge of paying the bill. Claire was also ahead of me, checking out the candy at the counter. As I passed her table, I said to her, “if you want to criticize my family, it might be nice of you to do it after we leave. I could hear everything you said! And my daughter does not have an iPhone, she has an iPod. And she also has special needs and uses the iPod for specific reasons. So please stop judging us.”
She sat there with her mouth agape, and then uttered, “I’m sorry.” I was nearly shaking, and responded, “You should be” and walked away, still fuming and shaking a little bit too.
There are times we have had to use the “please don’t judge, our daughter has special needs,” and while it angers me that I have to say that because people are so judgmental, it makes me feel like I am doing my small part in educating others, to keep them from judging families when they have no idea who these strangers are or what their story is.
I am not sure whether what I did was right, but I couldn’t let the judgment go. What would you have done?
Jennifer is a mom to 3 children, one of whom is a different learner. She is passionate about all the things your mother taught you not to speak about in polite company: politics, religion, and public education. You can read her blog about her daughter's challenges and triumphs with hydrocephalus and learning disabilities, as well as the parental frustrations and joys of life at A Walking Contradiction, here.