It was a cold March afternoon and I was stressed. I decided to go to the consignment store to work away some of my blues. Consignment stores always bring forth great distraction and take me far away from my daily routine. It’s a modern day expedition through someone else’s closet.
On this day, in order to go out, I had to take my son Christian with me. Not the best form of consignment shopping, but there was no other choice. Christian is my youngest son who was born with special needs. He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, autism, cortical vision impairment, a feeding disorder and immune deficiency. In other words, he is unable to walk, talk, see well, chew food in a typical manner and is sick with colds, rashes and ear infections on a regular basis. He is a loving, happy, sweet child who hardly ever cries, but loves to tease his family and create mischief.
When Chris was in preschool, he was extremely demanding of my time and physical efforts. He typically didn’t stay still until he was sound asleep. Usually, he didn’t like sleeping and never, ever slept all night. Chris would wake up in the middle of the night, happy and ready to play. Once he woke up, he would get into things around the house he shouldn’t have been touching. This was no fun for me in the wee hours. I spent most of my days sleep deprived, struggling through work, only to return home to make dinner for my other two boys, as well as Chris, and keep the house running smoothly.
I was a single Mom and taking breaks from my daily routine was mandatory; I needed the distraction of the consignment store. I packed the carriage for Chris to play in while I shopped and a couple of favorite toys to keep him busy so he would not grab tags hanging down from clothing on the racks and stick them in his mouth. I also brought with me my “invisible wall of defense,” the barrier that said to other people “Yes, he’s a kid with special needs, and no I don’t want to talk.”
Going to the store with Chris was always challenge. People stared. Some reacted with fear. Children asked parents questions about Chris in front of me. Occasionally, people moved to another line from behind us at the checkout counter. I wondered sometimes if they were afraid they would “catch” his disability like the flu. At times, I felt very insulted. Other times, I could laugh about it. Sometimes, I cried. Why were people so ignorant? Why couldn’t Chris be just like every other child? Instead, he was the subject of unconcealed observation and comment in a public forum. It created a feeling of hostility on my part; most of the time I was afraid to admit it.
On this trip to the consignment store, I was determined to go on my search for something beautiful with no interruptions. I was ready and equipped for all of Christian’s needs so he would be mellow, entertained in his carriage and relatively unnoticeable. Things were going well. I started looking through the racks, dresses first, and then pants.
I tuned out the world until I realized an older woman standing nearby, staring at Chris. I ignored her. She walked by, still staring. I ignored her and went to the back of the store to the sale racks in my attempt to get away from her. I always enjoyed this area because there was the big possibility I could find a pair of $7.99 pants with fifty percent off. But there she was, staring at us again. I grumbled to myself, saying a few choice words. I wanted her to go away. She must have walked by us about ten times.
Finally, the woman approached us and said, “Your son is beautiful.”
Coldly, I said “Thank you.”
She said “I wanted to give him a gift because he is such a beautiful child, but I didn’t know what to give him. I’ve been walking around the store trying to think of something to give him for a while now. All I have for him is this.” She smiled and handed me a piece of paper ripped into the shape of a heart. It was ripped from her address book.
I felt that she had probably known a child like Chris before who perhaps was no longer with her, but was someone she had loved deeply. This gift from her heart was sincere and loving. It remains one of the best gifts I have ever received for Chris.
Since then, I always open my heart to people who stare at Chris when we are out in public. I learned that this type of interest does not always come from a negative place. I learned to say “Hello” to people who seem interested in us and invite them to say “Hi” to Chris. Since that meeting in the consignment store, Chris and I have had many wonderful chance meetings with people in public places. I’ve found that people are inherently kind, loving and friendly in their reactions to my son. I’ve torn down my “invisible wall of defense” and ceased grumbling when approached by strangers in a store. And to think that all my new found wisdom was due to a simple beautiful gift, a paper heart.