Sunday, September 23, 2012

Lost Opportunities

I went shopping today.  In our divide and conquer marriage, my wife stayed home with our youngest while I took our oldest to dance class, then went grocery shopping.

There was a girl in a wheelchair.  I'm not sure how old she was.  She looked maybe 12. . . maybe 14.  Probably younger though.  She wasn't paralyzed, her feet would periodically explore out from the wheelchair.  The girl's grandmother was pushing her as her mother scouted ahead with the grocery cart.  These details became clear to me over the course of our aisle to aisle meetings.

I passed them in the coffee aisle, them going one way, me going the other.  The girl's hand snaked out and grabbed my cart as I passed, and the mother apologetically unclasped her daughter's hand from the cart.  I smiled and told them it was okay, but I really wanted to do more.  The girl looked through me, around me, not at me.  She looked around me not in a way that spoke of avoidance of eye contact, but of vacancy.  Her lips were wet with what was either drool or something she'd been fed.

I couldn't help but compose my own back story for them and I found myself inexplicably near tears a couple times, shaking my head in disgust at my emotional fancy:  Divorced mother, relying on her mom to help with her daughter as she runs errands, I thought.  And I don't know if any of that is true, but that was the story that popped into my head.

I don't know too many faces of cognitive impairment.  I don't really know anything but my daughter's autism.    I just imagined their long road ahead, and how there will most likely never be a time when that little girl is able to shop for herself.  And maybe she's able to type or will one day be able to speak, I don't know.  I just wanted to do something nice for them, and I couldn't think of anything.  I wanted to get in line at checkout and offer them my place.  I wanted to make small talk with her daughter and tell her that "MY daughter likes to grab onto things too, and she's almost quick as YOU are!"  I know that their shopping trip wasn't "normal" by most people's standards, but I wanted to MAKE it normal.  I wanted to MAKE it easy like sometimes I hope someone will try to make it easy for us when our daughter is struggling.  I wanted to give her a card and say, "People like you, with kids like yours, are writing stories about it, and it makes things feel better sometimes when you think nobody out there but you can possibly understand how hard it can sometimes be."

But she was gone before I could think of something more to say.  She gently and (it seemed) lovingly, removed her daughter's fingers from my cart, apologized and moved away.  When I got to checkout, they were already in line.  I looked for them after I checked out, but they were gone.

And it felt like an opportunity lost.