Staring. It’s something our mothers told us not to do, yet as parents of special needs children, we find people staring at our children everywhere we go. What is it about a person with disabilities that makes people throw their good manners out the door?
I was not at all prepared for the staring when Ruby was first born. Call me naive or just plain clueless, but I didn’t realize how differently people with disabilities were perceived in our society. Plus, I was used to being somewhat anonymous in this world. Suddenly when I’d go out into public, my child was being stared at and total strangers were asking me questions about her. In those early days, I’d find myself crying after an outing, bruised and battered by the questioning and the stares.
My perspective on staring changed after realizing that it’s not always out of rudeness. I learned this the hard way a couple of years ago. Ruby and I were at the Mall of America waiting for the elevator. A woman directly across from us was blatantly staring at Ruby in her stroller, watching her each and every move. I tried to catch the woman’s gaze to make her understand that her staring was not appreciated, however, she didn’t look up at me. I was angry and on the verge of tears. We shuffled into the elevator and the woman continued her rude stare. I was just about to say something to her as she got off the elevator, when she turned around, looked me in the eyes and said, “She is so beautiful.” I could feel my face turn red as I realized that this woman was simply captivated with Ruby’s beauty and couldn’t take her eyes off her. But in my battled state, I wasn’t able to see beyond what I perceived as rudeness.
Nowadays, I’m a lot more calm and resilient when it comes to staring. If I catch someone in the act, I’ll usually ask Ruby to say, “hi” to them. I want them to understand that she is a person, not an enigma to be pondered or discussed. If someone asks me questions about her medical conditions, I’ll usually tell them that I appreciate their curiosity but that I prefer to keep her medical history a private matter. For me, that is simply not grocery store conversation.
However, while I’ve built up a considerably thick coat of armor, there are days when the staring takes its toll on me. It’s usually because I’m tired, emotional, hungry or having a generally rough day. On those days, I think I should outfit Ruby in this fabulous shirt.
Check out these other posts on staring:
Didn’t your mama tell you that staring is rude?
Miss Manners: Stop Your Staring!
How do you react when people stare at your special needs child? Please share!