Let the Grumpy Lady Pass
“Guess what happens if you eat a raw snail? They have a parasite that goes into your brain and eats it. And our brain is not prepared for snail parasite. And you can’t defend it. It’s pretty much if you eat a raw snail, it’s all up to the snail if you live or die. If the snail has the parasite, you die!”
I am looking at snails with new eyes now, since my son’s enlightening comment on parasites. I have also reassured myself over and over that the chances are null that I will accidentally eat a raw snail and die from parasites eating my brain away.
Words are powerful, how they can alter the way you once viewed a person, place, or thing….even snails. Words can change the course of a life, too. Certainly happened for me. Just yesterday, in fact.
It was early afternoon, and I was strolling down the aisle in my favorite grocery store, when I spotted a blonde mother with five children. The oldest of her children, a young girl, was carrying her plump baby sister. The other three youngsters were little tots, all boys, ranging in height by a couple of inches from the next.
I stared, because that’s what I do when I’m processing. And about a dozen thoughts traveled through my mind all at once. I examined the mom’s facial expression, and instantly wondered if she was happy or frustrated with the shopping excursion. I noticed two of the boys had little shopping carts and that as a collective clan the family had barely gathered any groceries—just a couple bags of snack food. I evaluated and reevaluated, concluding that the mother enjoyed the attention of onlookers watching her shop with her little crew of miniature hers. In fact, I am quite certain she liked the attention. There were several of us shoppers trying to maneuver around the cute little ones, a line of about five or six of us squeezing our way down the aisle.
I was still watching and evaluating as I crept my cart forward. When I was near the mom, she eyed me closely. Then she turned to her troop and said, “Wait,” putting her arms back in stern gesture, “Let the grumpy lady pass.”
Immediately my right eyebrow shot up. Had she meant me? I was fairly certain she had. I rolled my eyes up and gave a quizzical expression, and then moved onward. A few steps ahead, I stopped to retrieve a can off the shelf. I noticed another lady standing close behind me. Feeling extremely self-conscious, and a bit flustered, I said, “Oh, I am sorry, if I am in your way.” She said, “No problem at all. But maybe you can help me find the artichokes.” I did. We scanned together, and I pointed them out with my over extended finger, while smiling big and glancing the direction of the meanie mom, as if to say, “See, how cheerfully helpful I am!”
Five aisles later, and I couldn’t get the meanie mom out of my mind. Was my expression seriously that sour? For a moment, I wished I was an always-smiling golden retriever.
By the time I reached the last aisle, my thoughts were still wrapped around the incident. By then, I had rationalized that the meanie mom wasn’t a very patient woman, and certainly wasn’t showing an effective example of behavior to her children. But I also reckoned she likely was juggling a full plate and was having a tough day. I also decided, with a mischievous little smile, that her husband, if she still had one, probably didn’t like her.
At the checkout area, I found the safest checker I could—a round-faced, middle-aged woman with a friendly natural grin. At the end of any shopping excursion I don’t look for the shortest checkout lines, I look for the least-threatening face. Typically, I chat it up with the grocery checkers as they are scanning my items. Conversation helps the time go faster, and alleviates some of my anxiety. Not much makes me more self-conscious than a line of strangers watching me; especially when they are waiting with those daunting expressions, seemingly cursing my high-piled grocery cart and wishing they’d chosen another route.
“I hope I don’t look grumpy,” I said, as I approached the checker and eyed the nametag Marge on a purple blouse. (Interesting conversation starter, don’t you think?)
I then explained, with rapid fire, what had happened on the aisle with the meanie mother. Marge smiled and responded kindly, and we bagged the groceries together. I told her about my Aspergers, and the man at the park who gave me his number as a result of my practice smiling, and she told me about her grown son with Aspergers. Turns out she homeschooled her son. He is now twenty and doing very well. We exchanged a lot of information and support in only a few minutes. I dodged the evil glares from the people in line. We were packing up the groceries rather slowly.
As Marge was bagging up the last of the food, she looked up at me, and said, “The main reason I homeschooled my son was because when he went to school he had to become someone else. He couldn’t go to school and be himself and still be accepted. He had to let go of who he was. God made my son in perfection. I wanted my son to be able to be who God intended.”
A bell went off in my head right then. My middle son was struggling in middle school even though he was attending part-time. His anxiety was very high and depression was setting in.
I decided then and there to not send my son back to school and to instead homeschool him fulltime.
Later that day, as I calculated the probability of choosing the one checker out of a few dozen that so happened to have homeschooled a son with Aspergers, and as I processed that typically I would have not mentioned my Aspergers to a checker at a grocery store (had I not been upset), I smiled to myself about that mother and her five string of words that had changed the course of my life: Let the grumpy lady pass.
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