I was in a store the other day, just browsing and in my own little world (as I usually am). Every few minutes, a loud, deep voice would burst into my reverie. I kept trying to ignore the intrusion but, finally, I glanced up to see a teenage boy (probably about 17 years old) who was making throaty noises. He was trying to get his mom’s attention. He would shout a word or two and then make some more guttural noises. He would sporadically run down the aisle and then back again. My first thought was that he was just being a rowdy teenage boy, and my second thought was that he had special needs.
I glanced up at his mom who was in her fifties and looked tired. She had a very loving nature with her son. She answered his requests with patience and kindness. But she was also very aware of their surroundings. She kept gently saying, “Shush” and “Not so loud” and “Please be quiet.” I imagined that, at home, she couldn’t care less if he makes loud noises. But here, in a public place, I could sense her discomfort. She might have been worried that someone might give her dirty looks for not “controlling” her son. She might have even been scolded by complete strangers in the past.
The mom looked at me in an apologetic way. She wanted to let me know that she was sorry for all the noise.
And I really felt for her. I’ve changed so much since having Emmy. My level of empathy has increased immensely. I could put myself right into this woman’s shoes and feel the hot stares from strangers. True, I haven’t been through her exact experience. Emmy is still at the age where any acting out would be considered typical behavior for a toddler. (And she’s actually pretty mellow so far. When in public, she enjoys just looking at everyone.)
But now I understand that everything isn’t what it seems. Everyone comes from different circumstances, and we never know what another family might be facing. One person might see a mother’s inability to control her child, while another might see a mother’s steady patience with her son who has special needs. Frankly, I wanted to hug her and tell her that she certainly didn’t need to apologize to me.
But, because I’m shy and definitely not one to intrude on personal space, I just smiled timidly and offered to help her find what she was looking for on the shelves.