8 Aug

Picture this –

A tall girl, who is obviously old enough to know not to behave like this, is screaming like a banshee in a shopping center. She chucks her book and her purse and squats down on the ground.  Her mother picks up the book and purse, hefts the howling girl who is almost as tall as her off the floor, and leads her to a seat.  She then gets eye level to the screaming girl, telling her things like “eyes here” and “use your words”.

The mother never loses her cool, and sometimes even cracks a smile as the girl gets caught up in her hissy fit.  Finally the mother takes her by the hand and marches her out the mall doors, as the girl is still howling, sitting her on a bench just outside in a “time out”, while telling her that she’s being “very naughty” and needs to stop screaming.

There is no abuse happening.  The mother doesn’t lose her temper, isn’t mean to the child.  Just firmly trying to take control of the situation.

And while she’s trying to calm her child down, she meets your eyes.  Your wide, unblinking eyes that are staring at her, your mouth slightly gaped open, or maybe a slight frown on your face as your steps slow down so you can fully take in this apparently unbelievable sight you must gaze at.  If the child was small, toddler or preschooler sized, you wouldn’t be staring.  You would just keep moving, maybe smile in solidarity of “been there, done that”, or shake your head with “When I have kids…” or “That’s why I’m never having kids.”

But it’s different when it’s an almost five foot tall child howling and screaming.

It’s a sight you just can’t tear your adult eyes away from.

You must stare.

You stare at the child.  Then you stare at the mother.  The mother meets your stare with her own steely unblinking stare, daring you to say something.  Waiting for you to look away.

Yet you keep staring.  You keep eye contact with the mother until finally, you blink first and look away.  Keep walking.

But of course, you have to look back a couple more times at the mother and screaming tween-aged child.

You can’t help it.

Except you can.

You are the adult.  You’re the one in control of your actions.  Not the screaming child.  You, the intelligent adult who choses to stare at the upset special needs child who is still learning to express herself, and only knows how to express unhappiness or frustration by screaming.  You choose to stare at her while she’s highly visibly upset, gaping at her, frowning at me, confused by the whole situation.

Does your staring at us help the situation?  No.

Does it ever occur to you that she might have special needs?  I have no idea.  None of you have asked.  If any of you asked even “Wow, what happened?”, I could give you a quick “She has special needs, she can’t always control her emotions.”  And then you’d be more enlightened.

But people don’t ask.  They just stare.

I deal with you staring, gaping, frowning rubberneckers of life every time I step outside with my child.  Every time Maura has a public meltdown, I not only have to quickly diffuse the situation with her before it gets out of control, but I must deal with your silent judgment, your stares, your rudeness, your wiliness to insert yourself into our situation with your gaze, but your obvious unwillingness to try to help or even understand what is going on.

So I stare back.  Even though I was taught by my elders that it is impolite to stare.  That it’s rude to gape at people.

Mostly though, I tend to ignore most of you.  It’s a trick I’ve learned.  When my child is in the midst of a complete and total meltdown, the world around me vanishes and it’s just Maura and me.  I will ignore everyone around us and deal with just her, to the point that I will just take her by the hand and march her out of the place we’re in.  See, taking her out of the situation helps calm her down.  I’m not taking her away from your prying eyes to abuse her without witnesses.  I’m taking her away from the visuals that are feeding her tantrum.  If you follow us, you’ll see me find a place for a “time out” – a seat, a bench, a low wall she can sit on – while I tell her sternly that “that is enough, you need to stop screaming”.  Not meanly, just sternly.  There is a difference.  And she will calm down, and there will be hugs, and I may actually laugh again because I can see the ridiculousness of the whole situation. And we shall move on.

Granted, when this all happens, I will also abandon people we’re with in my haste to get her out of whatever area we’re in – my husband and teens have learned to just catch up with me. My friend – who was with us this particular day when Maura threw a screaming fit in the mall because she was, as it turns out, hungry and overwhelmed by choices at Old Navy and upset because I wouldn’t buy her just anything – did catch up with us.  She asked, for future reference, what she could do to help. Because she’s a real friend, she laughed when I told her this –

“Stare people down.  Give them the stink eye.  Wave the rubberneckers along, nothing to see here.”


No need to stare...really...

No need to stare…really…


15 Responses to “Staring”

  1. TamaraL August 8, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

    Screw people! You do what you have to do for your kid. None of their business!

  2. Aimee Oswald August 8, 2014 at 1:21 pm #

    Oh bitcan I relate! My daughter just hit 5’2″ and the stares we have gotten as she melts down in the toy aisle of target are epic. So hard to remain calm and focused when the gawkers look and you can see the how old is she she glint in their eye. All stares never a, can I help in some way, let me pick things up for you or nice job mom, keep it up. Just looks of horror! Whispers of what a bad mom she raised a brat!
    Thanks for yet again putting into words what many of us have experienced.

  3. Cassie August 8, 2014 at 1:24 pm #

    You have a great friend! lol, And you’re so brave. I have given up on taking my daughter to the mall and she’s almost 8. She loved it when she was little, but now the crowds get to her. I think blocking out the world is a survival skill that comes with meltdowns. The rest of the world becomes a blur and God help the person that manages to break through that shield. 😛

    • phoebz4 August 8, 2014 at 2:45 pm #

      My friend is awesome!

      Maura can’t handle very crowded areas as well…actually, at one point, she was truly horrible every time I took her out errand-running. So I backed off, would take her to one place, talking her through it the whole time – “First we’ll go here, then we’ll do that, then we’ll go home.” I still do that usually. It works…well, unless she’s overtired and hungry.

  4. KJ August 8, 2014 at 2:00 pm #

    In that situation, I might be one of the “starers”. But not a judger. I don’t know if I can explain it properly, but I’ll try. I could be watching to learn how someone handles a certain situation. I could be watching and admiring the strength and calm being shown by a parent of a special needs child or a parent of a child simply having a “moment”. I appreciate your post and will try to make sure in the future that my observance of such an event will show support and admiration of what you have to handle every day as a special needs parent.

    • 90maz August 9, 2014 at 4:13 am #

      Similarly. I’m checking if I know the young person and could offer support. If I don’t know them I’m wondering if I should offer support anyway

  5. Kim August 8, 2014 at 2:21 pm #

    I have an older special needs sister. She visibly looks different and has many ticks that cause people to stare. For most of my teenage life I was angry and would be confrontational with people about it – “take a picture it would last longer” or “why are you staring”. Now if I catch people staring I will say “This is my sister Amy, would you like to say hi”. Many times I have found that niceness either snaps them out of it and they are embarrassed or they actually will ask questions.

  6. nanis August 8, 2014 at 7:15 pm #

    There should be classes for parents of special needs kids, and you should teach them, because you are awesome!

  7. Diane August 8, 2014 at 7:16 pm #

    I know exactly where you’re coming from! I have marched my 6’2 son out of the supermarket on occasion. My daughter supplies the “stinkeye”. He’s so much Breyer than he used to be, but I still get upset when I notice people staring… My attitude is “the hell with them! I’ll never see these people again anyway, so let them stare. Just shows what kind of people they are!”

  8. Laura August 8, 2014 at 9:22 pm #

    Maybe I am wrong, but when I come across a Mom struggling with a child, special needs or not, I will give a good hard look to make sure the child is safe. I’ve been in situations where my Mom radar goes off that something is amiss and I just want to be sure that the adult has the situation under control, the child is safe and that my help is not needed. Now, standing and gawking is another matter completely.

    I have never commented but want you to know how much I admire you. I ran across your “Being Retarded” post on a friend’s Facebook a few years ago and had all three of my boys read it. It was such an eye opener for them, even though I had never heard them use the word. It’s lovely when someone can put pen to paper and touch people. Your blog makes me laugh, a few times cry and everything in between. If you ever question why you blog and if it makes a difference, I can tell you yes. Keep on keeping on.

  9. Georgia Mom August 9, 2014 at 5:52 am #

    I always wonder, when I read about these meltdowns, if the child is in pain (stomach, maybe) and can’t verbalize it any other way,

  10. Grainne August 9, 2014 at 10:53 am #

    I smiled when I read of the giggles afterward. The switch flips and on we go :). You’re a great mom. Don’t ever let those stares make you doubt it.

  11. Charlotte Steggz August 9, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

    I really hate starers. I wrote a post when I was in Germany because those Germans, they LOVE to stare. In Japan it was OK because if you met their eye they’d look away but the Germans will look at you right in the eyeball. Just for wearing quite bright clothes, or dating someone with very dark skin, or for being a woman.

    I was able to leave Germany because I couldn’t cope, but it’s not like you can just shut you and Maura away. It may sound patronising but I think you’re very brave.


  1. Responding to my own post – regarding “Staring” | Herding Cats - August 9, 2014

    […] I wrote about dealing with the rubberneckers of life when Maura’s having a loud, public […]

  2. Friday Linkies Aug 29th - Charlotte Steggz - August 29, 2014

    […] love this blog, about a mum and her daughter who has special needs. This post on staring can be relatable to quite a few people I think. The follow-up post is also really […]

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