We’re not performance artists, please stop staring

31 Jul

This is a shout-out to all you mothers who were staring at me and my screaming daughter the other day at Target.

Yes you, blonde woman who stared at us as you pushed your cart with your own precious wonder who was behaving calmly to your car. Where you proceeded to give several frowny looks to us while you buckled your child in, unloaded your cart, closed the back hatch of your SUV…I’m so glad you found us so very curious that you had to glance our way not once, not twice,  not even three times, but at least four!

And you, dark haired mom herding your two kids to your vehicle. Thanks for sparing a couple glances our way, with that unmistakable look of “WTH?” that was sent our way.

What neither of you, or the other women who paused to stare at our spectacle, might have caught onto was that my screaming child has special needs. She had gone down the rabbit hole of uncontrollable emotions, and we had left the store because she wasn’t listening to me, got mad at me, and slapped me in my torso area.

I do hope that while you gaped at us, you noticed my almost saint-like patience. Admired it even. I’m sure at least one of you many rubberneckers thought “Wow, I am SO glad that’s not MY child.”

Or maybe you saw me giggle when my angry child shooed me away. Seriously. She shooed me. “Go away!” she said as she made the shooing motion with her hands as she sat on the bench outside the store I put her on in hopes she’d calm down enough that we could go back inside.

“I can’t sweetie. I have to stay here.” Stay here and count the amount of heads swinging our way as you scream blue murder, like the trio of ladies walking by, stealing glances. Thanks for noticing us.

Usually, when my daughter has a melt-down, I put on my blinders and focus solely on her. The rest of the world drops off my radar and I figure out how best to help my child through this situation. But that moment in Target, I started noticing how many people were watching us. The people in the aisle nearby, stopping to look at who was screaming and why. The woman walking towards us, who look startled by the scene we were creating. The mothers, pushing their own children along, giving me the side eye, making sure I was doing no harm.

And I noticed one major thing, amongst all those faces who I deliberately started making eye contact with…

Not one of you came near us.

Not one of you even gave me that smile of mom solidarity that we sometimes give another mom dealing with a screaming child. Probably because my child is twelve and not visibly disabled, so is an anomaly to you.

Most definitely did no one stop to offer to help or give an encouraging word. Then again, none of you called the cops on me, so there’s a bonus, because so many of you were checking to make sure I wasn’t the cause of my daughter’s screams that I started to anticipate at least store security coming to check things out.

It was eye-opening for me. I got to see what goes around me while I waited for my daughter to calm down enough outside the store to let me coax her to our own car safely. Which finally happened after several minutes. Though you all kept your collective eyes on me as we made that trek and as I buckled her in. I got the feeling a couple of you were waiting to see if I’d lose it once we were at the safety of our car. Sorry to have disappointed you with my remaining-calm demeanor.

I’ll admit, I did have some anger in me.  Not at my daughter – my daughter’s cognitive disabilities combined with puberty means that sometimes we have a meltdown such as this. She can’t help it.

No, I was feeling peeved at you lot who stared at us like we farted in church. I get it, we’re an oddity. But after the first glance, you can stop. Or you know what?  Give an encouraging look, a smile of “Aren’t kids awful?” comradery. Note my calm attitude and carry on with your life. If you are feeling very daring, come over and ask if you could help out in any way. I really didn’t need help, but another parent in that situation might be grateful if you pushed their cart to their car so they could steer their upset tween safely through the parking lot.

But for God’s sake, don’t stare at us like we’re a train wreck getting ready to unfold. It’s just rude. And if your mama didn’t teach you that, this mama will. It’s rude and only makes a parent in that situation feel more frustrated and more alone.

Meanwhile, next time my tall special need tween has a tantrum in Target, I’m going to keep my blinders on – the view is better.



12 Responses to “We’re not performance artists, please stop staring”

  1. Holly July 31, 2015 at 12:18 pm #


    So wish I could have been there. Have to admit to just sending up a silent prayer when I hear a tantrum in another aisle anymore. Prayers for the mama, prayers for the kiddo, prayers for peace. If I am able, I get close enough to pat a back or give that half hug that allows the mom to still pay attention to the child. It’s hard, because, like you, I don’t need ‘help’ necessarily, just a word or glance of encouragement. One look without judgement or mortification.

    Geesh, you’d think with all the kumbaya blah blah mother solidarity crap floating around we’d be better at just supporting one another. I guess that only applies if I don’t disturb your perfect shopping trip with your angelic children. Grrrr.

    • bluerosegirl08 July 31, 2015 at 1:06 pm #

      Holly if you makr t shirts I want one for my mother. I have Cerebral Palsy and sonetimes I bladder spasams because the bladder is a muscle too. I have lost count of how often people stare after my mom I when ahw ia helping me to the bathroom to clean up and let me tell you it’ts not any easier now that I’m 30 then when I was 10.

      • Holly July 31, 2015 at 2:05 pm #

        Bless your heart my girl. I hope, that each of us reaches a day where we just have a sense of humor or compassion for those around us… At this point, it’s like people take themselves so seriously that they cannot reach out when they encounter an unpleasant reality. There, but for the grace of God, go I. Chin up and keep showing us how to walk this path with grace. I’ll let you know if I ever get those tshirts made….or maybe a big flag we can hold up when a meltdown or something happens…:)

  2. Darcy Pennington Arnold July 31, 2015 at 12:45 pm #

    It’s hard enough dealing with a toddler having a meltdown. Most people are no more forgiving if it’s a toddler or tween. God bless you! Have no idea from where you gain patience; not for Maura, for the public!!

  3. Meg C. DeBoe July 31, 2015 at 1:38 pm #


  4. Suzanne July 31, 2015 at 3:22 pm #

    Wow—I’ve been right there so many times. Thanks for writing about that experience. The older my Janey gets, the more stares we get, it seems. People forgive toddlers for tantrums and screaming, but now that she is 10 and looks mature for her age, we get that frowny look so often. I usually can keep the blinders on, as you said, but not always, and that little solidarity smile takes so little effort and helps so much. You are brave and a good mother to keep going out. It gets harder for me all the time.

  5. Renee Anne July 31, 2015 at 3:26 pm #

    It’s bad enough dealing with a “normal” kid having a meltdown, regardless of their age….throw in disabilities on top of it and I can’t even imagine. I’ve had Little Man ask questions about other kids having tantrums or crying or whatever it is they’re doing. Sometimes, a simple answer will do: “they’re sad” or “there’s too much going on in here.” Other times, I have to get into more detail because he’s a nosy almost-5 year old boy.

  6. Elizabeth July 31, 2015 at 5:21 pm #

    This post needs what I call the #dontstarepaparazzi label. I’ve written about it on my own blog. I’m sorry this happened to you. Sometimes it’s all too much. I wear those blinders, too, and while I’m strapping them on, I think, “Fuck all of you.”

  7. rita kowats July 31, 2015 at 6:22 pm #

    Phoebe, this helped me so much. I promise you: I will never again stare and I will offer help. Thank you.

  8. franhunne4u August 1, 2015 at 12:54 am #

    Allright, Phoebe, here is a serious question. Before you had Maura, you had 3 other kids. When you were at a store with them and saw a meltdown like your Maura shows from time to time, what did you do? SERIOUSLY .. did you not think how glad you are that your kids were not the ones with the tantrum?

    • phoebz4 August 1, 2015 at 1:08 am #

      My oldest three screaming tantrums at three. There was one week, wherever we went, he’d scream. One day, as I stood outside the grocery store with him (waiting for my husband to finish checking out) and another mom came up and told me her son was the same way, don’t fret too much. It was so very needed.

      So no, I wouldn’t think that. Usually I tell my teens “you were worse” – lol!

  9. Wendy August 27, 2015 at 9:15 am #

    With all the child abuse cases in the news I understand hat people are “checking up” and I can understand and appreciate that. I agree that a word of encouragement like “hang in there mama”, which I have said to women on several occasions in the grocery store, can go a long way. I have also had numerous times when people have come up to me and offered help (my daughter is now 20 and rarely has tantrums but there was a time when it was a regular occurrence). My son used to get especially upset by the stares. Putting on the blinders is by far the best solution. I know it hurts and makes you want to slap people…I’ve been there. I think people need so much more courage to push through their fears of “offending you”, they are mostly ignorant and at a loss. Yes, there are some who are judgmental and I take comfort in the fact that they will eventually have their own lessons in parental humbling. It was probably really freeing for you to “vent” here. Now you can just pray (if you’re a praying person) that others will choose to be “courageous encouragers” instead of “weak stare-ers”. We always win when we “take the high road”.

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