A friend of mine recently told me about One of Those God Help Me I Just Went OFF on a Complete Stranger times. One of those times when a well-meaning but clueless Other Adult decides to have an issue with something about your child. In her case, it was a woman in a store getting up in her autistic child's face and indirectly berating her for confining the 5-year-old to a stroller.
You're too big to be in this stroller. Don't you want to walk? Tell your mommy that you want to walk!
My friend, stuck in line while clutching a pile of lacy underthings, didn't really have an obvious escape route and tried to simply ignore the comments, but the woman kept at it. She remained silent long enough to pay for her purchase and started out, when the woman finally addressed her directly: Well. Aren't you going to let that child walk NOW?
"God help me, I just went OFF on a complete stranger," she admitted. And she did.
I've only had a couple experiences like that. My ears still burn when I remember one particularly snide, judging remark as I hustled my son out of a store mid-freak-out -- a remark that I allowed to go unacknowledged and unchallenged because I simply couldn't bear drawing any more attention to myself. I've since had SEVERAL imaginary conversations composing just what I wished I said to that jerk.
In fact, the only time that God Help Me, I Just Went OFF on a Complete Stranger also involved a stroller.
Noah was about 3 1/2 but was going through a rough stretch where he'd run away from us. All. The. Time. Honestly, it's something a lot of kids will do at that age. But Noah had absolutely no sense of danger. He also couldn't interpret tone and facial expressions, so he couldn't distinguish between a game of chase and our terrified, angry cries in a parking lot. Upping the ante was the fact that if he DID get seriously lost, he didn't have the verbal skills to answer basic questions about himself or us. I wrote his name and our phone numbers in all his clothes. I also kept his butt strapped safely into a stroller whenever possible.
We were running an errand at the mall and I had both of the boys seated in our double stroller. An older man stepped directly in front of it and told me Noah was far too old to be in a stroller. I mumbled something about Noah being big for his age before walking away, silently wondering why anybody gave a crap about proper stroller cut-off ages.
And then I realized the man was FOLLOWING US.
FOLLOWING. A solo mother and her two children. Following us while repeating his observation about how big Noah was and why in the world I kept him confined to a stroller like that, it was time for him to walk. I finally spun around and God Help Me, I Just Went OFF.
I told him he didn't know the first thing about my child, his age, or what he was physically capable of, that he had limitations that prevented me from keeping him safe in crowded public areas, especially crowded public areas where FREAKY CRAZY STRANGERS think it's perfectly okay to FOLLOW PEOPLE AROUND while challenging their parenting skills.
He looked at me and blinked a couple times before silently shuffling off. Looking for all the world like the harmless, lonely grandpa that he probably was. I shook for a good 20 minutes afterward, feeling alternate waves of rage and remorse.
These sorts of experiences have taught me Judge Not more than anything possibly could. I'd never, ever question someone's decision to put a 6-year-old in a stroller, because I DON'T KNOW THEM. I don't know if that 6-year-old is capable of walking independently -- the fact that mine can, or most do, has absolutely nothing to do with that particular child.
Sure, maybe those parents over there are too lazy to fight with their 4-year-old about his pacifier -- or maybe it's therapy for any number of oral-motor or feeding problems. Maybe that boy's weight is caused by medication or illness. Maybe that girl takes her shoes off in winter because of sensory issues and short of duct-taping her boots on, there's nothing her mother can do about it. Maybe that's why that other kid's boots have duct tape on them.
But honestly, even if I do secretly judge a little bit, I've DEFINITELY learned to keep my stupid mouth shut. Or God Help Me...