Today after Jake got home from work we decided to take the family out for a late lunch at Atlanta Bread and follow it up with some amazing shaved ice from Pelican’s SnoBalls (highly recommend, by the way). The older three kids had been briefed about being quiet and calm while in the restaurant, but we knew that like always, Zella would be the wildcard. Luckily as we entered Atlanta Bread we were relieved to find that it was still as loud as ever inside and even an occasional outburst from Zella would potentially never even be noticed.
We ordered quickly and found two tables next to each other in the far corner of the restaurant, away from most of the other patrons. As we waited for our food, the older kids managed not to beat each other (a sheer miracle) and Zella was happy to listen to her music (favorite song: “Crash” – Usher). Within a minute or two of sitting down Jake and I heard a very loud, booming man’s voice…I casually looked over to see a table about 3 tables over from us with an elderly gentleman and two elderly ladies seated with him, all finishing their lunches. We heard bits and pieces of his “stories” as it was impossible to tune out, but again I was just grateful for the additional noise that could drown out what I knew would be at least a couple impending outbursts from our nearly three year old special needs fourth child at some point during the meal.
The food came after about 15 minutes and still everyone was on their best behavior…definitely strange in our family. Jake and I tried giving Zella some french bread, which she pretended to initially like, but then quickly decided french bread is far better flying out of your mouth as opposed to going down your throat. We moved on to some soup with similar results. By this point she started getting restless, so I brought out the big guns – chocolate chip cookies (stolen from two of the kids’ meals, sorry…not sorry). She got through half of one and as I was preparing the other half “AAAAAARRRRRGGGHHHHH!” The pirate had arrived. Luckily I was able to shove the other half in her mouth before another scream ensued and life was pleasant again for another two minutes. All this time I am still hearing the elderly gentleman forcefully telling his friends about his minister and whether someone stole something from him in a premeditated way (which I was unaware that theft could really ever NOT be premeditated…but to each his own).
Zella is done and yells out a second time, to which I attempted to quiet her and gave her the second (and last) cookie. Part of me felt bad for giving her cookies for lunch, but the other part of me would essentially give her ANYTHING to prevent her from drawing attention to our already large family. We told the kids to finish up as we knew we only had maybe 4 minutes to get out the door before she let out yet another screech that we would be unable to quiet.
As we scrambled to get all of our plates together and clean up a bit, Zella decided that 4 minutes was actually FAR too much time to give us and that she would go ahead and throw the remainder of the cookie on the ground after a mere 60 seconds. A third time she yells and I put my hand over her mouth and say “NO Zella – too loud. Quiet mouth!” She just stared at me, no doubt calling me a choice word in her mind.
I then am stopped in my tracks by a familiar booming voice that yells “COME ON! LET’S GET OUT OF HERE! WE DON’T HAVE TO TAKE THIS NOISE LEVEL ANYMORE!” I look over to find the elderly gentleman standing and glaring at myself and our family, specifically my fourth child in the corner. The two ladies immediately try to quiet the man with faint “No no, it is fine! Let’s wait” and “We need to say good-bye to so-and-so,” but he is undeterred. “I HAVE BEEN WATCHING HER THIS ENTIRE TIME AND SHE IS DOING NOTHING TO STOP THAT CHILD FROM YELLING!”
By this point two other tables around this man are now turning around to look at him and are whispering to each other. I looked at Jake and said far too loudly “Is this fool SERIOUS?!” Jake had, of course, tuned this guy out 30 minutes ago, and had no idea that he had now turned his attention on myself and Zella and essentially our entire family. Jake says “Surely he isn’t talking about us…?”
Mr. Smiley continues on his rant, talking about how I am apparently not doing my parenting job (forget the fact that Zella was sitting next to Jake, her FATHER, but come take a trip with me back in time to the good ‘ole days of the 1940s so you can see from a slightly different perspective that CLEARLY I was not mothering Zella appropriately.) At this point I am done. Absolutely done. I get up from the table and stare down this man as I walk toward him from across the room. He tries to retreat toward the door, but I begin speaking instead as I approach him and he stops.
“Sir, that child you are referring to over there? She has a rare genetic disorder. So rare, in fact, that she is one of 130 people in the entire world who have that particular syndrome.”
He stops. “Oh, wow!” Naturally there is not even a hint of an apology in his voice.
I continue on. “I apologize if her outbursts have offended you…” to which he interrupts me and says “Well, thank you” and begins walking out the door. I again continue, “but you, sir, do NOT know the full story. You will never know the full story.”
He took one last look at me and walked out the door silently. The two ladies he was with immediately approached me and apologized profusely. I told them there was no need to apologize, that they had done nothing wrong. One of the women said “He is just a fellow church member – we aren’t really friends with him. He should have never said that about your sweet girl.”
Having grown up in the independent Christian church, I know better than to simply stereotype Christian church-goers into heinous people who care nothing for children or the disabled and are only concerned about their own personal comfort level. Two other families approached us after this man left and assured us that all of our children, including Zella, were “perfectly behaved” and that they were appalled at this man’s behavior. Just as these other families may or may not have been coming from church on this Sunday afternoon, I also realize that people like this man are not limited to just the church, but are in fact sadly represented in every religious and non-religious persuasion.
What if I had not spent the last 32 of my 32 years on this earth in church? What if I had been traumatized by the Christian church at some point in my life? Or grew up having never even visited a church? What would I be thinking now?
I’ll admit it…when I was walking over to talk to this man there were so many things running through my head. My initial instincts were to also scream and potentially throw a few F-bombs in there just for good measure. If I had the time to write this guy an emailed response regarding his behavior, it would have touched on these subjects…
*Sir, are you pro-life? You are? Interesting. Well, Zella is the result of her family’s decision to choose life. What exactly did you think would happen when you staunchly sat back and “advocated” for pro-life policies? Ahhhh, yes. You wanted Zella to EXIST in-utero…but you could not care less about her once she was physically born into this world. You would have preferred that we institutionalize her…you know…for *your* comfort…lest someone disturb your baked potato soup bread bowl with three screams.
*Is there a particular reason you hate disabled people? Be careful – you and Zella have far more in common than you would like…and I’m not just talking about your love of speaking 50 decibels past the sound barrier, as she is also a fan of this same phenomenon. You and Zella are among our most vulnerable*** populations – children, the elderly, and the disabled. All three groups are currently at risk of losing many benefits, including healthcare – watch yourself homeboy.
*Your fellow acquaintances tell me you are a member of a church – what would Christ say about Zella? No doubt had He come in present day, Jesus would have agreed to an occasional half and half combo at Atlanta Bread, what with the Coca Cola Freestyle machine right there in-house. But would He have stood up mid-egg salad sandwich and yelled at an almost three year old disabled child with the intelligence level of a 12 month old, and screamed about her poor behavior and her worthless mother? I can tell you with 100% certainty that he would not.
“His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’
‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God may be displayed in him.'”
“But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”