Dear Staring Lady,
I was the woman sitting next to you in the fast food place that will remain unnamed, in the somewhat snooty suburb that will remain also unnamed. We were both with our husbands and one daughter. Your daughter was about three, a very cute and obviously bright little thing. My daughter was 13. She was the one you were staring at.
You know, you forced me to admit I've been lying, to myself and others. I have been saying that staring doesn't bother me any more, that I don't even notice it. But I guess what I really meant was some kinds of staring don't bother me. Little kids staring? No problem. The kind of staring that also includes a smile, a look that says "Your daughter is beautiful and interesting. I see she might also have some kind of disability. I'm pleased to see her, and kind of fascinated" That kind is okay too. But your kind of staring? Just plain old gaping, openly and for long, long moments? No, I'm not okay with that.
The thing is, we don't often eat in public. But we decided to try it, today. And we were thrilled at how well Janey did. She was wonderful. No screaming, no running around, no outbursts or tantrums. She was happy. She sat eating her food with joy. In line, before that, she was so happy she jumped a bit, but not in a way that would affect anyone else. As we told her over and over, we were very, very proud of her.
But you stared. You kept looking at us, and not with a nice look. It was a look that seemed to say "Why are weird kids allowed to be out here when I'm trying to have a meal with my perfect family?" Maybe that isn't what you were thinking. But you sure fooled me.
You know, I can judge too. I didn't stare, but I listened. I listened when your little girl got upset because you got her grilled nuggets, not ones with breading. She wasn't used to that. She said "These aren't nuggets! They are CHICKEN!" I thought that was pretty cute. But you insisted she eat them. She got upset. I was thinking "What's the big deal? Who cares? You have a daughter that can talk, that can express opinions. Enjoy that! Get her some regular nuggets if that's what she wants! Or at least say something to her to let her know you understand change can be tough. Don't you get that it's amazing, it's a small miracle, it's something to treasure, that you have a child who talks so easily?"
I could understand your staring a little more if Janey could possibly have been bothering you in any way. But she couldn't have been. She sat there and ate, much more nicely than your little girl. Okay, it was obvious we had to help her with a few things. It was obvious, probably, that she was developmentally not where most 13 year olds would be. But is that something that is so bizarre, so creepy, that you need to STARE ALL DURING OUR MEAL?
It's funny. The rudest people, the people most prone to staring, seem to be the ones that have lives that on the outside look enviable. We don't get stares much in the convenience store near our house, the one frequented by an eclectic mix of folks, few of them looking like your suburban ideals. In fact, there and in the stores in our section of the city, Janey gets mostly smiles, sometimes hugs, sometimes high fives. Or she gets no notice at all, which is fine too.
You could have smiled at us, even once. You could have talked to Janey. You could have glimpsed at her subtly, if you had to. You could have ignored her completely. You had a lot of options. But the one you chose sent a pretty powerful message.
As your child whined about her nuggets, Tony and I tried to ignore you and talk. Our conversation ambled to somehow talking about how in cartoons, if you get on a scale and you are very heavy, the pointer on the dial of the scale pops off and spins around in the air. I said something like "whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa", imitating a spin, and spun my hands around. Janey loved that. She started saying it too and spinning her hands---not loudly, but hilariously. We all had a good laugh. We enjoyed that moment a lot. I dare say, we enjoyed it a lot more than you were enjoying lecturing your three year old on healthy eating. I hope you never have a child like Janey. You might think that's a kind wish. It isn't. You'd be lucky to have a child as much fun, as fascinating, as beautiful and as special as Janey. Stare at that, lady.
Sincerely, A Proud Mother