Sometimes when I go out with my non-verbal son, I can be a bit on guard. My concern is that someone will say something to or about us, and it will cause some old-school ninja battle in the middle of the Olive Garden. I know it’s just paranoia because, in the 11 years since he was born, I have had a grand total of zero ultimate showdowns. Still, my senses tingle, and my antennae go up when we’re surrounded by strangers who appear to be looking over.
Lucas is well-behaved, though. That’s why I don’t allow too much leeway from onlookers. He doesn’t bother anyone and, aside from some excited shouts here and there, he is always on his best behavior. He certainly was on that Father’s Day we all went out to eat.
Out at a beachside restaurant here on Long Island, the day had gone pretty well. The host sat us at a table overlooking the water and, through the window behind my son, I could see all the families dining at outside tables.
Feverishly poking around on his iPad, my boy was distracted from the meal in front of him. We all enjoyed our appetizers as I’d look up to occasionally smile in his direction and offer him bread. As I mentioned, he was being great. There was no reason that there should have been a little boy staring at him through the window. Which there was.
I looked only out of the corner of my eye. Stares from young kids are somewhat tolerable. After all, my son is different than most. Curiosity from children, provided they’re not rude, should be allowed. My daughter, who is neurotypical, was once that age. I’d encourage her to ask questions too. It’s understandable.
Laughter, however, isn’t understandable. So when I saw this kid in the glass smiling and appearing to laugh, I got a bit annoyed. Still, I told myself, it is what it is. They weren’t close enough that I could say anything, and, since glass was there, I wasn’t completely sure what was happening. I tried to calm myself. I tried to enjoy Father’s Day without getting all ninja’d out.
My blood pressure rose as the courses came out and, as time went on, I saw this kid running to the parents at his table. They all appeared to be looking over at us now and, from what I could see, laughing. I was ready to flip tables.
All my son was doing was playing on his iPad. He wasn’t bothering a soul. Yet, this gruesome family wants to laugh at him? I had internally debated whether or not to ruin Father’s Day by getting carted off to jail for some major fatherly meltdown. The back and forth was still going on as I saw them laughing and pointing and bouncing the son on the father’s lap.
The staring window kid, from what I could see from my peripheral vision, was way too old for lap rides at a restaurant. He was my son’s age and, while Lucas sits on my laugh and giggles as I tickle him, most kids without special needs aren’t. That’s when I looked up and, for the first time that whole meal, saw the family behind the glass.
Their son was jumping and clapping. He had a joyous smile that I had seen before on the face of my own child. This was not the boy I was expecting to see. Not only that, but he was holding an iPad of his own. It was in the exact same case as Lucas’s iPad. That’s when it all hit me. He wasn’t laughing at my son. He was just like my son. They were all pointing at his iPad because it was the same one that their family was using, right down to the bright blue rubber case.
In that moment, I experienced so many different feelings. I felt bad for having prejudged another family without even bothering to look directly in their direction. It was all that I had condemned the rest of the world for doing to us. Had I really seen them, I’d have known from the start that they weren’t mocking us. They were us.
I also felt less alone. So often, we’d go out and feel we were the only family in the world with a child like ours. We aren’t. There are so many others just like us. We’re far from alone. We never see them, though, if we never look.