Deep cleansing breaths.. in, out.. There... I hate people! No, I don't. Jesus loves all people and so should I. More deep breaths..
Today we all went downtown for a Christmas shindig. A whole block was closed off to traffic, there were free cookies, crafts, a ballet show, and a stage where Mrs. North Carolina was talking about stuff. We found ourselves walking up to that stage ahead of the majority of the crowd. She was introducing a magician, and I thought we'll just see how long we last watching the magic show. To my surprise, it was an incredibly amusing performance. Delaney raised her hand numerous times, hoping to be invited up on the stage like some of the other boys and girls. There were the usual magic tricks you'd expect, and a lot of silly kid humor moments too. The last few minutes he spent telling a touching story about The Velveteen Rabbit, what the book meant to him (I'd forgotten how sad it is -- I was about to cry listening to him talk about it!), and at the end he turned a stuffed rabbit into a real one. The kids and adults were all laughing, and even Timmy was pointing at the rabbit and paying attention to the whole thing.
The girls and Tim were sitting next to the stroller. Annie made Tim sit right behind them because for some reason she was scared to sit without him right there. Next to Delaney was a girl of about 7 or 8. When her mother got her attention and told her to move all the way to the front where she could see, only then did I notice that in addition to being a cute little girl, she had Down Syndrome. I was momentarily puzzled as to why she needed to move in order to see. She was right next to my small girls and they could see. Maybe she was nearsighted. I didn't think anything else of it. Now I was aware of her mother out of the corner of my eye standing next to us, a smartly dressed woman with long, wavy dark hair and red lipstick.
When the show was over there was hearty applause. Then Mrs. North Carolina thanked a long list of sponsors of this event. A man in a t-shirt bearing the logo of a local radio station got on stage and offered free t-shirts to anyone who cheered. He ran up and down the stage grinning goofily, tossing a t-shirt to this person and that. I barely took notice of the mother I just described to you encouraging her daughter who was still directly in front of the stage to raise her hand and cheer. At about that point Delaney also realized that free is good, and she raised her hand high in the air, a big smile on her face.
The man approached our side of the stage, poised to toss a shirt to a lucky recipient. I would later conclude that he must have made eye contact with the mother and decided to throw it to her instead of the little girl who was standing right in front of him and was capable of receiving it herself. You remember her mother stood further back next to us. At the time I was not aware of any of this -- only that the man was approaching our side of the stage and looked like he was about to toss a t-shirt.
The t-shirt landed on Delaney. It was draped over her head for a split second before she grabbed it with her little hands, looking pretty surprised and pleased -- like any five-year-old who has an unexpected gift land on her from a stage.
I was surprised and happy too, mostly because of the look on Delaney's face. For all of about two seconds I felt that way. Then to my everlasting disbelief, I saw the woman's hand reach down and take the shirt from Delaney. I looked at her, like "WTF!" but she refused to look over at me even though she was only two feet away. There was a smile plastered on her face like she was determined not to notice me noticing her taking the t-shirt right off my daughter's body as if she knew it were hers.
I looked back and forth from her to Tim a couple times, as if to say, 'Did this just happen? Are you going to say something? Because if you aren't, I will.'
Tim looked at me and shrugged helplessly, indicating with his eyes the little girl a few feet in front of us. I got it. It was for her. I immediately stood down, feeling ashamed of myself for my reaction. The t-shirt was for the little girl with Down Syndrome. Where was my Christmas spirit? At that moment I felt like such an ogre.
A few minutes went by, the crowd dispersed, we all watched Santa roll down the street in a convertible, and at some point Tim and I looked at each other again. We were like, wait a second. That was still wrong. That woman was not entitled to that t-shirt, who in the world did she think she was? Taking a free t-shirt from a five-year-old, for goodness' sake. How is that the right thing to do under any circumstances? What does having a child with special needs have to do with our daughter being the one to catch the t-shirt, albeit accidentally? We agreed we'd been wronged, we were both disgusted, and I tried not to think about it anymore.
But all the way home I seethed. I told Tim as we were driving home, when things like this happen, like when the mean old lady audibly shushed us in church a couple weeks ago, I can't stop thinking about them for hours. I want to go back in time to that moment and I want my hands to be quicker than that woman's, like, "Delaney, let me hold onto that for you (smiling cheesily at everyone around)." Mindful that our kids were listening and learning from us as we rehashed this yet again, I said, "I know that woman needs our prayers. She's a person who has a hard life, and if she feels compelled to take a free t-shirt from a little kid, she must have a thousand problems, the least of which is a shirt. Maybe she really needed that shirt." But I'm still mad.
To her credit, Delaney handled this with way more grace than either Tim or I did. She waited the whole time the magician was on stage to be noticed, trying to raise her hand the highest and wear the biggest smile. The one time something was given to her, it was snatched away immediately by someone else. She would have been within her rights to be upset, but she never said a word and didn't pout.
"This is why I know I could never handle Disney World at Christmastime. I can't handle an hour of Christmastime in downtown New Bern with the people there!" Tim just smiled. He knows we'll never be spending Christmas at Disney. It only comes up because we have relatives who do, and our own kids would love to go to Disney any time of year some day.
I'm hoping that by writing this and hitting send, I can let it go and do what I have already said I should do -- say a heartfelt prayer for someone who despite appearing put together and not needy, still felt entirely within her rights to take a free gift right out of a small child's hands. That has to be desperation.
Alright, here I go, clicking publish and letting it go..