February 28, 2015

I Forgot

I forgot how much I love the library.

I, quite by accident, have raised a house full of bookworms.

I love that.

Because I love it so much, books have been the center of our Valentine's celebration for the past 13 years.  Every Valentine's morning the kids excitedly rush down to find a new book for them and a little box of chocolates at their place setting on our breakfast table.

Unfortunately, my love affair with our local library ended a little over a year ago.

I was there one afternoon with my children - my older kids were leisurely browsing the shelves to find their next read, Eliza was plopped on the floor buried in a pile of picture books and Bridger was sitting in his wheelchair playing at one of the children's computers lined up in a row. He was very excited and was making his special sounds every now and then.  A group of boys, about 8 or 9 years old, were by themselves huddled together around a nearby computer and were obviously annoyed with Bridger's foreign sounds.  After one such sound, one of the boys yelled, "What the FREAK, shut UP!!"

wow.  ouch.

I know that many kids don't know better, because they haven't had exposure to Special, so I gently knelt down and said to them in my sugar voice, "Oh boys, let's not tell him to shut up.  His name is Bridger, and he has some special needs, and because of that, he also makes some special sounds as he sits here and plays by you."

"Oh," the boys said.  They then understood what had been strange to them before, and I was proud of myself for what I thought was sweetly handling the situation - teaching and gently protecting in what I thought was a perfectly appropriate way and would have done so, without hesitation, in front of their mothers if they had been there.  

Until. . . an unrelated woman sitting on the couch behind me shouted, "Are those YOUR children?"

Shocked, partly at her and partly at her volume, I said, "Uh, no."

"Then you have no right to be talking to them!"

"Well," I slowly started to respond, still stunned, "When someone refers to my son as a freak and tells him to shut up, I absolutely am going to respond."

She proceeded to tell me, in her same very loud volume, that those boys are exactly right to feel that way and that she too thought that his sounds and behaviors were VERY disturbing and made her feel very uncomfortable . . .  and she continued on for a bit but I stopped hearing.

I was speechless and nearly shaking.  Her rant was also being said in front of my other four children, who had lined up next to me as she began her commotion.

I couldn't think of anything to say, but to ask her if she had never seen a child with special needs before?

She had an answer to that, although I didn't stay to listen.  I turned on my heel and wheeled Bridger out of the library with all my other children following behind who were equally disturbed at this women's words to us about their brother.

I went the car, loaded him and his chair and the other children in, started the car and turned on the movie for the kids and just sat in the parking lot and cried.  It was a good hard cry and I did not feel better when it was done.

Sadly, there are people in this world like that who still exist - people who say the most unfathomably rude, insensitive and hurtful things to and about people with special needs.  I was embarrassed that those things were being said to me, about my child, in front of my child, in front of my other children, in front of those boys who needed to learn, in front of an entire library full of patrons who heard every word of our encounter - or at least hers.  I was proud that the few words I spoke to her never rose above a library whisper - because if I saw her again I am not sure I could restrain my volume now that I have had time to process the experience.

I have never returned to our local library after that incident of over a year ago.  I would hit up a nearby library every now and then, but I couldn't go back to that one.  It might not make sense to anyone else, but the thought of going back there would trigger all the anxiety, sadness and hurt that I keep covered up as I go about my day trying to make our life feel as normal as possible.

On Thursday, our billionth snow day of the winter, I threw my kids in the car and, without thinking, went to our local library. It was a great afternoon! We wandered and browsed, fingered and flipped pages.  It wasn't until I was in the library and facing that couch where the woman had once sat that the memory came back to me.  I looked past the couch to my children excitedly browsing the shelves and I gave that invisible woman on that couch no more power over me or where I would go or not go, and it felt liberating.

Dear Grumpy Library Patron,

Warning for next time - if you are going to have a problem with special sounds, you are going to have a problem with me.

Your fellow bookworm,
Mama Bear