DIZMOMMY > Why I Didn't Punch You in the Face

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January 30, 2015

Why I Didn't Punch You in the Face

Dear Target Cashier:

If you overlook my spider smashing ways and the countless childhood fights between my four sisters and I, I’m pretty nonviolent. But that’s not why I didn’t punch you in the face. And even though I’m all for freedom of speech and expressing your opinions, that’s not why I didn’t punch you in the face, either.

You see, my son is a pretty normal 2 year old. That means he’s not normal at all. He screams in the middle of grocery store aisles, he falls to the floor on purpose, and he hits me. He’s been hitting, hair pulling, and head banging since he was strong enough to sit up on his own. So even though I didn’t seem phased when he slapped me for pulling a bag of crackers out of his hands so that you could scan them and I could pay for them, there was a point in time when this type of outburst terrified me. I was once like you, gasping in horror at his physical aggression. I wasn’t always so nonchalant and nonreactive, swift to correct his behavior like a reflex before turning to you and jokingly responding to your shock soaked face with a, “Oh yeah, he’s violent. We’re working on it.” Not too long ago, the worry consumed me. 

I spent months trying to figure out why my son thrashed his head against walls and tile floors without regard for injury. I researched, I asked friends, other parents, and I read books for answers and guidance. And at every single one of his doctor appointments I questioned why my son was so physically aggressive. Everyone assured me with certainty that, “He hasn’t learned how to express what he wants. He’s frustrated. He’s independent. He’ll grow out of it. It’s okay. He’s just a toddler. It’s normal.” Still, I worried. I stressed. I cried. And I wondered: Are they right? Is my son going to be okay? Why does he hurt himself? Why does he hurt me? Is he going to hurt people? Why doesn’t he care? 

He’s grown much better with age. Instead of slamming his head against the floor in the heat of a tantrum, he now slowly eases it back so it doesn’t hurt him. And though he still lacks total impulse control, he finally gets that hitting isn’t nice and will apologize without being prompted a lot of the time. This type of progress has ironed out most of my am I raising a serial killer? concerns. So what you witnessed from behind a cash register as I was checking out of your store was quite frankly (in my eyes), no big deal. A little slap on the wrist from my 2 year old doesn’t rattle me anymore. But you know what does? That big mouth of yours. 

Witnessing a toddler hit their mother can be surprising when you're not used to seeing it. So your gasp was understandable. But when you looked at my son and proceeded to say, “He’s autistic, right?” I wanted to punch you in the face. 

It’s not because my son is or isn’t autistic that I wanted to punch you in the face, but because it’s none of your business. None of your damn business. I don’t have a diagnosis, but other parents do. I have a child prone to violent aggression whereas other parents do not. But regardless of whatever diagnosis my toddler does or does not have, its disclosure is personal, sensitive, and on my terms as his parentThere's just something about a stranger talking about and labeling your child that gets under my skin.

Though your comment rattled me, I wasn’t offended. I know autism isn’t a death sentence, it isn’t the end of the world, and having an official diagnosis can often times be a relief because at the end of the day, parents want answers. Answers help us help our children grow into their best self. 

But like I said, I spent a lot of time in the past worrying about my son’s violent tendencies. So when you flat-out labeled my son autistic, the words, “No, I mean, I don’t think so?” just fell out of my mouth. Looking back, maybe I should’ve just punched you in the face. Doing so would have prevented you from proceeding to publicly diagnose my son and stating as a matter of fact, “Hitting is the first sign of autism, I see it all the time.” Though I had no response on the outside, you should know your insensitive small talk was funding my return to question land where the sun stays hidden behind dense fog of uncertainty, as I asked myself whether you, some random stranger, saw something in him that I didn’t.

My regression almost materialized once I got home. I nearly opened up my browser, called my son’s doctor and began googling foolishness per your claims. But my son interrupted, as toddlers often do, tugging on my hand and pulling me towards his room pleading, “Come on mommy! Let’s go! Trucks!” And as he led me to the floor where he’d lined up his toy trucks, ready for me to push around, I folded. My son is perfect as is, whatever that means now and whatever that becomes later. It’s too easy to cling onto something that looks like an answer when you’re riddled with questions. But let's be real- I was giving you too much credit.

You're just some stranger without a filter, just some girl with a big mouth who spews out whatever thoughts pop into your head; a quality that will ultimately resolve itself (perhaps with the help of a stranger's fist..just not mine). And that is why I didn’t punch you in the face. Your welcome. 


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To my readers (who without a doubt will check me if I'm being a nut): What would you have done if a stranger saw your child misbehaving and began to publicly label them [insert any disorder here]? Am I being too sensitive?