how and why

this is a story of an important moment.  it is one i’m ashamed to share, but i’m burdened to write.  i would love to know if you have similar moments- ones that shape your interaction with others forever after. 

do you ever know something is wrong, but maybe not why or how it is wrong?  

i knew the rules of the carpool line…  i knew it was a huge pain in my rear end.
i knew that only 6 cars could fit in the actual pick up zone.
i knew that usually only 5 would make it in the zone before dismissal because that gray minivan would get there 30 minutes early and not pull up all the way.
i knew that it was best for me to park down the street and walk to the classroom door, thus avoiding the carpool line altogether.
i knew that if i didn’t get to Caroline’s school 10 minutes early that i’d be 5 minutes late to get across town to Julia’s school.
i knew it every day for almost a year.

i knew (only very recently) that julia was on the autism spectrum.
i barely knew what autism was, only that it is not what i had previously assumed from movies and television.
i knew very little.
i knew that julia had an exceptionally hard time at dismissal if i wasn’t one of the first to arrive.

i knew she couldn’t tell me what was bothering her- she didn’t have the words, and she may not have the understanding of what she felt even if the words were easily accessible.

i just knew i needed to be there on time, and i knew i was late.

i knew that parking in designated ‘handicapped permit only’ spots is illegal.  there were two of these right in front of the school- right by the carpool line- right by julia’s classroom.

as i pulled into line behind 10 other cars (remember, only 5 in the pickup zone at a time!!), i could see her melting down.  falling.  sobbing.  

was it the chaos of the end of the day routine?  
was it the kids shouting and moving in all directions,
moms laughing with each other as their kids came pouring out the door?  
was it that end of day tiredness of a 
4 year old who wasn’t getting the nap her body still needed?  
was it all the things i didn’t know to pull from her diet?  
was it something else i wasn’t doing for her?


i didn’t know.  my head was spinning with not knowing.
i did know i would only be in that handicapped spot for 2 minutes.
i knew i shouldn’t, but i didn’t really know why.  

i pulled into the second blue-lined spot a little crooked- a lot crooked, actually- an oversized SUV doesn’t easily maneuver past the carpool line and into that front row parking.  i jumped out next to a van with a wheelchair lift on the back.
i didn’t notice.  
all i saw was my baby screaming.



all he saw was ‘THAT mom.’ 

he knew who i was, stepping out in my suburban mom uniform- black yoga pants, college t-shirt, oversized sunglasses.
he knew that i was THAT woman- the one who didn’t have a sticker or placard to declare my need for this parking space.
he knew i didn’t have a disabled child, and therefore shouldn’t be there.
he knew i wasn’t the parent of a child in a wheelchair- i wasn’t in his shoes.
he knew someone like me was in this designated parking spot 9 out of 10 times he came to the school to pick up his son.

he saw me, and he saw red.
he spoke loud, angry words- gesturing and shouting as he grabbed his phone to call the police.

i looked over at julia on the ground by the school, and i murmured a half-coherent apology to the man.
i climbed back into my crooked behemoth and drove down the block.  
i held myself together as i jog-walked with caroline back to the school. 
the carpool line all but empty now. 
julia lay exhausted on the ground, dirt stuck in the tears and snot on her cheeks.
caroline asked why that man yelled at me.
the teachers asked if everything was okay.

and i knew.
i knew he was right.

though i fought it for several hours after- my gut aching, my tears close to the surface, feeling indignant and ashamed by turns- i still knew he had a right to be angry.  

that place was a convenience for me; it was a necessity for his son.  
his son- the one with the enormous smile, floppy blonde hair, and the shiny red wheelchair- he needed that close parking space.  
his son- the one with the life altering illness, unpredictable seizures, and exhausted, frightened parents- i was making the afternoon longer and more difficult for him, possibly threatening his health.
he is the ‘why’ in ‘i didn’t know why i shouldn’t.’  
he is the ‘how’ in ‘i didn’t know how wrong it was.’

illegal parking aside…  now i know the boy, and i know the how and why.

and i imagine a better scene, of course… where i pull into that spot next to him and he comes over with his son.  
where we introduce ourselves and our children.  
where we find out that they share special education teachers & therapy groups. where we discover that she holds his hand during their ABA circle time.  
where he shows me the how and the why- 
how if he can’t park there, his son can’t physically get onto the wheelchair lift. 
why my taking that place hurts his family. 

where he has 1000 times more patience than any parent possibly could because he has been in this situation every day of his son’s life.

i know i can’t put that on him.  

i’m just sorry.  
i wish i could tell him how profoundly that interaction has affected me, and how changed i am because i met him, angry as he was.
how often i think of him and his son.   

what i know now:
if i can make that kind of decision, justifying a behavior i know is wrong…
if i can blindly hurt someone else when all i was focused on helping my child…
if i can be the one making someone else’s day that much harder…

i know i also need to be the one to take responsibility- “i’m so sorry.  i know i was wrong. i won’t do it again. please forgive me.”

i know to have more patience when others do the same to me- “here’s the how and the why of what just happened here. i know you didn’t know. i forgive you.”

i know to look up from my own need, my own circumstances- to consider those around me. to notice something other than myself.  “i see you.  i don’t know what it’s like in your life, but i would like to try.”  

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