As I dropped my son at school this morning and watched from the car as he ran to greet some friends in the playground, that familiar worry crept up from my gut. As he called out “hello”, another child noticeably dodged him, trying not to engage with my son. It was hard to watch as my son persisted, trying to make a positive connection – only to be shunned the 150 steps to the school doors. The bell had rung (luckily) and all the kids went inside together. I wondered did he notice and feel the rejection? Or was he naive enough to think his friend hadn’t seen him? There was nothing left for me to do but drive away and continue on with my day.
I started the car and drove to the grocery store, still feeling the anxiety over a situation well beyond my control. I know that all I can do is give my son the attachment he needs from myself, as his parent. But will he continue to struggle socially and emotionally with his peers? He is only 5…Maybe if we had held him back a year? And the questions continued to swirl as I walked up and down the aisles pushing my shopping cart.
Once I had filled my cart in preparation for the Christmas Holidays and my son’s birthday I got in the checkout line. I had settled by this point, feeling patient as the toddler in the cart in front of me cried to her mom to be set free. The decisions of a grocery store can be completely overwhelming to me, but they came as a welcome distraction. I mean, my son had probably moved on to whatever it was he was doing in his grade one class, so I probably needed to also.
With the cart full of groceries now loaded onto the belt, I moved my cart closer to the cashier so the bags could be loaded back into it. Now began the small talk. Sometimes just the thought of making small talk gives me heart palpitations – with a stranger or a familiar. Today I embraced it.
The woman scanning my groceries was unassuming and didn’t really make much eye contact (which I was really okay with). But then she asked the perfunctory question of “Are you ready for Christmas yet?” I said I was mostly, just some wrapping left and responded in kind. She firmly replied “Nope”. I thought do I continue to converse or just let it stand? I chose to continue. I told her my sons birthday was on Friday and so the December “thing” is a bit of a rigmarole. She smiled and related, “We know all about that my husband’s birthday is on the 25th!” I gave her an understanding nod as we made eye contact.
My groceries were only half in the cart at this point and so the natural thing to do was continue this chatter. But it wasn’t just a chat I realized when she shared something more with me over the beeps of the scanner and the hum of the belt. She said, ” you know that house in Johnston Sub with the white picket fence and a million Christmas lights?” I nodded, I think so. “Well,” she continued with a smile “that’s our place. The thing is, my husband used to hate Christmas. He was in foster care and he and his brothers were given the other kids hand-me-downs as gifts, when their actual children were given new toys. So for many years when we were first together he didn’t even want to celebrate it.” I smiled and said, “But now he does”. She smiled back and said, “Yup.”
My perspective began to shift as I realized what this man had been through in his past. A man I have never met. Raised as a second-class citizen in a family not his own, having a birthdate not even his own, he made a choice to rise above. I will never know why he made the choice to be the house with a million lights at Christmas, other than he did and his wife is quite proud of him for this. But it made a positive difference in my day and will allow me to let go of the little worries I have for my son. He will be okay. I will also.
This year when we do our Christmas light tour, I will consider a little more, what the stories are behind the lights and decorations that this season brings and accept it as a gift from total strangers.