She was truly a lovely young girl – probably a teenager – dressed in jeans and a jean jacket. Fine, thin hair. A pale complexion. Yet she didn’t appear quite like other teenage girls. She floated around the produce as I was shopping. I noticed her mother, a pretty, small, dark-haired woman, a short distance away, selecting produce, yet constantly aware of her daughter’s every move. This was obviously a way of life to which she had become accustomed.
The daughter was very thin. I immediately assumed she didn’t eat much – probably due to being nervous or high strung. My mind played out a scenario of the mother, encouraging the daughter to eat – often to no avail. In my mind, it wasn’t just a scenario. It was one I have lived. Repeatedly.
The daughter’s hands and forearms were raised much of the time, which attributed to her fairy-like floating. As she flitted by people, she moved close to them – entering their space. She didn’t say a word, simply looked at the person approached. A nervous smile covered the face of a healthy, vibrant young woman as “the daughter” came near her. The young woman looked at “the mother” as if to ask, “What now?” But the mother had already spoken quietly to the daughter from a distance away, and the daughter floated on. I knew the inner agony of always having to watch over the daughter because I, too, watch over a child.
As I left the produce department, I observed the daughter float up to a young man. I recognized him – a polite young man who worked in the store – obviously coming in to work for the evening. He kindly smiled at the daughter. Spoke a quiet word or two, as he continued toward the back of the store to check in for his shift. I was relieved the mother didn’t have to interact again. I could imagine the distress of doing so. I could imagine because I, too, have interacted.
From the first moment I saw the daughter, my heart was with the mother. I imagined her life – years of loving and training – years of hurt mixed with occasional tears of joy over the simplest accomplishments. I felt a bit of her pain, although she didn’t reveal any during this short encounter. But I knew a bit of that pain because I, too, have it – the pain that accompanies the unconditional love. The pain of having people judge the way a mother (or a grandmother) should act – judging how I should handle having a child (or grandchild) like this. The hurt of hearing others comment on an affliction they know very little about. The advice I wish they would keep to themselves. The lack of compassion for the pain I constantly carry. The lack of discussion – because it’s easier for them to simply change the subject. I imagined the continuous tugging at the mother’s heartstrings as other children her daughter’s age were saying and doing normal everyday things, reaching and celebrating milestones – day after day and week after week – leading to year after year. Birthday parties and Christmases and Easter Egg hunts, and school events, and simple playtime activities that other children were enjoying while “the daughter” floated.
And by this time, I had purchased my groceries and was pushing my small cart across the front of the store, when I saw the daughter one more time. She floated up to me, her hands and forearms lifted like a precious little fairy, and I smiled at her and said, “Hello!”
Speechless, she floated on. Then I caught the eye of the mother – the sweet mother with a simple, sweet smile on her face – a smile that said, Thank you. Thank you for treating my daughter like you would any other child.