My friend Cynthia is my mom role model.
We met in college. She was like a Golden Retriever puppy with her non-stop energy, positive attitude, unflinching loyalty to friends and approachable manner. I was more like an old German Shepherd with my guarded nature and tell-it-like-it-is attitude. We drifted apart after graduation, but kept up with each other’s lives through a mutual friend. We were put back in touch via a Facebook friend request.
Cynthia will tell you that she’s “just being a mom,” and there is nothing outstanding or heroic about her. I beg to differ. She’s extraordinary and puts me to shame. Cynthia is the quintessential Mama Bear. Her two daughters have autism, and she is their unapologetic and outspoken advocate. She is also a gentle and nurturing mother who calmly addresses their unique needs, even when they are overwhelmed by frustration.
I was able to meet the girls for the first time just a few months ago. H is a precious pre-teen who loves anime. M is an energetic little girl who, although non-verbal, finds ways to tell you exactly how she feels. They are incredible and amazing children.
Cynthia often posts about some of the social difficulties her girls endure. No one sat with H at the school lunch table. It made Cynthia angry. Kids called M “the weird one” at the YMCA’s childcare center. It made Cynthia quit working out at the YMCA and take up fitness in her tiny, but mighty, home gym. People gave unsolicited parenting advice like, “Your kids would be better behaved if you disciplined them.” Cynthia wanted to flip them off.
I know many other moms like Cynthia who are raising children with special needs. They all face challenges, but the worst challenge is how others treat their kids. I hear constant stories about how peers exclude them at school or make snide remarks. I hear about how adults gawk and point when the child is having a rough time. I hear these kids crying over all of it.
I firmly believe there is a special place in Hell for anyone who messes with a child or a person with disabilities. If you mess with a child with disabilities, your place in Hell is Satan’s armpit. Why do I feel this way? Well, number one, I am a mom. Number two, I worked for an organization that helped people with developmental disabilities. I was hugged every day. I constantly had someone reaching out to hold my hand. I was loved unconditionally, and I loved them back.
The next time you see a mom struggling to control her child in public, think twice before you act. Don’t judge her. Don’t judge the child. That little one may be struggling with a disability that you can’t see; that mama may be doing everything she can to keep things together. Take the time to show them compassion. Offer to help the mom with her task so she can focus on her child.
Be a role model for a world that doesn’t understand disabilities. Be a Cynthia.