Cute African American child with knitted hat pulled over eyes smiling during snowfall

“Let’s just leave, please,” I said blinking back tears. 

My husband and I took the kids to our town’s annual Holiday Festival a few Christmases ago. It was magnificent. Green, red, and white lights flickered with merriment and everywhere you looked were bold declarations of the holiday season. Kids were darting through crowds despite their heavy winter wear, some folks were huddled in blankets drinking hot chocolate and despite our geographic location, we even had snow. Albeit fake snow, but snow. 

Not soon after the program began, my daughter had what you may call an outburst. To the unsuspecting ear, it would appear that she’s having a tantrum but she’s non-verbal, so what sounds like music to my ears because I know what she’s been through, may not seem so to yours. The families around us immediately started to stare. I could feel their eyes upon us. I stood behind her, holding her and sang along with the Christmas music. My husband and other children were completely oblivious, they were captivated by the show, I, on the other hand, was distracted by the onlookers. 

She blurted out again, and I could see the uncomfortable shift in their postures. Now they started to whisper and turn their bodies away from us. I raised my head to make eye contact with some of the moms. I forced a tight smile on my face to assure them that everything was okay. But it wasn’t. I felt judged. I felt hurt. It wasn’t the first time we were in this situation. When we go out as a family I try to mentally prepare for the stares and whispers; to steel myself against the negativity that we usually encounter.

On this night, I wanted to have fun with my family. No stress. And then it happened. My shoulders began to shake; my head dropped, and I started tearing up. In that brief moment, I relived the other encounters we had and it was overwhelming. Hubs touched me lightly on the small of my back and asked warmly, “Are you okay?” “Let’s just leave, please,” I said blinking back tears. I tried collecting myself by hugging my daughter tighter and placing soft kisses on the top of her head. 

For a grace-filled moment, I drowned out the crowd leaned forward to see her face, and you know what I saw? Joy. Pure bliss. She was smiling and laughing and thrilled to see Santa and Mrs. Claus. And then a warm feeling came over me that provided such calm and peace I’d never felt, and I realized that I was making this about me. My little one, on the other hand, felt nothing. In fact, she could have cared less what those people thought of her. It almost felt like the more they stared the harder she laughed. 

Let me share something from my heart with you: the world will stare, and they will judge you by your perceived shortcomings. The thing is, they don’t know your story, and they don’t know what you’ve been through. Some people genuinely want to understand and be a help but others do not. They want to try and tear you down by making you feel less than who were you created to be. When this happens, remember this: cry if you must but stay focused on what really matters. Find the strength to be the person you were called to be.