By Melinda Munson
Editor’s Note: It’s that time of year in Skagway when school is out, there’s a daycare shortage, adults are working multiple jobs with few days off and tourists keep asking the SAME questions over and over. I keep reminding myself not to judge myself, or anyone else, too harshly.
My friend was shopping at Walmart with her troop of six kids. A woman noticed that the children were a variety of ethnicities and approached the family.
“What are you, a prostitute?” the woman asked.
My friend, a preacher’s wife, was mortified.
“No, I’m a foster mom,” she stammered.
The woman’s demeanor immediately changed.
“Oh, well, then — God bless you, Honey,” the woman said, patting my friend on the arm.
My friend stepped back and told the woman where she could put her blessings.
I’ve had similar encounters. No one has ever called me a prostitute but I can see the disapproval in the tight line of their mouths or the subtle head shaking.
Back when I only had four kids, we briefly stayed in a travel trailer. Our mini fridge could hold two days’ worth of food so I became intimate with the local big box store. Because my husband was working long hours, the whole crew came with me.
My oldest pushed the shopping cart while I manhandled a separate cart, the two-year-old buckled into the basket. My daughter with leg braces and no vision “helped” me steer while her non-verbal brother with autism crouched inside the cart on his knees, rocking away his anxiety.
As we got into the checkout line, my two-year-old, who was just beginning to discover the strength of his toddler voice, started screeching like Marilyn Manson at a concert in Utah. I ignored it. Normally, I would step outside the store until the behavior passed but I figured it would take 20 minutes just to evacuate the building and we needed groceries.
Most of the customers avoided eye contact and tried not to pay attention. Except for one woman who stood by the gossip magazines. She looked straight at me and muttered, “Disgusting.”
Oh, God help me. She did not just say that to my family of orphaned, adopted, special-needs children. Two sets of little eyes looked at me to see what I would do next. (Remember, two of the four kids are blind.)
I whipped out of line, squelching the urge to run her over with my cart because that’s not what Betty White would do, plus I couldn’t afford bail.
“Ma’am, were you talking to me just now?
“Yes, I was. Get your children under control.”
“I’m saving the world!” I hissed. “What are you doing with your life?”
I stalked back to the checkout line. The crowd parted and allowed me into my original spot.
That was eleven years ago. I still feel uncomfortable when I pass a magazine rack. That encounter taught me to be gracious with strangers. When I see a child having a melt-down, I smile with sympathy at the parent. Sometimes, even if you do everything right (and it’s really hard to do everything right), kids will be kids.
So, whether you’re a prostitute or a foster mom, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. I hope you do the same for me.