Dear Cashier With The Kind Eyes and Fun Hair

Clara watching Boss Baby 2 at the movie theater.

This is a long post. It may not interest you. That’s okay. I encourage you to read it anyway. Sometimes we all need a little reminder that one kind word of encouragement can make all the difference. This is especially true if the recipient of the kind word is the parent of a child with special needs.

Walmart. I never would have expected an employee at Walmart to be the one who touched my heart today. I can climb a 5.10a mountain and guide a class 6 rapid. I am skilled in wilderness survival. I can out-shoot my husband. But I do not have the skills necessary to shop at Walmart. Shopping at Walmart is like showing up to a gun fight armed with only a Q-Tip. But faced with the choice of risking my life to make a Walmart grocery run or allowing my kids to die of hunger, I did what any Mama Bear would do. I put on my big girl panties and risked my life to save my children.

This was a particularly high-risk mission because I wasn’t alone. I had my 6 year-old with me. Clara has special needs, and I never know what to expect with her. And today was no exception. The show she put on for the cashier even sent my big girl panties running away in fear. It was not pretty.

I started unloading the shopping cart at check out. I had to move Clara to the front of the cart to get the groceries that she had been sitting on. When I moved her, she caught a glimpse of the giant Walmart sign. Big mistake. She began trembling and screaming and I almost dropped her. Her leg bling (what we call her bilateral AFOs) got caught on the cart and she screamed louder. I hugged Clara and then grabbed my phone. I tapped my Disney Plus app and started Monsters Inc for her. I made sure that she didn’t see the Disney sign. That one makes her tremble and scream as well. I then continued unloading my groceries.

“Are you her mom?”

The voice came out of nowhere. The Croods have nothing on the mental kill circle I had going on at that point, so I had to slowly crawl back to reality. I disengaged my mental spears and looked around for the source of the voice. It was my cashier.

Honestly, I was so pleased with the question that I almost forgot to answer. I laughed a bit inside, thinking for a moment about how maybe-just-this-once I had been confused for the hot young babysitter. (Mom jeans, paint in my hair, and pink plastic glasses) Nope. Definitely I was still the old tired Mama Bear. Nuts!

“Yes I am.”

I said it stoically, still unloading groceries. I wasn’t in the mood to talk, so I tried not to engage. Clara could explode at any moment, and I didn’t want the cashier to be collateral damage. Clara sends emotional shrapnel in all directions when she is triggered. But then I locked eyes with the young cashier. He was probably in high school. He had fun hair and gentle eyes. He smiled a genuine smile at me.

“You are a really good mom.”

Stopped.Me.In.My.Tracks. That phrase was like a giant EMP to my autopilot. The kind cashier somehow must have known that I needed to hear that exact thing at that exact moment. What the cashier couldn’t have possibly known is that I had spent the day feeling like anything-but-a-good-mom.

The reason Clara was with me at Walmart was because I had just taken her to see the new Boss Baby movie at the Theater. Trauma therapy has taught me the importance of reprocessing traumatic events. We had downloaded the first Boss Baby movie on our iPad so that Clara could watch her favorite movie in the hospital. It often takes multiple sticks to get an IV started in Clara, so Boss Baby was Claras distraction from the IV pain.

I wanted to make this Boss Baby movie an exciting and happy way to forget that the first movie was associated with pain and sickness. Once Clara walked past all of the signs in the theater that scared her, I think she had fun. But I didn’t. I was fighting discouragement, fear, and failure. I wasn’t present for Clara at all. All I could think about is that I lack the courage to schedule Clara’s MRI.

Clara has two potentially life threatening things going on in her brain. She had a spot on her pituitary gland that showed up on her last MRI. It is either a benign cyst, or a brain tumor. Her last MRI also showed encephalopathy. That is either a one-time injury to her brain (probably from a seizure or the time she stopped breathing after she got her tonsils out), or it is a spreading degenerative brain condition that would result in death. Only an MRI will tell us for sure. But I lack the courage to schedule the MRI.

I suddenly understood how my Mother-In-Law could know she had breast cancer but not make a doctor appointment until it was stage 4. Once the labs and images are performed, there’s no going back. The diagnostics permanently reconstruct reality in an instant. My MIL went from “having a little rash” to dying in an instant. My daughter could go from “beating the odds” to dying in an instant. I’m not ready to face that. And for that I felt like a failure during the movie.

I’m rarely present for my kids. I’m constantly on “high alert” because of Clara. Her very life depends on my ability to recognize symptoms and complications and respond quickly. I wasn’t present for Clara’s grand movie event. And for that I felt like a failure after the movie.

My mind was on my two older kids while I was collecting groceries at Walmart. They go to camp this week. I want to walk them in on their first day. I want to celebrate them. I want to be their confidence as they try something new. I want to help them feel secure. I want to hug them goodbye and tell them that I believe in them. Yet, I’d have to get Clara out of the car to walk the older two in to camp. Clara has mobility issues and it’s very difficult to get her out. She is also scared of many things. The sign on the door at camp may set her off. Her anxious tantrum may embarrass or scare the older two. I fear disappointing the older kids, and for that I was feeling like a failure at Walmart.

When that sweet young cashier took the time to tell me I was a good mom, it snapped me out of my spiral. He was a stranger. He didn’t know the magnitude of my struggle as a mom. He just made a conscious decision to encourage me instead of judge me. He had the courage to speak up. And when he did, it changed the trajectory of my day. I felt seen and affirmed.

So Walmart cashier with the fun hair and gentle eyes, I hope that you are promoted. You were kind to a stranger. You responded with compassion instead of judgement. And you spoke up when it counted. These are lessons that good moms teach their children. So please tell your mom that she’s a great mom. You know how I know she’s a great mom? It takes one to know one.

Clara outside the theater. She was scared of all of the movie posters, but faced her fears with courage.

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