Want to know? Just ask: A message to the general public

A few weeks ago I was out and about with the boys - running errands, getting their hair cut, having lunch - and we stopped in to JoAnn Fabrics to browse.

I ended up with a cartful of "procrastination projects" (you know, the ones you have the best intentions of starting/finishing, but instead end up in various stages of completion in random drawers and closets throughout the house) and as I was checking out I noticed the employee taking interest in the boys. They aren't ones to fade into their surroundings, so it was no surprise to me that they were drawing attention to themselves. They were pulling things out of bins, begging for candy and making my blood-pressure rise as usual.

"They're so cute. How old are they?" the check-out gal asked.

"Irish twins - 3 and 2," I said in a way that was meant to explain and possibly excuse their behavior. This usually elicits responses like:

"Oh I have twins - they're grown now - but I remember how hard it was at that age" or
"I have [insert #] boys. Honey, don't worry, it does get easier"

Not today. She seemed a bit young to have kids, perhaps in high-school from my best guess, so I was a bit caught off guard when she said, "Your little one...can I ask you a question?"

"Sure," I said.

And then, as matter-of-factly as anything, she asked, "Was he born with his condition?"

We exchanged dialogue for a few minutes - me giving my best summation of what is hard to sum up in casual conversations such as these, her nodding and asking probing, yet appropriate and welcomed, questions. She bagged my items, smiled at the boys and wished us well.

I walked out of that store a very happy customer. Despite the fact that I don't "see" Aiden as all that different anymore so having it brought to my attention is a reality check of sorts, this girl handled herself how I wish everyone would. You see, I forget sometimes that Aiden's differences are still obvious to others. I have no doubt it's because I surround myself (and have had the pleasure of being surrounded by) people who really and truly see past his physical differences. But when I do notice an adult stare at a restaurant or a child giggle at the playground, I find myself wanting to talk about Aiden. To share with them a little bit about why he is the way he is. To tell them our story in hopes that they can learn a bit. To spread awareness. To make them see that he is more than his hands, his different face. And yet, most of the time, the opportunity is not there because they do not ask. I could just proactively launch into my spiel, but I don't think my audience would be receptive to some stranger bombarding them with information because I saw their lingered glance.

I don't know if I speak for all parents who have children with differences, but I'm guessing that most would agree they ENJOY talking about their kids. We have stories unlike anyone else. We could talk for hours about the doctor visits and surgeries, the challenges we face, our child's accomplishments. We WANT to share a glimpse into our life. For this will educate others and, in turn, empower us.

I don't get upset when Aiden's differences are brought to my attention out in public. I understand that people will be curious, and may spend a minute or two looking intently at his hands. What does upset me is when their inquiring stares are obvious enough for me to notice, and yet they catch my eye and turn the other way. If you want to know, just ask. Maybe not everyone will be comfortable enough to go into details with a perfect stranger. However, if it is clear that your intentions are good, I will bet that you will earn respect from that person for caring enough to give them the opportunity to share.


  1. Awesome! Just the fact that a high school aged clerk was informed enough to know to ask in a kind, appropriate way means that the world is changing little by little. Some day there will be no more rude stares or giggles. Keep doing your part! I am very proud to be your friend.

  2. Wonderful post Taryn. I was just saying to Benj the other day, we really don't notice that Ira looks different anymore- we just think he is the cutest little boy in town. Only this weekend when we were out for brunch and Ira was wandering around trying to make his escape did I hear an older woman saying to her friend as they passed him 'it must be genetic'. It is as you note, very weird not being able to explain things about your child- particularly when you hear people speculating! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Wonderful post! It sums up, I think, how many of us feel as the parent of a child with a difference. And, kudos to the young lady for asking in a respectful and curious manner!

  4. Taryn I love this. I don't know why I didn't comment on it way back when you first posted it; it was about Jan 2011 that I discovered you and your incredible blog. But, a year later, thanks for the happy tears, just the same. :)