To The Mother Who Caught Me Staring At Her Daughter

Playground swing set with lens flare (selective focus)

I want you to know I wasn’t judging your daughter’s behavior. I wasn’t judging your parenting. I was studying it. I was soaking it in. I was wondering what my own daughter would do. If my own daughter could. 

Dear mother I saw at the park:

My friend gently nudged me as I heard her whisper in my ear. “You are staring. Again.”

I quickly looked away, but I know you saw me. You thought I was staring at your daughter…and you are right, I was.

I want you to know that I’m not staring at her because she is loud, or silly, or awkward. I am staring at her because she is amazing.

She looks to be about 12, like my own daughter will be soon. She is tall with long legs and even longer hair that she probably insists on wearing down.

She came bounding around the corner holding hands with her best friend. They were giggling secrets and squealing with equal amounts of disgust and delight at the boys trying to chase them across the turf.

She absentmindedly caressed your arm while she begged for a sleepover with her best friend. “No,” you said, “not tonight.” I saw the flashes of anger briefly cross her blue eyes before dropping your arm like it burned her and sulking away to find comfort in her friend.

“She said ‘no,’ so unfair!” l heard her say with a bitter, almost-grown-up edge to her sweet voice.

You sighed. And then you saw me staring at you, at the interaction with your daughter, and you shrugged as if to say, “Today is not my day.”

I want you to know I wasn’t judging your daughter’s behavior. I wasn’t judging your parenting. I was studying it. I was soaking it in. I was wondering what my own daughter would do. If my own daughter could.

My daughter, Molly, was born with Rett Syndrome, a neurological disorder that has left her unable to walk or speak. She has seizures and scoliosis, a half-dozen daily medications and a feeding tube.

If you knew me, if we were friends, I would tell you how much I have been dreading Molly turning 12. Every birthday has been hard—a day of joy tinged with the pain of long-lost dreams. This year though, 12, well it seems particularly tough.

Twelve. Such a milestone. The last year before becoming a teen. A wild, whirling mix of first crushes, changing bodies, middle school, and the last, fleeting days of being a little girl, still unselfconsciously holding your mom’s hand and sleeping with teddy bears.

This is what Molly should have.

But she will never insist on wearing her hair down. She will never beg me for a sleepover.

Rett Syndrome took away her chance to be a typical 12-year-old girl. How my heart aches for her to hold hands and giggle with her best friend, to let her long hair fly behind her while she runs as fast she can away from eager boys, or to be angry with me.

I want those things for her, but because she doesn’t have them Molly is even more amazing. She is the strongest girl I know. Molly has gone through hours-long surgeries and weeks-long recoveries, barely shedding a tear, enduring pain that would make grown men cry.

Molly is patient while her father, siblings, and I often bumble about trying to provide what she needs and wants.

Molly gives smiles that can make your heart sing and can see into you with a love so intense that you feel your heart breaking. Her eyes speak the millions of words her voice cannot.

Molly is 12. On the cusp of so much, yet stuck in a body that fails her. A genetic mutation that has no cure or treatment.

So, other mom from the park, please forgive me. I don’t know what happens after 12, I have the feeling you don’t either. I know our paths won’t be at all similar, but that is OK. And you might catch me staring. Again.

Lauren Cooper is a mother of three, owner of Aspen Street Cakes, and blogs about food and Jewish culture at thefoodjew.com.

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