On a warm Saturday afternoon in November, my nine-year-old daughter Sarah and I walked down the street to Seven-11. She’d aced a spelling test the day before, and I decided to treat her to a Slurpee.
At the convenience store counter, I started digging for loose change in my purse. The line was long, and Sarah, who thinks strangers are just friends waiting to meet her, smiled at the man in front of us.
“Well, aren’t you a sweetie!” the man greeted my little girl. “Are you out for a walk with your mommy today?”
“I’m getting a Slurpee,” Sarah answered proudly. “Because I got all the words right on my spelling test. Blue raspberry is the best flavor.”
“I bet you help your mommy out a lot, don’t you?”
I winced inwardly. The man could have focused on the spelling test or the Slurpee, but instead, he had fixated on my blindness and assumed my daughter took care of me. It happens a lot, and it doesn’t get any less annoying with each occurrence.
“I guess I kind of help her,” Sarah said. “When I feel like it.”
That’s true enough. Sarah, like any nine-year-old, can be quite helpful when it suits her. She likes to operate the steam mop on our hardwood floors. Sometimes she enjoys giving me a hand with dinner preparations or baking brownies with me. She’ll pitch in with family yard work because she knows there’s usually ice cream for everyone when it’s over. But she can make a mess as well as the next kid and be just as reluctant to clean it up, too. She’s no saint because her mom is blind, nor would I want her to be.
“You know what?” the stranger in line decided. “Tell your mom to put her money away. I’m buying you that Slurpee. I watched you two crossing the street, and you were very careful, not letting your mom walk out in front of cars or trip on the curb or anything.”
Actually, I had listened for oncoming traffic and determined when it was safe to cross the street, and my guide dog had paused at the curb so I wouldn’t trip. I could have made the crossing safely on my own.
I was torn. Should I let the man pay for the Slurpee? He seemed to mean well, and Sarah is a good kid. She does a lot for me, even if her motives are less altruistic and more practical than her benefactor likely gives her credit for. As she’s gotten older, she lends a hand when she sees things that need doing, simply because she sees the needs, not because she feels sorry that her mom is blind. My blindness is just a fact of her life. It’s always been that way, so it isn’t something she’s ever questioned.
“Thank you for your kindness, sir,” I broke in. “My daughter is a great kid. She did a super job on her spelling test, which is why she’s getting a Slurpee. I have the money for it, but thanks again.”
“I’d really like to pay,” the stranger insisted. “It did my heart good to see you two out today. A lot of kids, man, they’re disrespectful. They don’t care about anyone but themselves. But your little girl, she’s different. Restores some of my faith in the future, you know. There oughta be more kids like her. She watches over you.”
Well, if he’d quit before he added the last sentence … But what could I do? Sarah is a polite, big-hearted girl. That much is completely true. If those qualities in her had motivated him, aside from the caretaking of her blind mom, I could understand why he wanted to treat her to the drink.
“Thank you.” I still felt uncomfortable, but I smiled anyway. I wasn’t ready to make a scene. There’s a point where good intentions collide with misconceptions, and maybe sometimes gratitude is a better response than defensiveness—at least in front of a nine-year-old waiting for a blue raspberry Slurpee. “Sarah, what do you say?”
Sarah thanked the man, I dropped my change back in my purse, and we made a break for the door as soon as we could.
“Mom, I don’t really help you that much,” Sarah said when we got outside. She already had the straw in her mouth, sipping between her words.
“Maybe not in the way the man was talking about,” I told her. “Sometimes you label cans and match socks with me, things like that. But mostly you’re kind and polite and you try hard in school. That’s how you contribute to our family right now, which is exactly perfect.”
As we walked home, I thought about how blessed I’ve been to raise a daughter like Sarah. It’s sad, though, that people like the man in line at Seven-11 believe young children take care of their blind parents. Who do they think changes thousands of diapers when those children are babies? Who do they think teaches those children to walk and talk, put on their socks, and eat with silverware? Do they really think it takes working eyeballs, rather than working minds and hearts, to raise families?