Judge My Child With Special Needs, And You Will Hear From This Mama Bear

by Leah Moore
evgenyatamanenko / iStock

We all lined up opposite the mirror with anticipation. An audience of over 20, although there were only five participants in the class. Someone even hired what looked like a professional photographer. But I won’t judge. This is a big day watching our 3-year-old ballerinas perform their first recital.

The word itself appears to be emboldened with sparkle. Recital.

I am not a dancer. I did not grow up in the culture of leotards, leggings, and lifts, but I was feeling the energy of this moment. My beautiful little girl, proudly wearing her cotton candy tutu, with her round belly jutting out, was sharing the energy of this moment.

So, yes, I too became a proud dance mom. But I had a secret that put us in a bit of a different category than the dozen of other paparazzi in the room. I was told my beautiful ballerina would never walk or talk.

I didn’t know the stories of the other children, and they didn’t know mine, but I imagine none of the other mothers had to go through extensive entrance interviews to make sure their child would be able to participate. None of the other mothers had to see four specialists to secure what type of shoes she could wear and then spend four hours on the phone to get permission not to wear the flimsy ballet slippers. And I was certain none of the other mothers had to carry their child out of the class because there was no energy left to make it to the car. But I wasn’t here for the other mothers or their children. I was here for my ballerina.

And of course, I noticed they would talk about preparatory ballet programs for their blossoming Julliard protégée. Or how exhausting it is to go straight from ballet to piano lessons, and I would politely smile. To each their own. I ignored the answers they gave their daughters in the dressing room regarding my 3-year-old’s need to be in a diaper. “She must be a baby still. Babies wear diapers.” Or their hisses of “don’t’ stare” to deter them from looking at my daughter’s braces, despite my calm response, “It’s okay, she uses them to help her walk. Do you want to look at the hearts on them?” But my daughter never noticed, and I was, after all, learning to be a mother of a child with a disability, so I am sure I would need to thicken my skin.

And there we were. All five mothers now lined up across from a row of four ballerinas standing perfectly in their spot and my breath of fresh air waving to reflection on the opposite side of the room. The teacher smiled a brave, knowing look in my direction as she guided her to her spot. She’s got this. The music started. The smile on my daughter’s face could not be contained as she began to dance! My husband’s hand found mine and tears were streaming down our faces. Our fingers intertwined in the same position when the doctor read her diagnosis — such a rare snydrome, it will be a long road. But here we are watching her do the unimaginable. She bobbed up and down. She swayed to the side. She shouted at the top of her lungs. I had truly never felt more pride as a mother.

However, the rest of the girls were still only going through their initial positions. Their feet had not left their designated shape, and the only movement they had made was between first and second position. Needless to say, my bellowing ballerina was following her own internal beat.

“Ugh. That child is so distracting. My Rebecca cannot concentrate.”

A fire like I had never felt flashed throughout my entire body. As if in slow motion, I turned my head to make eye contact with this mother. I was ready. My snarling fangs, my extending claws, my extending shoulders, I had morphed into…Momma Bear. No one will talk about my baby .

My friend grabbed my hand, as if feeling my protective transformation. “Not now. Not during the class.” My husband, who had not heard it, quizzically looked at me as if wondering why I had suddenly shed my stained sweatpants for a Grizzly Bear snarl. I breathed down the anger and only focused on my blissful ballerina.

She radiated joy on the stage. She clapped for the other girls during their individual moments and listened as best she could to the teacher’s directions. At the conclusion, her bows extended as if it was opening night at the Met and the audience was shouting “Encore!” She glowed all the way home.

After I put her fatigued body to bed, I thought about my choices. The mother in me empathized with this woman. She wanted her daughter to have the best experience as possible and perhaps my child was interrupting that.

However, I also recognize this is a beginner class for 3-year-olds and no one made an audible comment about the adorable redhead happily picking her nose during the finale. I could just let it go because it is just one woman, and it’s not my responsibility to educate her on kindness. But then my decision was definitive. It was not just the intention of her comment but the “ugh” that initiated it. There was disdain in her voice and this momma bear wouldn’t stand for it. I am raising a child who deserves the same compassion and empathy as others, and it is my job to be her advocate. I had to say something.

If there was ever a movie made of my life, I would include “The Confrontation.” Because I had time to collect my thoughts and do enough deep breathing to get through it without tears, I was able for the first time in my life to say exactly what I wanted. I never raised my voice. I never made her feel guilty. I asked to speak to her alone for a moment. I simply told her my story and how her statement made me feel. It was painful, empowering, stressful, and I would do it again. I don’t feel any anger toward this woman any longer, more so, I feel grateful because it allowed me to get further me on the long road I wanted to travel as an advocate for my daughter. It felt incredible.

I don’t have to use my fangs to support my daughter, although it’s helpful to know they are there. I’d prefer to move through life with just a big hug. I invite other moms to do the same. After all, regardless of ability, all mothers are just protecting their young.