I've been taking care of/working with my nieces, who are both mentally and physically challenged. Once a week I take them on a shopping trip, give them a list, and then spend hours while they find the three items on each of their lists.
(It's not like I release them at the door and send them on a Free For All... I actually take them to the correct aisle and section that they need to look in and offer clues from the sidelines. Me: "Tori, check the second shelf from the bottom. Second. Where's the bottom shelf? Good. Now go up one. One. Up one. Good. No, stay there. I think it has a green label. Look for green. Good job. Now find the one that says 100% Whole Wheat. Green label. The first word is 100. No, stay on that shelf..." Tori: "It's not here." Me: "It's there. Look for green and the number 100." Tori: "It's not here." Jessie, chiming in: "Gramma doesn't get that kind." Ad infintum.)
In between shopping trips, I practice yoga.
Wednesday, I took the girls for their weekly adventure to purchase "Chopped" baskets for Uncle Dan and brother Derrick. The girls had their lists, I had my patience, and off we went, looking forward to a fun afternoon.
We took a break between the discovery of vanilla pudding and the quest for chocolate covered graham crackers when the girls got distracted by the magazine section. (Both have insidious crushes on Justin Bieber. It's almost like a virus, this Bieber Fever. We need a vaccine, stat.)
Let me take a moment to explain these precious girls:
Tori is 14 going on 5. She is sweet, always smiling, and trying to walk a fine line between thinking like a young child and desperately wanting to act like a teen-ager. She breaks my heart on a daily basis just by her utter lack of guile and her flawless innocence. She is tall, slender, gawky and awkward, deaf, and has some facial characteristics that distinctly mark her as "different."
Jessie has the same disorder, but at the age of 9, just reeks of fabulousness. She is sassy and sparkly and bursting with attitude in the ways that Tori is not. Jessie, also, is deaf and has facial characteristics that mark her as "different" but somehow, she manages to work it. Jessie looks like Cindy Lou Who, with her blonde hair and bright blue eyes. Jessie is about as awkward as Monique (and built similarly).
So picture these two girls, both dressed outrageously despite my attempts (failure) to stop them from applying layers and layers of bright pink and purple beaded necklaces with "HAPPY NEW YEAR" lettered on them. (In my defense, their hair was flawless. FLAWLESS. Tori tried to sneak out of the house wearing a plastic jeweled tiara but I stopped her dead in her tracks and then had to pluck the same damn tiara out of Jessie's hot little hands. But I lost the fight with the beads. They were wearing them. End of story. It's always Mardi Gras in Tori and Jessie Land.)
Did they stand out from the crowd?
Did they look happy and excited to be on their shopping trip?
You know it.
Did every single person who saw them realize they were mentally and physically challenged?
Which is what made what happened next so shocking to me.
Like I said, the girls have been infected with Bieber Fever. They were going through teen magazines, trying to find the one that had THE MOST PICTURES (because I said I'd buy them one magazine to share). This was uber important. They were totally engrossed in their mission when I noticed two teen-age girls, probably somewhere in the 13-15 year old age range, stop at the front of the aisle, point at the girls, and start whispering and giggling.
(Since I was standing further away from the girls, I don't think they realized I was with them.)
As they edged closer to Tori, they began aping her movements and falling all over themselves with laughter. And then one of them aimed her phone in Tori's direction, obviously with the intent to take a picture.
This is what happened in my head:
|Do you feel lucky, punk?|
Followed by this:
I took a moment to maim and kill them mentally, imagining myself picking up one teen-age girl and beating the other one to death with her.
After they were both beaten to a bloody pulp in my mind, I walked deliberately towards them, making eye contact the entire way.
|That's right... I'm looking at you.|
I stood directly in front of the one holding the phone and stared her down without saying a word.
|Except, you know... female.|
Abruptly, they turned tail and walked away.
That's right, little girls... run away. I will see you again when you are over 18, at which time I will hunt you down and kick your asses.
Count on it.
Tori and Jessie had no idea that anything had happened and continued happily in their Quest For Bieber.
I, on the other hand, really wanted to cry.
I felt like my day was ruined. I felt angry, deflated, sad...
But never underestimate the Power of Jessie.
I paused in the feminine hygiene aisle to load up on tampons.
Jessica, having no clue what any of the products were for, excitedly pointed at a particular sparkly pink box of tampons and squealed, "Aunt Dani!!! GET THAT ONE!!!"
Having no ability to tell her no, I put the box in the cart and off we went to check-out.
My day was made complete when our bagger was loading up the cart and Jessie pointed to the box of tampons and insisted, "I want to carry that."
The older man who was bagging the groceries looked confused for a moment and asked, "What did you say, sweetheart?"
Jessie repeated, "I want to carry that."
He looked at me for a moment and then looked back at her.
I had roughly 2 seconds to either die of embarrassment or suck it up and deal with it.
"She wants to carry the tampons," I informed him. "They're pink. Go with it."
He smiled kindly at Jessie, put the tampons in a small white gift bag and handed it to her.
"Here you go, sweetheart!" he said.
She smiled happily, thanked him excitedly, and did a little dance as we left the store.
My heart lightened again and I burst out laughing, watching Jessie do her little fat girl jig out to the car, waving her bag of feminine products while Tori skipped happily behind her, carrying her teen magazine loaded with pictures of Justin Bieber.