Standing in line, I watch helplessly as a candy bar sails through the air, into the empty cart in front of me. The grinning, piggy-tailed four-year-old whose pitch sent it flying never once takes her eyes off me; her gaze is as steady as her determination. "I've got one just like her at home," the cashier chuckles, shaking her head. "You have a little one at home?" I ask, stretching out as far as my five-foot-two-and-a-half-inch frame will allow, in a failed effort to retrieve the lone candy bar. "No, just one like her. She'll be a handful for you." Not exactly encouraging words for a young mom, but as she began to describe her daughter, I realized just how much she did understand.
One like her, she'd said. To most parents, this phrase wouldn't hit so hard, but to the parent of a child with special needs, it has significantly more meaning—sometimes positive and sadly, sometimes negative. In this case, it was filled with considerable understanding and encouragement. The woman went on to tell me about her daughter, now in her twenties, who has spina bifida. "She's always been so determined, even as a little girl," she tells me. "You might have seen her if you live in town. She works as a greeter at Wal-Mart. Her name's Anna."
I'm taken completely by surprise at her last statement. I do know her. Even in a small town, where the odds of having met her daughter are greater than in a burgeoning metropolis, I'm shocked at the realization that I have met this woman's daughter. I met Anna months before, after dropping my car off to have a flat fixed. My daughter, Sofia, and I had strolled through the Wal-Mart next door until we got the call telling us the car was ready. Leaving the store, I was struggling to keep her coat zipped. She was more than thrilled to show off her newly acquired zipping skills. Up and down the zipper went, with me struggling to keep her coat closed.1