This article originally appeared in the Oregon Clarion in October of 2001, written by then-editor Diann Drummond. Her daughter, Molly Drummond, is one of the five plaintiffs of Staley v. Kitzhaber, the class action lawsuit responsible for creating Oregon’s progressive self-directed brokerage system, which currently serves nearly 8,000 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
This is a tale of one of those dreaded supermarket encounters talked about among parents of children with disabilities. The sidelong looks, the stares, and the whispers feel like a stab in the heart.
My daughter Molly is very small for a 23 year-old and her spine is sharply curved over to one side. When we are grocery shopping, being pushed around the store in the basket is her favorite way to go. She giggles and talks her mysterious language while the food is piled all around her. Admittedly, we make an interesting sight.
Sometimes we pass someone who smiles warmly or says hello, and I think, “There is a fine person.”
Most of the time we go about our business, get our food, and head for home, eager to break into the tortilla chips or gummy bears. But on one particular day, that isn’t the way things went.
We had stopped by our local market for a quick shopping trip. This is the place where the clerks chat with us, and we often run into neighborhood friends.
I made my way down the aisles with Molly trailing behind. For some reason that day, Molly wasn’t into basket-riding. Just as I was squeezing the cantaloupes in the produce section, a herd of boys, maybe around kindergarten or early school-age, thundered up. The leader of the little ruffians exclaimed loudly, “Hey, look at her – she’s weird!”
I could see their mother close by, not phased in the least by what I considered to be a serious affront.
That’s when the mother bear came out in me. I scooped Molly protectively toward me. I felt like growling but hurried down the aisle instead. I headed to the other side of the store, thinking we could quickly grab our groceries and head for the safety of home.
However, no sooner had we rounded another corner when we ran into them again. There was a repeat of the earlier scene and that word “weird” again. Mother bear was ready to charge.
I don’t usually admonish other people’s children, but I turned a stern eye on them and said, “Boys, don’t be cruel.”
They stopped and huddled together, wide-eyed and slack-jawed. That’s when I saw mother bear number two streak forward and gather her offspring close. She said in a steely voice, “I will speak to them.” I spoke back with an equally steely voice, “I wish you would.” The face-off!
After a few moments, we turned in separate directions, herding our cubs along, when mother bear number two offered, “They’ve never seen a handicapped person before.”
I looked at the boys, then at their mother, and then back at the boys. I paused. “Would you like to meet Molly?” I asked. They cautiously sidled forward. “This is Molly. She has a disability and she was born with a crooked back. She doesn’t talk, but she can understand what you say. She goes to school.”
One of the four said “hi” to Molly and asked, “Does she go to school every day?”
I replied, “Yes, she rides the bus every day.”
Another offered, “I’m five.”
A few social pleasantries and we were on our way. I felt a bit sheepish, wondering if I’d been too hard on the boys who were pretty young. But the olive branch had been extended, and at least I didn’t swat it away with my paws.
We finished gathering our groceries, went through the checkout stand, and were going out the door when I heard someone call, “Bye.” I turned to see mom and her four boys smiling and waving. I smiled and waived back. Molly and I headed for the car. She was her usual happy self, apparently unconcerned with the incident. I was relieved that the confrontation ended the way it did.
I let out a tired sigh.
Time for mother bear and her cub to head back to their den and hibernate for a while.
The Oregon Clarion Volume 7, Number 3