Have it your way

“Judge not, that ye be not judged.” ~ The Bible, Matthew 7:1

If you’ve been anywhere near the Internet this past week, then you probably have a passing familiarity with the Burger King Pie guy.

For those who haven’t heard, a guy was in line at Burger King and behind him were a mother and son. The son was acting out and demanding a pie; the mom was yelling that he wasn’t getting pie. Cussing and bad manners were displayed. Pie Guy decides to buy all the pies so the kid can’t have any. The Internet declared the guy a hero.

I’m going to take out my soapbox and climb up on it because this episode has dredged up memories I thought were safely tucked away. So, indulge me why I play Devil’s advocate and maybe get some people to look at things just a little bit differently.

What I see is a perfect stranger who decided within the amount of time he stood in line that a child he doesn’t know was deserving of cruel and unusual punishment because he had to listen to him yelling and swearing that he wanted to have a pie. This guy also deduced in the epically long wait time that the cause of the child’s behavior was horrible parenting.

But things aren’t always what they seem.

I don’t doubt that standing in that line was aggravating and frustrating. We’ve all been there – a kid acting up, a parent either ignoring it or making it worse. We roll our eyes and grit our teeth. Some may even make a comment or two. If we’re being honest with ourselves, there are times when we are those people. None of us are at our best 100 percent of the time, and sometimes our bad parenting gets caught on tape. Shame on him for deciding that it was his responsibility to teach this mother and son a lesson.

About eight years ago, I stood in line at McDonald’s with my daughter, refusing to buy her any food unless she ordered it herself. We stood there for 10 minutes. I refused a picture menu. I refused to let the counterperson lead her with suggestions so she could nod at what she wanted.

I stood there, my 7-year-old crying and red-faced and told her she would go home hungry if she didn’t speak up and order her food herself. I counted down the minutes to the horror and glares of those around me.

And I would do it again.

What they witnessed that day in McDonald’s was public therapy.

At 5 years old my daughter was diagnosed with selective mutism (SM). SM is a serious anxiety disorder that manifests as an inability to speak in normal social interactions. That was 10 years ago.

As part of the exercise, I could not provide her any prompts or assistance, nor could I allow anyone to intercede on her behalf. That meant no picture menus to point at what she wanted. No nodding to proffered selections. No assistance. One aspect of this exercise was to make not talking more uncomfortable than talking. In order for that to happen she had to be made uncomfortable and unsettled.

One of the most difficult things I have ever done was stand in that McDonald’s and watch terror swallow my daughter whole. I stood in silence watching her confront her enormous fear and not knowing if she could do it.

I watched her cry and ignored her silent pleas for help.

I stood there and felt my soul shatter.

And while I stood there refusing to break and let her leave before she completed her task, I endured the stares, glares and muttered comments of the other people there. But I couldn’t let them influence my behavior because I knew what was at stake. Not a single other person in that McDonald’s knew our story or how much work she had done to get to this point.

And it was none of their business, because here’s what they didn’t see.

They didn’t see the preparation that went into those 10 minutes. They didn’t see the millions of victories both small and large that got her to that place. They didn’t see her failures or her determination. They didn’t see her small smile when she faced and conquered her fear. They didn’t see the victories that built slowly and painfully over the next few years.

And they don’t see the victories that continue to happen today.

I learned something about myself during that time, and it has served me well for the past decade.

Never ever assume you understand a person or a behavior based on a snippet of their life. No matter how horrifying it is to you personally, you have no idea of a person’s struggles or what led them to the point where your paths cross.

My experience with Emma and her therapy gave me more than sleepless nights; it gave me courage. More important than courage, it gave me compassion.

Every single person I encounter gets the benefit of the doubt. I’m more likely to give a smile and a nod – a silent “You’re not alone; you’re not the only one,” an acknowledgement that others have stood in their shoes and some of us still stand there.

I don’t know if the mother and son at Burger King were anything other than horrible people behaving badly. Honestly, I don’t really care, since if that is the case their behavior is a reflection of them.

My behavior is a reflection of me.

And I would like to say this to Burger King Pie guy.

Maybe you’re right and this kid is a product of poor parenting, but had you drawn on your compassion instead of your anger perhaps you could have shown this child there’s another way to be.

Instead, you decided to act like a spoiled brat proving yourself no better than the behavior you were condemning.

Originally published in the August 13, 2014 edition of The Old Colony Memorial. Published to the web at wickedlocal.com/plymouth on August 14, 2014.


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