Dear mom in the school parking lot,

I saw you today picking up your son from the kinder classroom. Your child was happy to see you, he smiled and said something to you. The teacher greeted you and gave you his backpack. A quick and pleasant exchange, you took your little boy by the hand and started to walk toward the sidewalk.  

I was in my car, in line to leave the chaos of the after-school parking lot. My son was in the back seat, kicking the seat in front of him. Tears running down his cherub cheeks. His pristine blue eyes becoming red from the crying. He threw his cup at me and flung his head back into his seat in frustration.

I had tried for five minutes to calm him down, but he wasn’t having it. He couldn’t tell me what he needed—he is non-verbal. 

I had been in a teacher meeting just prior to picking him up, and I was late getting him at the usual time. This got him upset, and it threw him into meltdown mode. He didn’t understand the EA and the teacher who were both trying to tell him it would be OK, Mommy was coming.

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My son didn’t understand that his mommy was just down the hall finishing up and was coming to get him. He didn’t understand that just a few feet away, I was in a meeting with his teachers, his special education teacher, and his speech and language therapist. We were all there to find strategies to help him better survive and thrive in his school setting. I am fortunate to have a collaborating and working relationship with my school team. They care about my son and care about my family.

But even so, that day I was exhausted.

I was exhausted from my son waking up every two hours the night before. This is our norm some days. I was so tired of not knowing what to feed him, the driving to and from therapy appointments, the phone call to his occupational therapist I didn’t get to, the Visa bill I needed to pay, the mess in my living room. Before my meeting at school, I had just gotten off the phone with a reporter about the lack of supports for children with special needs in schools and the impending teacher strikes. I had too many messages to respond to, and I had forgotten to eat because well, you know, we are moms and that sometimes happens.

Mom, I watched you as your son walked with you, spoke to you, showed you his paper with a bright smile. You hurriedly held his hand, watching the moving cars around you to get to the sidewalk. Your son skipping a few steps behind, trying to keep up. You were trying your best to listen, but he was talking too fast, too much at once. A daily norm for you, I’m sure.  

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I was in my car, crawling behind the line of cars trying to get out. At one point the line stopped. My eyes still watching you. You were now coming closer and were ready to pass my car. As you both passed by the side of my car, your son, still trying to catch up with your pace, made contact with mine. Your son looked over to where my son was sitting in the car, and he smiled. Your son’s face lit up and with the biggest grin he burst out, “There’s my friend, Max!” 

You didn’t hear your son say that. But I did. And you have no idea how much I needed to hear that at that moment.

I looked at my son, and he was still crying. He didn’t know that someone had noticed him, that someone called him his friend.  

I don’t know you, but I want to thank you, mom in the parking lot.

You see mom, every time I leave my son at school, I pray someone will be kind to him. That someone will help him with his shoes, someone will help him understand what to do next, someone will ask him to sit next to him. That at lunch, someone will watch over to see that he’s eaten, help him with cleaning up, and guide him to his cubby for recess. I pray some kind soul will help him with his washroom routine and help him wash his hands afterward. I pray he sits with a friend at carpet time and has a companion when it’s time for him to take his daily movement walk. I pray he is never left alone and forgotten. 

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Because he doesn’t speak. He cannot speak. And he cannot do the things his typical peers are doing at this stage. I pray there is one moment in his day that gives him so much happiness, that the next day he is willing to go back to school again.

So thank you for answering my prayer. For teaching your child to love and accept those who are different from him. 

Your child may very well be one of the people who will be helping my child in the future. This is why I advocate for inclusion in schoolsfor my child, but for your child as well.

I left the parking lot a little lighter that day. My son stopped crying. I handed him his juice again, and he took it. He smiled again, and we went to get his favorite fries.   

God bless you, dear mother, and your child, too.

Maria Garito

Maria Garito is the mother of special needs Autistic child living in Ontario, Canada. As a teacher, her advocacy is focused on education supports and programs. She also writes about mental health and chronic illness.