I sat on the couch, curled into a tight ball, circling the fringe of my blanket around my fingers, absorbed in a novel by one of my favorite authors. My four-year-old daughter sat at my feet, playing with Legos and singing a made up song. Yes, it had been a tough day, my various chronic illnesses tag teaming me with success, but we had made it. My husband would be home in just over a half an hour. I’d even showered, played a round or two of My Little Pony and put something in the oven for dinner. A friend had taken my oldest for a driving lesson, so all things considered, this day had been a win despite the overwhelming pain and fatigue.
The doorbell rang. This was a somewhat rare occurrence since we generally knew when someone was heading our way and they knew better than to bother with formalities. The only people who rang the doorbell were the sweet neighbor girls from across the street which my daughter adored. She would be thrilled and delighted to play with them. She rushed to the door and only slowed down as I admonished her once again, “You never answer the door by yourself, only with Mommy.”
My daughter threw open the door with excitement but instead of three little neighbor girls an immaculately dressed woman stood in front of us. Upon seeing me, she immediately stepped back. “Are you okay? Because you don’t look okay. You must have been sleeping. You were asleep?” The problem was none of what she said seemed to be a question or motivated by concern. She shifted her body in order to look past me and get a better look into my house. Disdain oozed from her being. I couldn’t find words. Who was this woman? Why was she at my door making me feel so small? “You didn’t answer me. You are fine?” she barked. I nodded vaguely, attempting to retreat inside of my body. A man appeared behind her and began their speech, explaining they were realtors, looking to sell houses in the neighborhood. I wondered if she realized her approach was not the way to win friends or business? She continued to stare at me and in the end, I took their business with a shaking hand, closed the door and began to sob.
I went to the bathroom mirror, and I studied my own face. Was I some sort of monster unknowingly? Was my appearance so startling to all who were not accustomed to it? Did this woman not realize I was doing the best I could? While I couldn’t answer any of these questions with any certainty one thing I did know was, I never wanted this woman to come to my door again.
My sense of victory of over the day, over illness, had quickly evaporated and in it’s place was a deep sense of shame over who I had become. I wanted to hide from the world forever, never face another human again. I never wanted to see that look of disdain, of judgment again.
When my husband arrived home, I cried as I explained the unexpected visit, my desire to hide, my shame at who I had become. I asked him to call the agency and to ensure, this woman never offered her services at our door again. He did.
What he could not do is promise me that no one would ever treat me this way again. He cannot assure me that no one will ever look at me again and assume that I am lazy, that I do not care for myself because I do not want to, that I sometimes sleep during the day simply because I lack the motivation to do otherwise. He cannot stop people from making these assumptions or from voicing them, even as I fight with all I have.
So today, I appeal to you. Don’t assume. When you come to my door, or you see the messy, tired mom, and it seems like she’s been sleeping in the middle of the day. Don’t assume she isn’t caring for her children well. Don’t assume she’s lazy. Don’t talk to her like an unruly school child. In truth, you know nothing of the battles she fights. You know nothing of the wounds you are ripping open.
So when you are tempted to assume she is sleeping in the middle of the day, or skipping work––––when you want to assume she is lazy or self-absorbed? Just don’t. Don’t assume. And if you must assume? Assume the best.