A letter to the man who shushed my daughter


I could tell you were getting edgy as you sat with your friends, drinking coffee and watching the crumbs from my eight-year-old daughter’s biscuit fall messily all over her school uniform. Your face gave away your disgust immediately.

I was at the next table, helping her open the new toy we had just bought. Yet I had my eye on you, already feeling uncomfortable. I had a sense of what was to come, as I have become an expert at picking up the signs of intolerance.

And then it happened – my daughter squealed loudly in delight as she tore open the wrapping of her toy. It was a sound of pure happiness and excitement, yet as she let it out, I felt my heartbeat quicken.

Your response came in the form of an abrupt “shush”, and sweat began to appear on my forehead. From that moment on, I didn’t really hear a word my daughter said, my mind focused on asking myself whether you had actually shushed my daughter.

I am usually a calm person, but at that moment I was angry with you, and angry with myself for not having told you off. I decided that I would speak to you before I left the cafe.

You probably don’t realise the courage it took to approach your table, as you sat with four other middle-aged men, joking loudly and making quite some noise yourselves. But I did it. “Did you tell my daughter to shush?”

You said: “If your daughter can’t keep quiet, you should keep her at home.” I answered without any forethought: “You probably don’t realise it, but my daughter has special needs and I will not keep her at home.”

Related: A letter to… my brother, a special man with special needs

Do you know how painful it was for me to tell a stranger that my child has special needs? So painful that as I said it, the tears started to swell. I was mortified, but I felt sure that you would realise the error of your ways and scramble together an apology.

Instead, my tears induced yet another rebuke: “Go home and cry to your mamma!” That is when I realised I was done with explaining to you, done with giving you the opportunity to understand, and done with trying to have an adult conversation with you.

I hope one day you will learn to be tolerant, or I am sure you will end up alone, while I am surrounded by warmth and love.

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