Our story: A compliment at Chick-fil-A

Juliet and her brother at her grandmother's for Easter

Juliet and her brother at her grandmother’s for Easter

A stop on a roadtrip, and the simplest of compliments, reminded me of how good some people can be towards others, particularly those who happen to have Down syndrome.

When my daughter Juliet was a newborn, eating out was a stressful experience.

Her mother and I were still processing the diagnosis and “Down syndrome” was at the forefront of our minds. We, therefore, expected it would be likewise in everyone else’s, and thought other diners were noticing our daughter’s almond-shaped eyes or sometimes protruding tongue.

Of course, in almost every instance, we were projecting, as therapists would say. But, there were times we’d notice a table glancing our way and then say sotto voce “Down syndrome.”

As time went on, we tended to either ignore or not notice if anyone else was commenting on our daughter having an extra 21st Chromosome. Instead, what we did note was how few people did notice, or at least appear to notice.

Still, the imprinting persists of how society puts on our psyche that Juliet, and others like her with Down syndrome, somehow are more “different” than any of us are different from one another. And, so, as parents we remain more aware of how others view our child, particularly if they view her as different, less, a pity.

So much so that the negative moves to the foreground of what we can sometimes dwell on.

This is an example of what the author John Acuff describes as “critic’s math.” It goes like this: say 100 people share this article and comment favorably, but one person leaves a nasty, rude, critical comment. How many comments have I received in my mind? One. The critic’s comment.

It may be how we humans are wired: we remember the negative reviews over the positive review (indeed, this is why in political campaigns negative ads outnumber positive ones–because they work to persuade voters’ opinions of the opponent).

But, today, at a stop on a road trip, something positive happened. And, I didn’t want to forget it.

Traveling to spend Christmas at my kids’ maternal grandmother’s home outside of Mobile, Alabama, we pulled off to have lunch at the Chick-fil-A in Prattville, Alabama. (Again, perhaps another example of projection, but this lunch selection was not driven by any political or religious preferences, but rather the preferences my son has for waffle cut fries and my daughter’s equally strong preference for fresh-squeezed lemonade).

It was an ordinary enough stop. One that I expect many families have made while traveling for the holidays. Fathers trying to emulate the dad in A Christmas Story and make the stop as efficient as a pit crew at the Indianapolis 500; mothers wanting to ensure their children both use the bathroom and wash their hands thoroughly; and children looking for any opportunity to burn off some cooped-up energy from being stuck in the back seat for hours.

We approached the counter and a pleasant young lady with shoulder length chestnut hair, wide eyes, and a welcoming smile asked us for our order. I responded:

  • A six-piece kid’s meal for her with lemonade
  • A four-piece kid’s meal for him with lemonade
  • A number one combo, large, with extra pickles and diet lemonade for dad, and
  • An original sandwich without pickles for mom (we would split the large fries).

The young lady repeated our order to confirm it and then said “that’ll be $20.10.” I only had a hundred dollar bill (not because that’s how I roll or am engaged in any illicit commerce, it’s just the denomination I had) and turned to see if the kids’ mom had any change. I saw out of the corner of my eye a young man in dusty blue jeans and a t-shirt–apparently on his lunch break from a jobsite–dig into his pocket to see if he could spare a dime.

I passed the c-note to the cashier, but thanked him for offering. Juliet, however, was miffed.

This past year, she has taken to being the “money handler” in all consumer transactions. When the time comes to pay the bill, she insists the money–or debit or credit card–be passed to her and then she deliver it to the cashier.

Juliet pouted.

The cashier counted out $79.90 in change and was going to hand it to me; I directed her to place it in Juliet’s outstretched hand. The young lady asked, “does she get it?” I nodded. She carefully placed the change in Juliet’s hand, who, proudly straightening her shoulders as if her rightful position as money handler had been restored, then turned and gave me the change which I put in my pocket.

Then, mom whisked the kids away to the restroom while I waited for the food.

A few moments later, my name was being called to pick up the two kids’ meals and a larger bag. The young lady offered to provide drink holders. As I gathered everything up in my hands, the young lady caught my eye and asked:

What’s your daughter’s name?

I answered, “Juliet,” and then, in a moment when time would slow down, she looked into my eyes and said,

She’s beautiful.

I let the compliment linger between us and then thanked her.

Due to the busy lunch crowd, I decided to spare her my usual joke that “well, clearly she gets that from her mom.” And turned to get the straws and napkins.

But, in my mind, I made a point to savor the moment.

Perhaps the young lady was merely commenting on the fact that my daughter is a pretty little girl–like many others have before her. But, the way she made a point to ask about her name and the knowing way that she looked at me when she said it–well, there was no question she was making that statement to share that in her opinion my daughter was beautiful in every way and exactly because of who she is.

Extra 21st chromosome and all.

Indeed Juliet is beautiful.

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