THE BLOG
12/31/2015 01:40 pm ET Updated Dec 31, 2016

When People Ask Why 'A Big Boy Like That' Is in a Stroller

Jodie Griggs via Getty Images

Last year our family spent five weeks in Chile completing the adoption process for our second son. He was just shy of 3 years old when we returned home with him.

Two months after our return, I ran into an acquaintance at the grocery store. A rather bizarre but thought-provoking encounter ensued.

She saw me pushing our son in a stroller and waved me over for a chat. She greeted me abruptly and asked me without ceremony who this child was. I introduced my new son to her and explained that we had only just brought him home from Chile a couple of months ago. I optimistically assumed congratulations were in order. However, she stared at him and then at me and asked dubiously, "Your son? This is your son? You aren't just taking care of him for someone?"

Excellent question. It's always best to make sure someone isn't just trying to pass off a random child as their newly adopted one. I answered yes, he really was my son. She stared at me a moment and said, "It just always seems strange to me to see such a large child being pushed around in a stroller." I didn't feel the need to explain my reasons for pushing this large child in a stroller to her, so I settled for smiling politely at her, ending the conversation by wishing her a lovely day and walking away.

I notice that this stroller issue is indeed a pressing one. Occasionally people have wondered aloud as we pass why "a big boy like that" isn't walking on his own! I especially like that generally this isn't actually asked to me directly, just in my hearing. That will show me. Maybe it will shame me into making that large child walk on his own two legs.

I keep thinking I will address these people who never address me directly. I never do, though. My reasons for using a stroller are nobody's business. I do wonder sometimes, though, if -- just to give them a little pause -- I should tell them this large boy in the stroller was so ill he was hospitalized for the first year of his life, didn't walk until after he was 2, and that in the first information we received about him, they said there was a chance he might need to spend his life in a wheelchair. (He can walk almost perfectly now, though.) It just goes to show we never know, so why bother with the effort of making a judgment on such an insignificant thing like an older child in a stroller?

The heart of the issue is that, even if there appears to be no reason for a bigger child to be in a stroller or for an older child not to be speaking perfectly or anything else, what business is it of others'? There are many things in a child's life and about a child's development that outsiders know nothing about. The child who is later to speak may be bilingual or even, as is the case with our son, be struggling with three languages all fighting for space in his head. That child may have been born early and had a disease that didn't allow their vocal cords to develop fully. That big child of almost 3 may be crying with frustration daily because they can't express their most basic needs. He may be grieving intensely the loss of his mother tongue and everything familiar. How does uninformed judgment help, and what is its purpose?

Whether a child is biological or adopted, each child and each family has their own story. In the case of adoption, often only the adoptive parents are aware of the details of their child's history, and even then there are many unfilled blanks.

In a family where the child is biological, the same still holds true. Only the parents really know what challenges their child is facing.

Many things are not as simple as they seem. My hope is that adults, myself included, could learn to be more merciful. To show grace rather than judgment to other people. To realize we see and understand nothing fully.

Rather than concerning ourselves with why other people do things a certain way, we should focus on differentiating between things that matter and things that don't.

It doesn't matter why a big boy is being pushed around in a stroller.

What matters is: Do we love hard enough? Do we lift one another up with words of kindness, honesty and encouragement? Do we have large enough souls to show mercy and grace to those we encounter?

This was first published on The Mighty.

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