The other day I was running some errands in town. It was lunchtime and I knew if I tried to drive home Ella would be asleep within a few minutes and would miss lunch. Her doctors and I aren't as concerned about her weight as we used to be (ever since we hit that big 2-0 lb mark) but I still panic a little at the thought of her missing an all important meal. So McDonalds it was. We walked in and she wandered around a little while I perused the Dollar Menu, causing the typical smiles from workers and customers. We ordered our food, found a booth and sat down.
While we're at a restaurant, Ella and I have opportunity to come in contact with many people. Many MANY people. Ella is what some would call a slooooow eater. The girl averages around 20 minutes per McNugget. On the rare occasion we go to a restaurant, we usually end up spending a good portion of our day there (upside: free caffeinated refills). After a friendly conversation with an older couple who were obviously smitten with Ella ended in the man giving her a dollar (for me to buy her a candy bar with later.. obviously.) a booth was open near us.
Now I'm not sure if this is weird or not.. but I have this thing. Maybe they occurred at a very impressionable age for me (I was 17), but ever since the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center I've been a little paranoid about going out in public. Not like I-can't-function-in-daily-life-and-never-leave-my-house-because-I'm-too anxious-paranoid. Just slightly paranoid. More like watch-people-who-look-scary-a-little-more-closely-and-plan-where-I-would-run-and-hide-my-children-if-they-suddenly-started-shooting. Is that weird? If so, then I'm obviously kidding about all this.
Anyways, it wasn't long into our meal that a couple of these shady looking characters walked in and immediately blipped on my radar. And I mean 'shady' as in: men, baggy pants, long hair, unshaven. Stereotypical? Yes. Hey.. I know. Anyways, the little part inside me that I'm totally kidding about if no one else experiences this, gave off it's signal that there was possible McDouble Danger. I discreetly looked to the booths, the nearest door, planned my escape strategy should I need it, and silently analyzed in particular, the man with his goatee in a braid, which you know.. isn't all bad, but when you add up the baggy pants, baseball cap, and shifty eyes.. well you know. And all the while what was my sweet Ella doing? Toddling over to their table, smiling sweetly at them and befriending these 'scary-looking' (to me) men. I watched as they looked at her, shifted uncomfortably in their seats, glanced at me, then focused again on the pig tailed little girl, staring at them so intently, waiting, and slowly smiled down at her. I saw her hungry eyes (remember 1 hour = only 3 McNuggets) settle on one of the man's yet-untouched chocolate shake (okay.. I should have known terrorists probably wouldn't order chocolate shakes with whipped cream and a cherry on top) and I honestly thought for a moment that he was going to hand it over for her to enjoy. It was as if her taunting eyes were saying to him "Hey, the last guy who sat here forked out a dollar for a candy bar. I bet you can do better." I sat astonished at the way these two grizzled men, who I had already tagged as potential mass murderers, slowly softened around the edges and showed a side I never would have seen if not for my sweet innocent Ella girl. I would have sat at my own little tale, surviving in my own little world, believing my own little judgmental stereotypes, and never given them the chance to prove that I was wrong.
And it wasn't just these two men that Ella connected us with. It was the older couple behind us who opened up a friendly discussion about their grandchildren (his granddaughter had shown up to their house with a key she had painted gold (or was it pink? the wife asked) and told him, "Grandpa.. now you have the key to my heart.") and the McRib sandwich (Why don't they offer it all the time??). It was the middle aged couple a few booths over who couldn't stop staring and smiling at us the entire time we were there and commented how sweet my kids were on their way out. It was the elderly man who told me "You better watch out when she's 18" after recieving one of Ella's famous impenetrable smiles. It was the harried-looking business man who slowed down a little to smile at Ella while we walked through the door. It was the young worker on her way past us to deliver drive through meals who paused to smile and talk to Ella every time she walked past.
Ella has a way of connecting people. Of bringing out the best in everyone around her and bringing us together. Of opening the lines of communication between people. Too often we go about our own individual, busy lives and rarely have the opportunity to connect with others. Too often we are surrounded by people, yet feel isolated and alone in our own worlds. Too often we sit in a McDonalds for hours on end and instead of interacting and getting to know the people around us, we isolate ourselves in our own booths, in our own worlds, and tag complete strangers as potential murder suspects (or maybe I'm the only one who does that..). But because of Ella and her simplistically sweet nature, I am finding myself learning more about others and getting to know people who before would have remained forever unknown. I find myself connecting with others. And realizing just how alike we really are. If not for Ella I would have sat through the rest of our meal (which could have been hours..), feeling slight fear of these two men who sat mere feet away instead of exchanging smiles and 'have a nice day' before they got up to leave. Because of Ella I have these opportunities more and more.
When Ella was first diagnosed with CdLS I worried that whenever we would go out in public people would know there was something different about her. I worried people would stare. I worried people wouldn't be able to take their eyes off of her. Turns out I was right.. There's just something about her.