August 26, 2010

The girl in the shoe store

puzzle Yesterday, in search of an air conditioned place that wasn’t my house, I took Jelly to the mall. The play/germ-spreading area was being cleaned so I went into the Payless Shoes across the hall. Of course, I couldn’t just look (buy one, get one 1/2 off!) and ended up with two pairs. As I was paying, I noticed the girl at the cash register had a necklace with a really nice, pewter charm. It was in the shape of a puzzle piece and had an engraving I couldn’t quite make out. It looked heavy and important.

Of course, I recognized the symbolism of the puzzle piece, but wasn’t sure if I should say anything. I decided to say, “Do you mind if I ask the symbolism of your necklace?” She seemed surprised and spoke a little too quickly. “It is a puzzle piece that says I AM FEARLESS. My friend’s mom gave it to me.” She didn’t say anything more, so I said “It is really nice,” signed the credit card receipt, and left the store.

As I turned around, I saw the girl, who was probably about high school age, cover her face with her hands and hug a friend. I don’t think she was crying or upset, but rather seemed a little embarrassed at my question. I don’t know if the girl has autism. Before I asked the question, I had guessed the necklace was in support of a sibling, and I certainly didn’t mean to put her on the spot. I didn’t tell her my son has autism, the reason I asked. I wanted to go back and say something more, but when I circled back by the store, I couldn’t see her and the store had gotten busy. She probably didn’t want to hear any more from me anyway.

Before I asked the question, I don’t think I realized how young she was. Assuming she does have autism, I wanted to tell her how proud of her I was. How working in a store in the mall must be hard. How truly fearless she really must be, and by seeing her, how much hope she gave me that my own child will someday be just like any other kid, working in the mall, embarrassed at the slightest mention of something that might make you stand out or be different.

I don’t know if this is the exact necklace the girl was wearing, but here is a similar one:


  1. It's okay to ask.

    And for the girl, answering will be part of the fearlessness she learns.

    Her world will expand one question at a time. You helped it.

  2. I think it's great to ask too! And if your instincts are right, she is fearless--and awesome!

  3. Is it not amazing how such a small thing, such as a tiny charm can open doors, open eyes, open minds?

    Good for you to speaking to her, acknowledging her!


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