Yesterday I decided we needed to get out for one last summer weekend. Take a chance with masks, and take a chance with the world.
Going out is never simple. Johnny’s mood, my mood, his little sister’s mood, are all factors. Johnny is the hardest, he finds the world hard. It’s uncomfortable and unpredictable.
We went to an outdoor mall that has a farmers market in the summer. As always there were ups and downs but it was good. We bought veggies and treats. We wandered and spent time together.
For us it was good, to others we probably looked strange. Always watching J like a hawk. Guiding him, reminding him to be aware, watching for any triggers, and of course, mask watch. Always ready to act. Never relaxed.
For our last stop at the end of the mall we went to the big bookstore. My husband went to get a coffee and I took the kids to the children’s section. I knew right away J would be looking for the train table and I knew because of Covid it wouldn’t be there. I could tell he was looking for it, but he did not get upset.
Huge win for us.
Both kids picked a couple books, we found Dada and I went to check out.
Of course that all sounds simple, but getting out of the children’s section, getting J to hand me the books to pay for, separating from him to get in line, etc, is all a process.
At this point things went downhill. I don’t know what exactly caused it. Maybe he was still anxious about no train. Maybe it was because mom was 12 feet away. Maybe it was because he could not immediately leave with his books.
As I stood in line J began to run and make his noise. This is how he stims, regulates himself to try and deal with whatever is bothering him. I remind my husband with a look to try and calm him, help him find another way to get through the process of mom paying. As dad intervenes, J screams. One loud, high pitched, ear aching scream.
Then I watch. The eyes around me widen and eyebrows raise. Of course, it’s a scream. It’s shocking. The thing is, some eyes stay big and the judgment begins. People around me are unaware he’s mine and I have to stand there and listen. Listen, as the mom behind me explains to her inquiring child that that boy is not acting properly. Listen, as the eye rolling cashier and the older lady he’s helping discuss my parenting and my child. Listen as my husband speaks to my son and tries to help J and little sister.
I want to scream too. Not at my kid but at everyone around me.
I want to say it’s a big deal we even walk into a store now. That my son is autistic and doesn’t understand.
I want to tell the lady behind me to maybe teach her kid that some kids are different and need kindness and patience from the rest of us.
I want to slam the books on the counter and tell that cashier and older lady that although my son has some words he can’t tell us why he is anxious. He can’t explain. The words are stuck in his mind and can’t make their way to his mouth. He grows frustrated and screams.
I want to make a big deal, not give the store my money, leave and never come back.
I don’t. I stay calm.
I stay calm, because it is a big deal we are there. It is a big deal my son was interested in a book and picked out two of them. It’s a big deal that all he did was scream once at the end of our trip. I stay calm because it will help J stay calm. I stay calm because we’ve been through much worse.
So I’m not going to ruin it for Johnny. I’m not going to ruin that for us.
Luckily, another register opened up at that time. I paid, grabbed my family, and left.
So now begrudgingly I now quote Taylor Swift and say to everyone “you need to calm down”. Oh well if one trip to a bookstore is interrupted by a scream, or you have one loud plane ride, or one dinner out is not perfectly peaceful. It’s not your whole life. It’s not your every moment.
You can acknowledge it happened, but maybe do it with some kindness. Maybe give a smile or nod or help. Give the child and parents the benefit of the doubt. Don’t be so predictable. Be kind.