I want to share a positive experience with you.
Yesterday, I went grocery shopping with both Charlie and Jude. Last time I took the boys shopping by myself, they both had a huge meltdown and I left the store feeling sad, defeated, and honestly annoyed. Why me?
Needless to say, I wasn’t looking forward to the next grocery outing with the boys. It was important for me to push through my anxiety though so yesterday I decided to take them grocery shopping by myself.
Guess what? It went awesome. No tantrums, no screams, no cries, no strangers staring at us! The perfect shopping trip! Naaah, just kidding. Wouldn’t that have been nice?
What actually happened was that Charlie had one of his huge meltdowns when we were checking out, and Jude started screaming too. He wasn’t even upset, he was just imitating Charlie’s high pitch screams. Boy do they know how to scream. When I say Charlie is nonverbal, it doesn’t mean he’s quiet. He can’t say a single word but occasionally he is loud.
Anyway, so here I am packing up my groceries while they’re both screaming. People are staring at us from every direction, more so than usual. Most of them look annoyed, one smiled at me, others are just staring because it’s natural to turn towards a loud noise. Here’s when it gets interesting: I didn’t care. For the first time ever, I didn’t care at all. Usually, these moments are awful for me and I want to dig a hole and disappear into it. Not yesterday. For whatever reason I was just smiling, and not because I was nervous or because I felt awkward either. Something switched in me at that moment. I realized that this is my life and it was probably going to be like that for a while longer and I may as well embrace it and approach it with a smile on my face.
But then the cashier spoke and made it even better
I briefly tried to comfort Charlie knowing that they were nothing I could do to make him feel better in that moment. So I continued bagging, immune to people’s reactions. At this point Charlie is crying so hard that he’s rubbing snot all over his face. Gross… I know. That’s when the cashier said this, and it made me feel like a million bucks:
“I’m sorry people are staring… it’s like they’ve never seen a child cry before”.
I can’t tell you how happy her phrase made me! She didn’t even tell me I was doing a good job or being a good mom, so why did that make me feel so good? I’ve been thinking about it and here might be why.
First of all, she acknowledged that I wasn’t crazy and that people were really staring at us. Often, when I mention to family and friends that people are staring at me in the store they tell me I’m being paranoid. Second of all, and most importantly, she gave me confirmation that my new attitude of not caring about people was the right approach. Yes, my child is crying. Sure, he’s loud and it happens sometimes when we go to the store, but what else can I do? Do I keep him home because he has autism? Should I isolate him even more from the rest of the world because he sometimes has tantrums and meltdowns in the store? He’s not a brat. He has autism, he’s not giving us a hard time on purpose, and honestly, he’s probably the one having the hardest time.
And me? Well, I’m doing my best. These people staring at us will get to their homes a few minutes after our interaction, but I have to listen to my son’s cries time and time again, at the store and at home, so pardon me, but from now on I’m not going to leave the store if my child is having a meltdown.
Just know that in the comfort on my home, between the 30 weekly hours of therapy Charlie receives and the discipline we try to impart with him, we’re doing the best we can to prevent these meltdowns. He has autism and it’s not as easy.
Do me a favor next time, you see a child screaming in the store. Don’t stare and don’t comment anything rude. I understand, it’s a reflex to turn around and look but if you happen to make eye contact with the parents of said child, a knowing smile is really all that’s appropriate. Remember, there’s often more to the story than just a child screaming in a shopping cart.