Dear Jennifer P:
I met you in the K-Mart today. Briefly…as you struggled with your son who was throwing what you thought was the MOTHER OF ALL TANTRUMS. It wasn’t. It only felt like it was but I immediately recognized what you were dealing with. Autism.
I remember those days. Two autistic boys in a cart pushing them through the store praying that we could make it out alive. Alive…meaning, no one had thrown themselves on the floor. No one had swooped their hands along the aisle knocking boxes off the shelves as we walked. Alive… meaning no one had yelled, screamed, and kicked me or anyone else who happened to have the misfortune of walking within 10 feet of us. Two autistic boys were were often like two atomic bombs waiting to go off undoubtedly when we were in public and most often in a crowded store.
Of course, I didn’t realize back then this would often happen because their sensory systems were out of whack when we entered the unfamiliar. That their fright/flight mode went into overdrive outside of our house. That the florescent lights pushed them into a form of hyperactivity on steroids. That all the strange sounds and people moving about was just too much for them to take in. But even if I had understood all that…we…our family… still needed to live life. To shop. To get our tires changed. To visit the dentist. We still had lives to lead despite the challenges that autism inserted into our lives on a daily basis.
I remember the looks, Jennifer P. Those harsh judgements. The feelings of helplessness and being so alone. The exasperated facial expressions. The “why don’t you get your kids under control” comments. I remember those oh-so-helpful strangers telling me how I could improve my parenting skills in the grocery store, in the bank, and at the doctors office. At one point it seemed like no matter where we went someone had something “helpful” to say. But more than not those “helpful” comments were really just plain intrusive and mean. People trying to feel superior about themselves. And at those times I wanted to shout out “I know what I am doing. I did raise two kids to adulthood and they are wonderful and successful human beings. So please don’t judge me nor my parenting!”
So when I saw you today with tears streaming down your face as you tried to quiet your son, my heart ached for you. My soul wept as your tears fell and you pled with your son to please calm down. As I walked by I told you with a smile plastered across my face, “You are doing a great job. Keep up the good work,” but I knew you didn’t believe me because I have been there and if someone would have told me that then, in those meltdown moments, I wouldn’t have believed them either.
So, Jennifer P, I want you to know that I know you are doing your best. I want you to know that I know that you work harder with your kids in one day than parents with neuro-typical kids do in a month. I want you to know that it won’t last forever and your boys will mature and those social skills will kick in one at a time. It will take a while but trust me they will get it. And beleive it or not someday you WILL seek their company when you visit the market.
Out in the parking lot I cried. I cried for me and all the times I didn’t handle my children as beautifully as you did today. I cried for every mother out there who has a challenging child whether he has autism or not. I cried for all those parents who are trying so dang hard in such difficult situations. And I cried for you and when I saw you leave the store with nothing in your basket my heart sank. You sacrificed your needs for the people in the store and for your son. That is why I drove over to you. That is why I wanted you to know that I saw how hard you were working with your son and that this was not a fail on your part but a win because you instilled something in your son that he needed at that moment in time. Sure it will take him a 100 more times to understand but eventually he will and when he does you can pat yourself on the back for being a great mom. Heck, you can pat yourself on the back right now for being that mom who never gives up and for being that tireless fighter who will continue to give your son what he needs to be the great person he will eventually become. Don’t give up. And don’t give in to those who want to judge.
You were amazing, you will continue to be amazing and I will continue to support you and other mother’s like you from the sidelines. I only hope that others will grant you the grace and do the same especially as the holiday season arrives.