I often find myself thinking about our social plans for today, tomorrow, next week.. Like most people, I like to have things to look forward to, for me and my family.
My eldest son has autism and sometimes it doesn’t matter what plans you make.. Autism has a way of changing things.
I try, I really do… So does the Daddy.. Not to let it take over, not to make it alter our plans.. But realistically it sometimes does.
A trip to a shopping centre with the promise of lunch is a no-no.. To be fair that’s probably the same for a lot of children.. With son No.1 no matter the preparation.. The promises.. Let’s face it.. The bribes.. It just doesn’t work.
So I had made some plans for the beach – but there were a few things I needed to do in town first. If the Daddy had been there, we would have most definitely of tag-teamed and either split the boys up or he would of taken them to the beach.
It’s a 20 minute journey from home- no biggie – but far enough that you don’t want to make more trips than necessary (having said that I’m down there when ever I have an excuse)… Walking by the sea, sucking up the atmosphere.. anyway I digress.
So the trip around the shops was a little fractious – but I really (really, really) try not to let myself get too stressed in these situations… But sometimes it doesn’t matter how broad the smile is on my face or how positive I’m being sometimes the cracks show.
Returning an item to a small boutique, I gave the usual parent chatter “Don’t touch anything”… Only to spot No.2 Son’s little paws on an exquisite sparkling vase “This is pretty Mummy”.. “Yes it is… now don’t touch”. A little wander around the shop with them, hopefully to curb their curiosity and to avoid the run-around that would have occurred without the pre-emptive walk, and I was satisfied that they had looked and touched everything they wanted to.
At the counter I exchanged my trinket and did the necessary signing, etc. Son No.2 was hovering nearby. But there was no sign of Son No.1. Now this shop is small, only the size of the average living room, there is one way in and out, and there is one of those old fashioned tinkly bells – so I would have heard him leave.. Excusing myself to the lady behind the till, I went to see what Son No.1 was up to… In a crate of cushions, – no larger than a baby crib.. I could see a pair of eyes amongst the luxury fabrics of the cushion and a pair of feet hanging over the edge. This isn’t T K Max… this is a flipping boutique, but it did look cosy and I could understand why he’d done it. Trying not to draw too much attention to the issue, (Difficult when Son No.2 is belly laughing next to me) I very quickly extracted him – sometimes I really don’t know my own strength.
You’d think that I would have done the sensible thing then and left.. But sometimes Mummy’s just want to shop.. In the end I extracted him twice more, and left without buying the gorgeous scented candles that I obviously wanted but did not need… (To the Daddy… there is obviously some advantages to me taking the boys shopping with me)..
Only a couple more errands to run, and I would be home and dry… Well on the glorious beach..
So with the promise of ice-cream.. I ambled on. We stopped by the waffle shop – so that No.1 Son could chat with the lady behind the counter – I do love the lady here.. she always takes a genuine interest in the children. She always takes the time to chat and calls them by their names. Still I detected a shift in No.1 Son’s mood… this can happen.. and it happens fast.. I don’t even know if mood is the right word…
No. 1 Son goes charging off, with the gritted teeth of determination..hands flapping around, he’s running like Phoebe from Friends. He’s also omitting this sound like a strained car engine.. He’s obviously a train driver or a formula one driver today..
When I catch up with him, he is literally bouncing up and down.. hitting the large beachballs hanging from a shop’s display. I’m stroking his arm, and he starts kicking out.. I really hate this. (This is my lovely sweet boy, that I have brought up to be gentle and kind… That I have raised with good manners..). His brother takes the full force of one kick.. Trying to prevent WW3, and keeping them both at arms length on opposite sides of me really takes some doing.
I console No. 2 Son, all too briefly – as often the case, but he settles before going in for the punch and the whole situation erupts again. Again taking the time to console him and tell him off for reacting – I calm him down and tell him to wait a couple of metres away from me, so I can get No.1 son away from the busyness of the beach shop and the massive hanging beachball display.
By now people are staring I ignore it – I often do, but I am human and I have a heart. I do unfortunately get embarrassed.. There’s not many things and all though I am a lioness when it comes to protecting my cubs, I sometimes forget as many parents do, to protect myself.
So by this point I am hot, rosy cheeked and holding tightly on to No.1 Son’s arm while trying to gently stroke his other arm and sooth him.. He needs to calm down.. Meanwhile No.2 Son is looking on, he does try to help .. saying to his brother “Calm down, calm down”.
The sweetness of this gesture from No.2 Son is too much, but I suck it up and continue to try and calm No. 1 Son down. Then out of no where an older lady with a severe grey bob and sturdy walking boots, struts up to us.. My defences are instantly up.. But it’s not what I think..
“Have you had a diagnosis? – You know your overstimulating him by stroking him.. He needs pressure and lots of it” – I look blank and taken aback, before she explains that she’s an occupational therapist and that this is her passion.
Now I’ve been told several times, in fact I’ve lost count of the people who’ve said you wouldn’t know… He doesn’t look Autistic.. (Goodness only knows what that meant to mean). But part of me in the early days was glad.. I know that sounds wrong.. but I’m being honest.. I didn’t want him to be wearing a label.. I didn’t want people to know.. I didn’t want anyone to judge him.. because people are cruel, and they do.
So back to the lady.. I began nodding and my voice breaking from the kindness shown by a stranger, I whispered a yes.. we’ve had a diagnosis. In the middle of this seaside town, a lady was giving me advice – welcome advice. “He need’s pressure, either a tight hug, or pushing down on him, a weighted backpack could help, get him up on monkey bars and get his body weight to do the work” She then proceeded to scribble her name and a colleagues name down along with phone numbers…
… I was in shock.. because I had learnt something.. something nobody else had told me.. Autism is a constant journey.. By this point he’d started to calm.. it was only me now that wasn’t so calm.. emotion brimming under the surface, we set off for our last shop.. The giant ice-cream shop.
It’s always busy at the giant ice-cream shop – often there are queues out the door. Both boys went charging in there, the counter was crowded, but there wasn’t the usual queue. Still their eyes were on stalks and they stood on tiptoe trying to get a glimpse of the flavours.. I was barged out the way then, by a baseball capped pensioner, with Simon Cowell Trousers “Can you please get out the way.. to my boys”.. The chinks in my armour were definitely getting bigger.. But I managed a “I think the words you’re looking for are Excuse me please!”. He left, but I was upset that he felt the need to speak to us like that..
Eventually we got to the front, but No.1 Son was starting to ‘go’ again.. the shop was crowded and noisy, the queue had formed out onto the street, as it so often does..
No.2 Son is easy.. Vanilla – he always has vanilla.. He wanted a flake.. stupidly I refused.. why did I refuse?? – so he starts crying – I can handle this – we just need to get the ice creams, pay and get out.. SIMPLE..
No. 2 Son says he wants two flavours and a sugar cone.. Uh No… you can have a child’s cone – the sugar cones are too big.. (And too much money..). So I ask the lady behind the counter can he have two flavours – to which she tells me no, sorry just one..
..Queue meltdown.. When they come, they are hideous, but I am trapped in a small shop with a crowd of captive onlookers all waiting for their ice creams and my son is being ‘naughty’.. He’s jumping up and down and shouting “I hate you – she’s a stupid lady”.. She looks agog, and before anything further is said I look at her with glistening eyes and meaningfully say “I’m really sorry, but he’s not being naughty”.. she says Ok, and that he can have two flavours, only she gets them wrong.. twice.. (The Meltdown continues) I guess she was starting to feel the stress of the whole situation too.. In the end she says “I tell you what you can have a sugar cone and a flake on me.. and a flake for your brother”.
Normally I would have refused – this behaviour shouldn’t be rewarded, but at the same time, I hadn’t prepared him for the situation.. normally we would have had a chat before going in there about boundaries and what he could or couldn’t have. But that didn’t happen, and I’m not sure that that would have prevented the situation with the mood that No.1 Son was in.
And so the situation calmed down; the lady now told me – don’t worry they’re the normal price.. the rest is on me. That was it.. I was gone. Bending down to the floor, with the guise of hunting out my purse from my back pack, I tried to disguise the tears that were brimming, but that’s a challenge when you have no tissues and you’re in a crowded and now hot room. A hand on my shoulder and another mum bent down “You’re doing a good job..”. And so I paid with an all too brief thank you and I was out..
Across the road the children sheltered under a canopy, I did not want a seagull to pinch their gargantuan ice creams.. Can you imagine.. I certainly could and I couldn’t deal with anymore today..
We made it to the beach.. No.1 Son has always had an affinity with the water.. It’s where he is at his best.
Sometimes we have days like this – they’re hard..
Sometimes the kindness of strangers exceeds anything and everything I expect.. Who would of thought that during a short shopping trip, that three people would have reached out to our family and made such a difference to our day.