Tuesday, November 25, 2014

When I said "let's talk," I meant "I will hurt you!"

It's a simple grocery store trip, well, as simple as running errands when triplets and autism are included as factors. But seriously, HAPPINESS is reigning, AND oh by the way, it's an after-school/before dinner errand - smack in the middle of the nightmare hours (4-6 pm). All is well, we even see one triplet's kindergarten teacher upon entering the store which makes said triplet giddy.

Then I decide to get smart, maybe smarter than you ever should be. Halloween is just two days away, and we haven't made it to the pumpkin patch yet. So I think, "I'll just pay for 3 grocery store pumpkins and then pull them out of the outside bins as we leave." Brilliant, right? As a good autism mom would do, I talk about the plan with the girls while checking out and as we move toward the door with our cart. I KNOW what an unexpected change in a typical routine can do. If we talk about it beforehand, it's less traumatic.

Imagine my surprise to find NO OUTSIDE PUMPKIN BINS anymore, just some potted plants. It's a fact I missed as I entered the grocery store. (A fact the cashier who helped me add the pumpkins to my order also missed, by the way).

So begins the end of my brilliance. With it comes the beginning of my REACTING, attempting to soothe and mitigate damage. My problem solving skills are pushed beyond my abilities and my inherited charactistic of sweating profusely when stressed threatens its ugliness.

A simple push of the cart back into the store to get help. (Where are those pumpkins again?) Princess triplet responds to this return into the store with immediate dissatisfaction. She begins to cry, relatively loudly, and stomp her feet on the base of the cart.

Princess triplet has autism and appreciates routine. She likes grocery store trips when they follow established patterns. Leaving the grocery store means riding in the cart (or walking with her hand held) back to the van. It rarely involves going directly back into the store. The change in routine rocks her world, it confuses her, and she doesn't like it. She is also potty training but has not really reached the place where she successfully verbalizes her need. She's beginning to independently seek out a bathroom to use (sometimes), but verbalizing "potty time" is quite difficult. This factor adds to her discomfort in this situation. (I learn this later, by accident, after getting home).

We spend about five minutes, at the most, attempting to quickly resolve the "I need pumpkins or I need a refund" situation, but the store and employees cannot provide the solution that quickly even though they are doing their best. (I have NO COMPLAINTS with the staff here at all. They were kind, courteous, helpful, and as quick as they could be).

During these five minutes, I quickly realize Princess triplet's dissatisfaction is escalating into an all-out autism meltdown. There is no calming her down. She is screaming at 100+ decibels and no one misses us when they walk in or out of the store. The staff is working hard, and those employees who aren't able to help personally keep smiling and apologizing. I continue vain attempts to calm Princess, but I know the only real solution is to leave the store and get back into the normal routine as quickly as possible. Once that is accomplished she will calm down almost immediately. In the meantime, I speak calmly to her and to her sisters as they are beginning their own shades of frustration with their sister's behavior. I also continue to work with the store employees, answering questions, getting ready to do whatever they need me to do in order to resolve it all quickly.

Then it happens. "The horrible, awful, no good, very bad" moment (trust me Alexander from the book or the movie has nothing on us right now) turns downright ugly. A customer, single gentleman about my age or a little older, checking out in the 12 items or less self-out checkout lane decides to leave his lane so he can, in a very loud voice no one in any of the 25+ checkout lanes would miss, order me to "TAKE HER OUTSIDE AND LET HER DO HER SCREAMING OUT THERE, NOT IN HERE!"

A hush falls upon the store and I hear people murmuring, can almost pick up some of the words. "Oh no, he didn't." "Glad someone said something," etc. I ignore him and the hush for that moment because the employees have just informed me of my next step in this process. I have to go to the Customer Service desk in order to get a refund for one pumpkin (they did succeed in finding me two - don't even ask how I'm going to make two pumpkins work for three children) and I'm more concerned about making sure I've got everything as I head over to the desk.

As I pass his checkout lane, it's like a button gets pushed internally and I know I'm going to react, I'm going to tell him something. This is a dangerous spot because I'm not sure I have any real rational thought anymore. (Keep in mind, Princess triplet is still loudly unhappy, although moving the cart instead of standing still does seem slightly better for her). I hear myself say, without any effort to be discreet, as I'm walking by him, "You know what, sir? She has autism, DO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT?"

He doesn't even look at me. He just waves me off while he continues to do his checking out, as if we are flies or insects to be rid of.

Then a few of those People Really Are Amazing if You Give Them a Chance moments happen. As I manage to arrive at the Customer Service desk, a woman approaches me as she's leaving the store with her family.

"I'm so sorry that man was so rude to you, and I'm so glad you told him off."

At that moment as I'm looking for the actual receipt which had been in my hand & somehow moved into my purse, I realize a stranger sees how painful and rough all this is and acknowledges my vulnerability. We all know what happens then right? Yes, Tripped Up Mommy starts to cry, while attempting to hold it all together. The stranger gives me a hug and says she has a son with CP (Cerebal Palsy, I believe) and that people are just stupid and don't understand. "Hang in there and God bless you!" she says as she exits.

One of the previous employees working with me comes up and hands me a little Dum Dum sucker and says, "Will this help?" I smile and say, "Thank you, but I can't give this to her now. I can't actually reward this behavior." (Oh I know how everything would be so much easier in that moment if I would have, but if I did I think our Behavior Analyst would have shot me.)

Then two young girls come up to me, maybe they're in fifth grade but certainly no older than 7th grade, and one of them is carrying a pumpkin.

"Excuse me," the shortest (maybe youngest too) of the girls says. "Do you need a pumpkin?"

Shocked, I simply say, "Yes, I do."

She puts the pumpkin into my arms and says, "Here you go, have a nice day," and the two of them turn and walk away.

I stand there and look at the employee who had just been trying to come up to speed on everything.

It happens so fast I don't know if I said thank you to the young girls. I don't know exactly what to do and then make a quick decision. I put the pumpkin into our cart, tell the employee I think we're all good now, and move my big bench seated cart filled with groceries and three kindergartners into the pathway to the door. As we go out the door, Princess triplet is still upset, but it's lessening. We end up directly behind the customer who had screamed at me. He never acknowledges me or says another word. I wonder if he's embarrassed or if he's just a complete jerk. Then I realize I don't care. The whole event couldn't have lasted more than 10 to 15 minutes in total time. That's really not a huge amount of time for any adult to handle, is it?

We get to the van, and as we begin the typical unloading of cart and buckling of kids in seats Princess triplet's mood changes. She is still loud, but now she's singing, she's laughing. You see, we just entered back into a world she understands. She knows what to expect so there's no reason to scream, there's no reason to attempt to tell someone that something bad is going on, because all of a sudden she understands her world again.

I should be exhausted and in fact am asked by another stranger if I am, but surprisingly I feel more accomplished than exhausted. I don't know if it's the adrenaline of getting yelled at or the support of perfect strangers that has allowed me to avoid complete depletion but I'm glad everything's done.

As I drive home and then explain the incident to Tripped Up Daddy I realize I was confused by my own words when I "told off" the unhappy customer.

"Do you want to talk about it? What did that even mean? I have no idea. It made no sense," I tell Tripped Up Daddy.

He disagrees, "No, it made perfect sense. You were telling him that you were ready to fight him if he was stupid enough to keep picking on your girl."

And so there it was. I was the Mama Bear.

I don't harbor resentment against the man, and I've gotten over the feeling like I robbed two little girls of their pumpkin without saying thanks (I think I did actually but it wasn't profuse enough for me to feel like I did enough I guess). Honestly, I don't know that he was an actual mean man or anything, I think he was just being a Shit and haven't we all been there at one point or another? Thankfully we had a lot more Amazing people to not just balance the Shit out, but to actually outweigh him.

Does this change how I will do grocery store trips or any other public errand in the future? Will I make sure I have explanation cards on hand so if there's ever another moment like this again I can give them to any stranger who seems confused? Will I choose to stay home and hide, only going out in public when I have at least one other adult to help?

I think the answer to all of that is no. I think this world is going to have to deal with The Tripped Up Family as we are. I strongly believe in the way I'm parenting my daughters and exposing them to normal life (which includes grocery store trips and much more) will continue to happen. I don't know that we're ready to take on a formal classical music concert or go fly in airplanes yet, but I will keep bringing my daughters (all of my daughters, autism or not) out into the world and living life. I just hope we will continue to meet the Amazing People in greater numbers than the Shits.

Note: If you're in the local area, Meijer gets a plug for being fairly autism-friendly. I have no complaints for the store itself. In fact, I was pleased by all the employees' attempts to help. Kudos to the Rockford Meijer.


  1. I just got around to reading this and am just FLOORED by this man's behavior. Kudos to you for defending your children, and for the positivity that is indeed out there!