Life has been sort of a blur lately.
Between both of my jobs, single-parenting, and trying to keep a home together, I haven’t been to the grocery store in like 3 weeks.
Maybe a month.
Yesterday morning I opened the refrigerator and it was so empty, I’m fairly certain I heard it whisper, “Helpppp me.”
So I made my list, and headed off to the store.
Any parent knows that going to the grocery store alone (sans kids) is a luxury and a pleasure. Almost like a mini-vacation.
I love going to the grocery store by myself. And right now I am also loving having a tween and a teenager who hate going to the market, and would rather stay home and watch SpongeBob SquarePants in their pajamas.
So I get a couple of hours to myself to wander through the store, buying necessities, sniffing candles, and people- watching.
Yesterday though, my people-watching was a little more real.com than usual.
I had just rounded the corner of the freezer section, when I heard him.
I heard him before I saw him.
He was about 2 years old, red-faced, and screaming his head off.
I knew the moment I saw him that I was looking at a child on the autism spectrum.
His sweet, young mama had a shopping basket in her hand, and I could tell she was trying to hurry and grab her few items so she could corral her kid and hightail it out of there.
Oh honey. Been there, done that.
But the kid wasn’t having it.
He was flailing all over the place. He kicked her in the shin at one point. When she tried to hold his hand he threw himself on the ground and started kicking and rolling around.
I immediately time warped back to 2006.
Sweet Lord, I thought to myself, I wouldn’t go back there for a million bucks.
I wanted so badly to help this woman…hug her, hold her kid while she shopped, give her all my money…anything I could to make it better.
She was obviously struggling, so I walked over and said, “Here honey, take my cart.”
I only had a few items, so I transferred my items into her basket, and her items into my cart.
I took a quick inventory of her selections.
Juice. Crackers. Soup.
Someone was clearly sick. And since she looked as though she had been beaten and hadn’t slept in days, I was guessing it was her.
She picked up her flailing child and deposited him directly into the large part of the cart.
She said, “Thank you so much, I don’t know what is wrong with him. He’s been doing this a lot lately.”
I realized right away that this young mama was raising an undiagnosed kid.
Denial, party of 1…your son has autism.
Not exactly your run of the mill grocery store conversation.
I knew my cereal-aisle diagnosis wasn’t going to do her a bit of good right then, so I simply said, “I have a wild kid, I understand.”
She said, “I just need to pick up my prescription so I can get out of here.”
So I said, “Here, let me push your cart and walk with you.”
We talked for a few minutes while we walked over to the pharmacy. Her son continued to scream and carry on while she told me that she’s pregnant, raising little man by herself, and working three jobs.
She told me that her mom remarried and moved away, so she rarely gets a break unless her aunt is free.
I noticed all of the sudden it was easier to hear her. I looked down and her little boy had stopped screaming and had gone into a trance.
My God, I remember those days.
I had to look away.
It was so hard for me to hold back what I wanted to say. I wanted to tell her that her son needed to see a pediatrician. That he needs intervention now. That I sit on the board of a non-profit organization that would soon be able to help her. That I too had once been broke and bankrupt and had no end in sight for relief and happiness and peace. But that it eventually came. And that it would for her too.
But instead I just said, “Let me stand here with him while you get your medicine.”
She nodded and let me.
When she returned, I handed her my business card and said, “Call me. Let’s see about getting you a better paying job.”
She smiled and thanked me, and went on her way to check out.
That sweet mom has no idea what lies ahead of her. She likely thinks her son is just being a boy or acting badly. I’m no psychiatrist but I can spot an undiagnosed kid a mile away.
Because I’ve been there.
I’ve been that mom.
I’ve lived in that denial.
And while some may say that it’s none of my business, if there’s anything I can do to lighten someone else’s load while they are going through this whirling vortex of pain and confusion known as parenting a child with autism…I will do that.
I will not be a jerk about it.
I will not slap a dime-store diagnosis on your kid in front of the Fruit Loops display.
I will not utter the word autism and I will not act like I know it all, because nothing could be further from the truth.
But what I will do is take the time.
Stop and offer my hand.
Slow down a few minutes and just extend some loving kindness.
That mom didn’t need to be judged or stepped over or stared at.
She just needed some respite.
I heard something a while back that has become my mantra:
Be the person you needed when you were young.
I’m no saint by any stretch, but I strive for that.
Every single day.
I can’t do everything. But I can do something.
Because every moment of kindness makes a difference.
The Starfish Story
One day a man was walking along the beach, when he noticed a boy in the distance throwing something into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked “Young man, what are you doing?”
The boy replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out, and if I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”
The man laughed and said, “Don’t you know there are miles of beach and thousands of starfish? It won’t make any difference.”
The boy bent down, threw another starfish back into the ocean and said, “It made a difference to that one.”