Autism could care less what you absolutely have to get done on any given day. Sensory Processing Disorder seems to enjoy causing mayhem in the lives of those it torments. That day, was no exception. From the complaints of his clothes being itchy and his hair being "sharp" and the smell of my coffee being "deezgusting" and making him want to "bomit", I knew this day would be a peach. He was on the verge of a full fledged meltdown and there was no question....it wasn't a matter of if, but when.
I loaded my son into the SUV, along with his cup of apple juice, his bottle of water (just in case), his blue police car, NOT the red truck, the red truck is gross! His American flag, his one orange flip flop, his one blue flip flop, his baggie of chips, his wet wipes and hand sanitizer and his chewy sensory necklace. Oh...headphones. NEVER forget the headphones. I then loaded Service Dog Kozmo, his leash, his tether, his backpack and his portable dog bowl.....and NOW, we are finally ready to attempt a Wal-Mart trip which is only a mile from our house.
As we pulled into the parking lot, and not before, it dawned on me that I hadn't given one thought to my attire, nor my personal appearance. I don't know what upset me more....the fact that I never even crossed my own mind, or that when I finally did, I still didn't have the energy to care. As I looked in the rear view mirror thoughts of "that can't be healthy" and "Oh well, who gives a rats ass" kept swirling around in my head. I quickly adjusted the mirror out of my line of sight and focused on the task at hand.
As we made our way across the parking lot it began.... sensory overload and complaints of the heat of the sun making his head itch, the wind making his shirt touch his skin, the tether around his waist being scratchy and the noise!! The unbearable noise of shopping carts resonating the noise of vibrating wheels bouncing off the pavement, amplified in the ears of the boy who smells and sees and feels and hears everything on an elevated level. Right in the middle of the crosswalk the dog begins to alert as he is trained to do, pulling me towards my son, blocking him in order to shield him from his own environment and I forcibly struggle to get them out of the parking lot and into the store. We spend the next fifteen minutes searching for the perfect cart amongst carts which will never be perfect. Too squeaky, too rattly, too shaky, too bouncy.....pushing cart after cart for a test drive until finally we find one which won't make his skin crawl.
We weren't even three rows in before it began..... between the smells of the bakery and deli, to the chatter of store patrons amongst themselves, to the brightness of the fluorescent lighting, the clatter of shopping cart wheels askew, to the shrills and shrieks of those seeing a fire breathing unicorn.....err..... service dog, in a store for the first time, I had no doubt that I had perhaps, if lucky, 15 minutes before a meltdown of mass proportion took place right in the middle of the frozen food aisle. The thought of cart ditching and bolting for the parking lot ever increasingly present in my mind, I happened to catch a glimpse of myself in the dairy freezer door. Embarrassment in the form of a flushed heat crawling up the back of my neck as my eyes filled with tears, I struggled to hold it together. Memories flooding back of just two summers before when I threw on short shorts and a workout tank with a ball cap and leisurely looked amazing while I took my time in the organic aisle while the hubby watched our son, now replaced with my own reflection of sloppy yoga pants, my husband's t-shirt and yesterday's mascara still in place while I juggled an angry overloaded child on the verge and a service dog having an anxiety attack over the state of his boy. Hot mess was the ultimate understatement and for whatever reason the reality of my title of "Special Needs Mom" seemed to hit me like a wave of bricks.
And then.....it happened.
"Excuse me, ma'am?"
"I just wanted to say you're an extremely beautiful woman and mother"
Huh? Crickets. What? Me? Deer in headlights. Speechless.
Let me be perfectly clear that I immediately knew, with 150% certainty that this nineteen year old (at best) was in no way hitting on this 44 year old hot mess of a mom. It was much more than that. After thanking him, with tears rolling down my face, I soaked up that comment like a thirsty sponge. "beautiful woman and mother".
I'll never know if this young man has a sibling with special needs, or if he was raised by a single mother who struggled to make it on her own. Or if he was raised by his father after losing his mother, or if he experienced some sort of pain which led him to be so intuitive. Whatever the case may be, he was clearly raised right and this young man looked well past the surface of a clearly discombobulated woman and he spoke directly to my pain. He spoke his words with purposeful intent. He spoke the words he knew I needed to take to heart. "You are a beautiful woman and mother". It was as if, for whatever reason, he knew my focus was on the surface that day.... and he reminded me of the center of my world.
Regardless of whether we have special needs kids or not, mothers are particularly prone to putting themselves on the back burner for the sake of their families. There are plenty of fathers and step parents and foster parents and grandparents who do the same. I personally try to keep a balance but will be the first to admit that by the time I tackle autism, I'm just plain worn out. I dedicate all that I have to my son and his needs and to my police officer husband who has taken on every extra job and grant shift in order for me to be home with our son. I am admittedly the last thought on my list.
For the Wal-Mart employee that day..... I see what you did there. I thank you for the reminder, and I want you to know how much I needed to hear it. I hope all those who are dedicated to their children take the time to remember just how beautiful they truly are, especially when beautiful is the last thing they feel. It takes a beautiful soul to dedicate your life to others. I can only pray that I will raise a son as compassionate as that young man in Wal-Mart the other day. Faith in humanity.....restored.
The Adventures of Izzy & Kozmo