“Ladies and gentlemen- fasten your seatbelts. The sky may look clear, blue, and beautiful, but the ride is about to get very bumpy.”
If parenting a child with an autism spectrum disorder actually came with directions, the specific instructions above would be referred to daily! You see, to parent such a child is to understand what it is like to have your heart swell with so much pride over her accomplishments that you feel it might explode, and then have your heart hurt so badly when you see the world melt her down that it practically brings you to your knees…all within an hour’s time. Today was a perfect example of such turbulence.
Piper started her new school program on Monday. Previously, she attended her private preschool for three half-days a week. As part of her IEP, she is now enrolled in one of our county elementary school’s Pre-K programs, which runs full-time, five days a week. (This means she now attends school for the same hours as her brother and sister, just at a different elementary school). The past two days have been a complete change to her routine, and she has been a champion! When I picked her up today to take her to speech therapy, even her teacher was beaming with pride! She couldn’t get over how well she had taken to the classroom, how quickly she had become involved in activities, and said she’s even seemed to make some new friends already. (She didn’t really interact with any of the other children when observed at her preschool previously, so this is a HUGE accomplishment). The school’s occupational therapist had come to observe her today, and was full of compliments on her abilities, as well. To sum it up, when we left school today, we all looked like this:
Then, she had a FANTASTIC speech therapy session. Afterwards, she began playing with a little boy in the hallway as I spoke to her therapist. “Ready, set, GO! Come on little boy! Run Faster!” We both just sat back and watched, hearts full of joy, knowing how far this little girl has come. Piper seemed to feel the elation, too. She pranced out to the car, greeting everyone along the way.
A quick trip to the grocery store on the way home changed everything. Usually, this doesn’t bother her a bit. Perhaps the new schedule with long days, and therapy today on top of it made it all too much for her. Whatever it was, I could literally feel her anxiety as soon as we walked in the door. I really needed a few things, though, so I tried to talk her through it. And wouldn’t you know it- Harris Teeter moved their free cookie display. My one saving grace was nowhere to be found. This was where her little world crumbled. The shoes came off. When the shoes come off, all hell is sure to break loose shortly thereafter. Waffles, almond milk, and orange juice. I made a beeline to the back of the store (of course they couldn’t be by the door), and the screaming started. No matter how many times it happens, you feel like you’re in the spotlight. There is always a kind mother who says she’s been there, and maybe she has. I love that mother, because it takes a kind person to express empathy. I try to be that mother every time I can. (That mother actually approached me at checkout and asked me if I needed her help, so she was of the exceptionally kind variety!) But no matter how many times it happens, there are the people who look at you with disgust. Their looks all but say “How dare you continue to buy breakfast food so that your other children can eat breakfast before school tomorrow instead of removing that screaming, thrashing child immediately?”. They actually look mortified when I comfort Piper, rather than correct her.
Well, I finished my shopping. I made it through checkout. And I found the cookies. They are now located on the way out of the store. As I reached in to grab one for my still-crying child, a woman actually asked me if I was sure I should give in to her after the way she carried on. I’m fairly certain some very unkind words were forming in my mouth, when one of the young men who works there offered to take my groceries to my car. I thanked him, and explained that I didn’t have much, and was in the very first spot. He has accepted that answer from me many times when I’ve been alone, but tonight, he said “I know, but at least I can get them into the car and you can take care of getting your little one buckled in”. This was very true, and I thanked him and accepted his help. As I buckled Piper in, he put my two small bags in the trunk and said “Ma’am, here’s your receipt. But mostly, I just wanted to tell you I’m sorry about that. There is a lot of ignorance, but so many of us see what you are doing, and that you are handling it wonderfully, and the best you can.” I could barely manage a thank you, and thankfully he walked away before the tears started to fall. I sat for five or ten minutes in the backseat with Piper, who relaxed the minute she returned to her car seat, her safe place. We ventured home from there, where she refused her hot dog for supper, and instead, ate most of my shrimp and grits.
Tonight, Dave put her to bed as I dried and straightened Kaydie’s hair. (She donated ten inches last week, and we have to style it the night before now). Then, I went in to kiss Cam goodnight, and he wanted to talk for a while. He asked if we could get a puppy after “Clover Day” (St. Patrick’s Day) and if he could name it. He really wants a Dalmatian. We discussed how this is not the right time, but someday. By the time I got to Piper’s room, I fully expected that she’d be asleep.
Quietly, I opened the door and approached her bed. I leaned in to kiss her sweet cheeks, and was surprised by a big smile and bright eyes. “What are you doing up?” I asked.
“Under-nee the moon!” (Our song.) She was waiting for me to sing with her. “I love you in the morning, and in the afternoon. I love you in the evening, and underneath the moon! Skittamarinky dinky dink, skittamarinky do- I LOVE YOU!” And so my heart swelled with pride once again.
That’s the thing about turbulence. It doesn’t last forever. It shakes you up, sure. It’s unsettling. But it makes you really appreciate the moments where everything flows smoothly.