Happy 2007! I have a feeling that not everyone at the Cracker Barrel today was too happy. But before I relate this story, I'll say that I'm surprisingly not guilt-ridden by what transpired at lunch. This is good, because I have a remarkable way for feeling bad about things I don't need to.
So, a group of friends met us at Cracker Barrel at noon to celebrate the New Year. I'll admit that the size of the crowd in the store waiting for a table in the restaurant caught me by surprise. And we hesitated when told that it would be a 45 minute wait in this crowded store. But we decided to give it a try, since there is a great selection of toys and music boxes and things to entertain T (and the adults, too!) T & I sat by the toys and played and sang with the jack-in-the-boxes and die cast cars, and even made a few successful trips to the potty. At one point, a nice man was playing around with some spinning/light-up toys that played high-pitched Christmas songs. T saw this and was fascinated, and this nice man showed him the toy and handed it to him. We exchanged some smiles - I'm always thankful for pleasant and compassionate people wherever I find them. Well, this toy really allowed us to stay and eat lunch - he played with it the whole rest of the time we waited for the table, and even while waiting for the food to arrive. Yes, the tunes emitting from this little spinning toy was loud enough to be heard over the loud din of all the hustle & bustle in this busy restaurant, but it wasn't too terribly loud in our opinion - or in our friends' opinions either.
When we are out in public, all my attention is riveted on T. Is he happy? Occupied? Safe? Not having a tantrum or getting too agitatated or overwhelmed? I am not looking around to see if other people are irritated or annoyed or giving me or him disapproving looks. I figure I'm taking care of that the best I can by focusing on his needs, and if others are effected by an occasional scream or protest, then so be it. (This is one of the struggles with having a "normal" looking child with a disability - people sometimes do not have a compassionate response toward a kid who just looks like he's acting out or being difficult. It's times like these that I fantisize about getting a t-shirt for T that says "I'm autistic.")
So this is why I didn't see this coming. A young woman, perhaps in her early 20s, was suddenly beside me at our table saying "Is there anyway he could stop playing with that toy? EVERYONE is getting really annoyed around here." To which I responded very honestly, "Well...we'll try. He has autism and this toy is the only thing that is keeping him happy right now." "Oh...okay" she replied, not looking too satified, and sat back down at a table for two with her boyfriend, I assume. Rob & I went to work, and eventually, after several distractions and a few LOUD shrieks in protest, we got the toy away quietly. But we weren't long for the restaurant anyway - we had already been there about 90 minutes and it was loud & crowded for anyone, let alone our little guy. So we finished up and got on our way - no quicker than we would have otherwise. It was awkward that our friends were there for that, but they really leaped to our defense when we were outside - and even wanted to pummel anyone who gave us a sideways glance on the way out.
1) We have a right to go out to a restaurant as a family. If he were acting out, physically disruptive or unable to sit at a table for the duration of the meal, that would be different.
2) College-aged 20-somethings (esp those who might have been celebrating too much the night before) might not be the most compassionate people we encounter.
3) We may have pushed it by deciding to stay at this busy restaurant on this busy day. We may make a different decision next time.
4) T should have some opportunities to experience these situations. The other option is that we just keep him at home or in quiet situations, which is good some of the time, but if we do that all the time, when will he learn how to manage different settings?
5) The staff at Cracker Barrel were all very nice and helpful. Other parents seem to be a very understanding lot too. And then there are always wonderful gems of men and women who are just nice because they are nice people. I concentrate on these folks, and do my best to let go of everyone else.
So all in all, I was very proud of our little guy. And despite the little unpleasantness at lunch, he did really well - and Rob & I made a great team, too. I have no idea how people do this on their own. We're all off to a good start to our New Year - ready to face it all.