Monday, January 01, 2007

Cracker Barrel on New Years Day

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.


Rob said...

Yup. I'd second that: we're ready to face it all in 2007. I wish that rhymed. Anyhow, I hope the little 20-something woman learned something in the process. When T, screamed I wish it had been directly in this woman's ear, but no such luck. Oh well. May her future children have full-voiced screams for her in return. :-)

Anonymous said...'s not about getting them, it's about not getting got by "them". And your ability to see that they don't see how they are them, or that they even are them, is so evolved - no surprise at all. Each time you experience a connection such as this one with this young woman, you are teaching and enlightening scores of people.
There was the young woman (young in so many ways) who was challenged to see a person over a behavior, those with her, all the people in the restaurant, including the lovely man in the toy store area, and all those who heard their experience by word of mouth. Imagine the man in the toy store area saying to his wife and family, "There was a great moment in my day today - let me tell you about it....", (imagine that man is a pastor who could focus his next sermon on this chance meeting, or a writer, or a professor, or a politician - you never ever know - even if none of these, but one more enlightened person with the ability to spread that enlightenment to others), and likely the young 20 year old woman, having had what may have been her first experience of this nature, reflecting in a journal, or with a wise friend or family member - the moment and it's reflection may deepen and affect her forward movement in life. Think, also, of your friends, who are learning so much through you. The conversation in the parking lot certainly carried over for them with more conversations to people you haven't met.
You are a teacher to society's people, by your loving way of living. Your grace with that young woman is consistent with all you value - even when faced with adversity, you demonstrate compassion and dignity.
Everywhere you go is Thomas' world, everything you do is Thomas' experience as a person in his world. He is not a guest in his world - Thomas is entitled to the same opportunities and experiences as anyone anywhere. He is alive and pure and only good. As are you, by the way :)

I've raised Maggie with one main concept - "Be you and do what you do." With it has come deep conversations on the definition of "you". If "you" is real by your own standards and values, (and many conversations on standards and values) then behavior is always going to be in keeping with you. Hold your head up and move forward with appreciation for movement all around brought about by your movement.

I see you as living that way.
You certainly did in that restaurant. And with each experience, you further define yourself - and show Thomas who you are, what you will do, what you will not do, and how proud you are of him.

Good for you !!

EA said...

You sound so grounded and so clear. Brava!

John B. said...

Your son definitely deserves to be out in public, he is not some ghastly social problem to be hidden at home! The more he is out in these situations the more you will learn to manage the situation and probably the more your son will learn the social norms over time.

Many people in their 20's don't have kids, let alone kids with autism, so they have no concept as to how hard it is to keep kids occupied and quiet...let alone autistic kids. Take their comments at face value.

Hang in both sound like loving parents who really care about your son's future...that will make all of the difference.

nonie said...

Barbara's comments are very powerful and I have no words of wisdom other than well-done.
You seem to know what to say and do that is best for T. I think the difficulty lies with our society of "typically developing adults"...they often can not see beyond the tip of their noses.
You are a born, what a powerful family T has around him.

lemming said...

I'd happily go out to dinner with T any day. Given some of what I've been forced to sit through with students over the years at meals rather more expensive (and special) than Cracker Barrel, T playing with a noisy toy would be as nothing.

lemming said...

P.S. I do believe in "what goes around, comes around" - said woman might have "normal" children, but I'll bet they scream in restaurants and trash apartments.

R said...

I second everything everyone said -T is a joy to behold and I know plenty of kids without Autism who act like complete jerks in public. It has nothing to do with that, it is all about good parenting and you and R have that in spades....
Love, the WannabeRE