I've spent much of my life trying to AVOID being noticed. I didn't want to do anything to rock the boat, or create drama, or (heaven forbid!) make everybody look at me.
But now that I'm a mom, particularly a mom of a special needs child, we can't go anywhere without being noticed. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad, but we definitely don't fade into the woodwork.
Today after Korban's infusion we made our usual trip to the McWane Science Center, per Korban's request. We got there a couple of hours before closing, expecting the crowds to be thinned down. Boy were we wrong! I forgot it was Spring Break week in Alabama, since ours in Mississippi was a couple of weeks ago. Exhibits that are normally pretty empty were packed with people. That's never an optimum condition when you have small kids, but when you add autism to that mix, it's nearly impossible.
I was grateful that we were "advertising" today. Korban had on his t-shirt that features a weight lifter and reads "Autism: Not For Wimps!" So if people were wondering about us, they wouldn't have to look much further than his shirt for an answer.
We went into the play area and Brad was watching Selah on the slides while I took Korban to the water table. I was nervous because there was barely a place to squeeze in and Korban doesn't always play well with others, you know... I reminded him to use nice hands and share. He went up to the table and said "Can I play?" So sweet. He was definitely the oldest kid there and while most parents just stood back and watched their kids play, I hovered anxiously over mine.
There was one other parent with their child at the water table, and he noticed us. I'm not sure if he saw Korban's shirt, noticed how closely I was watching him, or if he recognized Korban's awkward attempts at traditional play, but he knew. Living on the autism spectrum makes you more sensitive to other people, and I say with relative certainty this man's adorable little boy was on the spectrum as well.
The man went out of his way to speak kindly to us and be friendly. When he spoke to Korban, I gently tilted Korban's chin-up so he could answer him, and his response to Korban was what made me sure he knew our struggles from personal experience. When Korban locked eyes with him, the man humbly said "Thank you for looking at me." That's what sold me--unless you've loved a child who struggles to make eye contact with you, you don't realize what a GIFT that is. And this dude got it.
I spoke to his sweet boy but he didn't glance up at me. He was younger than Korban, and Korban wouldn't have looked up at that age either. I wanted to offer some kind of encouragement, since the man had been so kind to us, but I didn't get the opportunity. Another little guy who was playing opposite Korban slung a water toy and gifted Korban with a face full of water. Seriously, it was a small water toy but it looked like ten gallons of water came out of it. Water dropped off the brim of his hat and ran down his face. His shirt was soaked. Now, this would have been mildly disconcerting for most people. While you don't expect to play at the water table and not get wet, this was a lot of water. But what would've been an inconvenience to most people was devastating to my son.
Everyone noticed us then. It seemed like the whole area drew a collective breath and waited to see what would happen. I knelt down and grabbed his hands and tried to calmly tell him we could dry off. He cried and tried to head butt me in the face. I dodged and tried to lead him away. A nice lady tried to help us get to the hand dryers. Korban slapped at her back. I apologized while I hauled him into the nearest bathroom, which thankfully was a private one.
I was thankful because that meant there was no one there to notice what happened next. There was no one there to stare while he screamed and thrashed and pounded the walls with his fists and spat in my face. Meltdowns are hard. Meltdowns in a public place are worse. Meltdowns with an aggressive child are painful. Literally.
But, thank God, it didn't last all that long, although I felt every painstaking minute of it. I imagined there would be employees on the other side of the door waiting to kick us to the curb, but there was not. Just another woman with a little boy who actually needed to use the bathroom to potty and not as a private meltdown space.
We left. We were ok. Maybe next time will be better. But it could've been worse. I always remember the people who are kind--it means so much. Like the man who thanked Korban for looking at him, and the woman who tried to help us and was nice even though Korban hit at her.
You know that quote that says "Be kinder than necessary. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." So, so true. Even though I never wanted to be the person being noticed, to those people today, thank you for noticing. Thank you for your kindness. May I be the smiling face in the crowd and the one offering grace to others in their time of need.