The inevitable has happened. I guess a part of me knew it would eventually come to this, but I have to admit, I’ve let my guard down. We’ve been accepted by our community and our son is treated just as much of one your own as the next, so much so that I had kind of forgotten this day would come: the day the snide remarks were just loud enough to hear.
There recently was a Sunday which was a busy day for our family. We relied on the nearest fast food joint in an effort to sit down and eat together in that short time between church and our afternoon activities. It had been a fairly good morning, but waiting for our food in a crowded Dairy Queen was proving to be difficult for our tired, hungry, little guy. I offered him my phone as a respite from the sensory overload he was experiencing. He chose to type in the Notes function as he often does. Letters are kind of his thing. He’s a quick study with any kind of graphic relating to whatever show or story he is focused on. So, when he retreats into the world of Notes on my phone, he often types titles of movies or stories, erases them, and types again. Upon seeing him erase, one of the big people at our table suggested that maybe he shouldn’t do that because I also have some notes stored in there.
To see where this is going, you have to understand that Ben is highly sensitive to being told he shouldn’t do something, or that he hurt something or someone. What might be a simple “I’m sorry.” to you or me, is often coupled with tears, sometimes sobbing over not measuring up. In light of this, we try to be extremely careful about how we redirect so as not to make our son feel like a failure, creating a downward spiral for everyone involved.
He was tired and hungry, and honestly, working really hard to keep it all together, but being told to stop before erasing Mommy’s words was just too much for him to handle. He cried. He sobbed. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!!!!!” This continued for a good 10 minutes. We tried to take him outside to calm down. We tried deep pressure hugs. We tried softly whispered reassurance. Our boy was at the end of his rope. I believe to any parent standing by, it was clear he was tired and hungry and just having a hard time. But, I know this. I know the truth. I know how hard he works on a daily basis just to fit into the molds of this world. So, I know he wasn’t giving us a hard time. He was having a hard time.
We’ve eaten at this establishment before and for the most part, at least casually know a majority of the others who were there. Some of the folks we saw that day have been there almost every Sunday we have had lunch there. They’ve become somewhat of an extended family, sharing occasional Sunday lunches. It’s a good thing. Our kids get to know others from the surrounding community; we get to visit with our neighbors; and we all have formed jovial relationships on a multi-generational level. I know it’s somewhat strange to say we have a Dairy Queen family when we don’t go every single Sunday, but the conversations and laughter shared on those days are so genuine that one particular gentleman even laid down the law to our older children one Sunday about what condition they are to return home in once they move away to college and that I am to send them to him if those expectations are not met. Would it ever really happen that I would send my children to a neighbor for discipline? Not likely, but it is heartwarming to watch other adults invest in conversations with our children; and our children are certain that we would in fact send them up the road if they ever crossed that particular line.
So it was that we were in a local Dairy Queen, waiting for our lunch, when Ben’s world came crashing down. It is not often that this happens away from home, but it is a reality. We live this, so we know it’s just going to take time and a lot of patience, but once he gets through it, he’s back to the pleasant, polite, giggly little boy that most folks know and love.
All the regulars went about their business of conversations, bonding, and enjoying their Sunday lunch as if nothing were out of the ordinary. What a blessing not to add fuel to the fire by making a spectacle of our family. Thank you, DQ Sunday lunch family, for allowing us to just be us.
But there was this pair of ladies I didn’t know. Honestly, I was so focused on our family and dealing with the issues at hand that I hadn’t even noticed them until they went to throw their trash away. We were seated right next to the trash recepticle, so it took no effort to hear the comments made by one as she dumped her trash.
“So much for a nice relaxing lunch.”
Her companion readily agreed. “Yes, really.”
They were headed out the door before it all registered in my mind. Shared looks of confusion told me the same was happening in the minds of the two adults with me. “Excuse me? Were they talking about us?”
My mind was spinning with trying to figure out if I’d heard that correctly and if so, were they really talking about us, or something entirely unrelated? I asked my cousin who was with us and she wasn’t sure either. I was flustered that my son was struggling, so I wasn’t really up for a confrontation, but I also wasn’t okay with this presumed potshot at my little boy, who was obviously trying so hard to calm himself down using various breathing techniques, snuggling into me, letting me and his dad rub his back, and honestly just trying to get it all together so he could eat and we could go home.
I did not follow the ladies out to the parking lot, though part of me wondered if I should, just to shed a little light on the situation. Not for confrontation, but for education, for awareness, for acceptance. But my place was right there, at my son’s side, while his dad and I worked together to help him. I’m trying to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they, too, had their own issues to deal with that day, but my heart aches that it may, in fact, have been us that was giving them grief.
My cousin and I discussed this situation later that afternoon. She commented that she really wanted to follow them out and just talk to them so they would know what was going on, but that she didn’t want to set a bad example for our older kids of tracking someone down for a little explaination. I think there’s a balance between setting an example of sharing our story and enlightening those who may be misinformed versus being where we need to be, doing what we need to do. I chose to be the parent our son needed, mostly because that is what he needed, but in a very small part, because I don’t know for sure if we were their issue or not.
Truth be told, a few minutes later, he was back to the sweet little guy we know and love, happily eating his lunch, occasionally even making eye contact and sharing a “yep, good lunch” nod.
I’m thinking that perhaps everyone could benefit if we all think before we speak. While we are very much aware of what we are saying and our intentions with our words, those around us may not know what we are talking about, and our words may very well seem like an attack, even if they are in no way related to whatever situation others are dealing with. Taking just a few extra seconds to be aware of what is going on around us and consider the impact our words can make on those within earshot just may be the difference between adding fuel to the fire or fostering a sense of family within the community.