her hair was black like mine. curled and resting on her shoulders. About twenty years my elder i guessed as she approached me with a look of pain already in her eyes. “he’s autistic right?” the usual open ended question used when the answer is already known. “yeah”. “so is my grandson hes ten he doesnt talk at all. he doesnt flap as much as your boy does.” and all guards were down. Two states from home connecting to a complete stranger in a way i cant connect to those that have lived right across the street for years.
“My daughter in law is twenty five. They had him when they were fifteen and i have been caretaking him full time.” There was a short silence and I looked at her as if i was looking at my own mother. This woman was working the buffet that i was looking forward to diving into and just like my mom her off time was being spent caretaking her grandchild insteand of breakfast and coffee with friends. We talked further and shared stories and glances as I let her lead the conversation. about five minutes passed and i knew my party at the table filled with my children, spouse and inlaws might be wondering where i was but i quickly decided i didnt care despite still holding the empty white plate in my hand. They knew where i was they would come find me if things got out of hand. Besides, this woman was crying and I couldn’t just leave her.
Our conversation bounced from insurance coverage comparisons between states, whether or not they got medicaid/disability, school programs and later evolved into me saying, “these babies are so beautiful”. At that she looked at me tears rolling down her face and she said, “I havnt seen my grandbaby in about three days. If i come over and hug your boy dont worry its just because hes beautiful.” at that i smiled at her and said, “he would love that” secretly hoping that he would. we parted ways as she scurried back into the kitchen and i knew she wasnt working. She had probaly ducked into a bathroom to compose her emotions before getting herself together enough to just “make it through the night”. As we ate i peered around the restaurant looking for her to return and she never did. And me, my voice never re-joined the conversation around me. My heart was with that woman and her precious grandson i will never get to meet.
That was just the beginning of our trip. I was still beaming that we had not one incident in the car on our four hour ride from Michigan to Kentucky. I was relaxed because Sabrina decided to play with my hair in the car as i layed my chair back for her to reach it and watched the miles grow between us and the laundry still laying on the floor in the basement to be washed (it doesnt matter how much laundry you do there will always be a pile). And now i had this beautiful interaction to meditate on. I was completely in heaven. Life is pretty amazing sometimes. and PEOPLE… people can be pretty amazing too.
The rest of the trip was good despite the million times he asked to “ganna go nana barb papa dave house…wes?” at one point i looked at him with my dixie cup of red wine in my hand and said “no aiden we visit nana barb and papa dave at the hotel.” he looked me straight in the eye and shook his head vigourously and said ‘No. No hotel”. After about fifty times of incessant asking of the same question i finally said, “no aiden. no more ask. we vist at hotel”. he got quiet and we gave him his dads iphone to play with (because we have pulled ipads full time at this point) as a peace offering and next thing i know my phone is vibrating in my pocket. I look down and see in texting from davids phone “I go to nana barb and papa daves house” with a house emoticon at the end. I bust out laughing. That litte punk texted his question to me because i told him i would not tlak about it anymore and in his mind he probably thought “well, she didnt say anything about texting”. Sigh. I pointed this out to the family in the hotel room as we all ate pizza and everyone laughed and laughed. but me, my heart was swelling with pride. My child, however aloof he may seem, has inherited my sarcastic spirit.
We swam, and talked to other guests at the hotel. It was pretty neat because the night before we left everyone was in the pool people from all over the united states with different cutural backgrounds and not a fight was to be had over a single toy. Everyone shared and laughed and joked and played. and at one point all i heard was the entire pool chanting, “DO IT, DO IT, DO IT, DO IT” as a woman stood at the corner of the pool debating on wheter or not the cold temperature of the pool was stronger than her desire to swim. After about two minutes of putting a foot in the water and all the children in the pool watching in expectation she took the plunge and jumped right in and the entire pool area cheered.
After checking out on sunday afternoon we decided to head over to a small city in Indiana and have a brunch before parting ways with my inlawas them heading south to tennessee and us heading back north to Detroit. We stopped in at this small diner that doubles as an art gallary where all the people were dressed nicely and appeared smart. (These are the places that i never quite seem to fit in. Just give me a mcdonalds and a hamburger and im happy).
I sat quiet at the head of the table just observing people anxious to see how aiden would do without any technology or an i pad. we ordered our ten dollar hamburgers and as i sat admiring the paintings on the walls i heard him cry out the first time. I couldnt help but see the woman at the table near the window look at us annoyed. I let it slide and figured she would get used to it after the first few times. Tthere is always a learning curve i get it. but usually after people get the point they loosen up and stop watching but not this time. Every time thereafter she continued to stare, then she would squint and after about the tenth time she looked at me and rolled her eyes. I glared back at her with disdain as i saw the meme i love in my head “Im sorry a person’s uniqueness is ruining your day would you like a hot beverage?” Noting that she already had a coffee in front of her i tried to imagine what she was thinking… Maybe something to the effect that her quiet lunch was being ruined by this “retarded kid” or something to that effect… i hate that word but ya know she seems like the ignorant type that would think that word still acceptable. It bothered me to say the least. Not so much that she didnt get it but that we call our “rich artsy types” in our society “Cultured” but yet they cant handle a special person in their midst. The man she was with would look over two but he seemed cool with it. occaisonally i would see her cover her mouth from my view and whisper something to him and he never responded. just sat quietley sipping his coffee.
I heard nothing at the table. As our order began to take longer and longer the waitress brought a bowl of goldfish crackers and we tried to make them last. David rationing them so he would not grab a handful at a time and waste them. he would give aiden one and then have him do some obsure task inbetween before giving him another. After a few rounds of this aiden grew inpatient and began yelling and smacking himself in the head. Not a lot but a few times and nothing that could cause injury. so we stopped him and waited. Still aware of the woman at the table by the window i began to feel that familiar heat rising up in my face and when things calmed down. I tried to regulate myself asking in my mind “why am i worried about her comfort? Why is my heart racing becuse of what she may say or do? he deserves the same opportunity as she besides, this is her problem and her loss not ours”.
As we parted ways to head back to our home towns separate by two states i couldnt help but feel elated at how well the trip had gone. I saw him smile so often and for the most part, our entire trip was tantrum free. I didnt want to go back home. I knew therapy would be there in the morning and i just wanted to hang at home and get organized but i knew we had to.
As we drove home my heart went back to that woman at the buffet. I watched the trees slowly fade into street side advertisements for lawyers and insurance companies and felt the gentleness of the world pass me by. I wished i could write her or help her in some way but then i remembered i had already helped her. I was there with her and had met her in a moment. I saw her. I thought about all the grandparents out there traveling the same journey unrecognized and thought, there has to be something out there to help them. And us parents, even though we are tired, confused and hopeless at times we must remember those that are there helping us on our journey. The rule “18 and out” does not apply in our parents’ lives once any special needs hits us regardless of how prepared we think we are. I think its time that we recognize the forgotten caregivers in all of this. So let me take a moment to tell the grandparents out there of children with special needs that Though us parents are tired and dont often say it we are thankful for you. We might not always say it and we cant always show it because of where we are on our own emotional journeys you are the glue that keeps this all together. And without your support whether emotional, economical or just a helping hand with dishes your work and your help is not going unnoticed. Your time, your love and your concern even when you try to be strong for us parents (your babies) is truly a gift that cant ever be repaid. Thank you.