This weekend I packed up my daughter with apprehension and drove to Newark to visit the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. I hadn't been there before and like any momma, I was a little anxious to drive in, park and visit the venue not knowing what to expect, except you see, I had an extra bag to carry, my daughter, the one whom I was driving has autism. Autism is such a spectrum and that spectrum surrounds my daughter, daily. Some days, you look at her cherubic face and would hardly believe that she is plagued by physical and emotional pain carrying the burden of her long list of diagnosis' and then there are other days, when I stare into her eyes, wondering where "she" is. I wonder where her mind has taken her and wonder if I can somehow bring her back to me, to the momma who loves her more than life itself.
As we prepared to go, I began to talk to her about the experience. As we drove however she found a snag in her leggings, as I drove I heard her pulling away and glanced back to see her leggings in shreds across the backseat of the car. I laughed. I had to. I quickly called a few local stores on the way to see if they had children's leggings with no luck. I phoned a friend and she was out and about not answering calls and although my husband told me I had no time to stop at Walmart, I pulled in, hoisted her onto my hip and ran through Walmart in black heels with her shrill cheers begging me to run faster. I quickly grabbed three pairs...you see, if she tore one apart in the ten mile ride I wasn't certain we would make it all the way to Newark without multiple changes.
The rest of the drive was seamless--minus the merge into Newark and as I drove into a parking space noted on my pass, I once again hoisted that child onto my hip and trucked out into traffic with her giggling with delight. As the lights changed and we could go, she threw her head back in elation. I smiled, inside and out as she said "hello" to those sitting with blankets and bags on the park bench and wished I had something to throw their way.
We made it.
As we climbed up to the first level, I was greeted by a lovely usher who told me where my seats were...smack dab in the last row of the theater. I tried to walk her by cautiously so as to not disturb you, your two toddlers or the families that followed but still felt like a total heel and prayed that she would make it through because if she didn't, that meant climbing back over the people we had just passed. I sat down, breathed a sigh of relief and the show began.
The visual stimulus.
Immediately my "mom sensors" peeked. She stopped and shouted "my headphones". Thank God, I had them. I could hear her begging for them as loudly as she could wail while I quickly dug through the big bag of tricks I had with me. As she did, I watched as the attack on senses seemed overwhelming for typical kids and how I see all these attacks differently now that I have my sweet girl but once her headphones were on, she relaxed, she snuggled into me, and she felt safe.
She did too.
Until her senses were once again accosted by something new.
As a family, running later than myself squeezed into the seats in front of us, the smell of popcorn wafted in our direction.
"Popcorn" she shouted.
I sucked in my breath knowing just moments ago, we hurled our bodies over at least 8 people to get to our center seats and prayed that she would relent.
I whispered, at intermission love. At intermission. Expecting her to continue freaking out, I tensed my body and hoped for the best. It happened, she settled in. She waited. She made it. At intermission, I headed down and waited with her in a loud lobby and got her that overpriced popcorn that came with a Rubble hat. She was satisfied.
We made sure to get to our seats long before intermission was over, you see new mom friend, I didn't want to bother you, or anyone around me yet again.
The second half of the performance began again with the lights, sounds and intensity the first half did and I wondered how long I had. As she munched on her popcorn, I figured she'd be calm. I was so tuned in to her I couldn't tell you much about the show except that the parts I did concentrate on were well done and cute and then, as soon as my guard was down, it happened.
She bolted. She's fast and before I could even get up she was in your arms.
She ran past an entire family and got to you and you stopped her.
I was relieved. So often when we are out, people don't want to overstep bounds, so I begin flailing dropping my purse, leaving my other children and high tailing it to get my sweet girl but you knew. You had instincts.
I gathered her into my arms, headed back to my seat and picked up all we had around us. I zipped her coat and she begged to leave. As we walked past you all once again, you stroked my arm. I sucked in my breath, you see, I am used to these conversations and often I leave in tears wishing I had never attempted to have a "normal" life with my atypical child yet the words you whispered gave me the greatest Christmas Gift I may receive this year.
Mom on My Side, you stroked my arm and told me that my child, the one with the headphones, who shouted at one point in the program and ran to escape did well and that I should be proud. I smiled and started to walk away but the words, the ones that took little to utter meant the world, so I returned tapping you gently on the shoulder and thanked you. I told you the words you spoke meant a lot because my daughter, you see...she....and you finished my sentence, "she has autism and you should be proud of her, she did great".
My sweet girl and I did the same walk we had just an hour before, she said hello to those sitting on benches and I recounted our encounter. I thought about the number of times I have been told she needs more discipline or that I shouldn't give her these opportunities and how no matter what I am told, I try. I thought about how the words you spoke didn't take much from you but meant the world to me.
So sweet mom, we may never meet again, your beautiful eyes, they spoke to me, your petite loving frame was like an angel encounter and that lovely British accent won't easily be forgotten. You truly live love and for that I am grateful. I hope one day, I too can be that mom on another moms side because it meant the world.
From my little love to your family...Merry Christmas, you made mine just a bit more Merry. Thank you.