I noticed you almost immediately. We were browsing the dollar section, looking for something to put in the Easter baskets when I first heard his cries. What you don’t know was that I had fled there that morning. Constant requests and screams for a “CAR RIDE!” from my own little one had driven me to finally toss her in the backseat, buckle her up begrudgingly and hit the pavement in a cloud of stress and frustration. I was feeling sorry for myself that morning. I was wishing I didn’t have to drive all the way across Snow Canyon Parkway and down River Road just to calm her crippling anxiety. I was wishing she wouldn’t scream, and ask me for things ten thousand times in a row, and I was wishing we could just be "normal" instead.
I noticed you almost immediately.
Your son was screaming and arching his back and flailing in your arms. I noticed his dark brown hair and beautiful olive skin. I noticed the chewy tube dangling from his neck, the same one we use, and I immediately recognized his terrified eyes and the way his body was crippling and twisting with crushing panic. I could see my daughter in him. I could see myself in you.
For a moment I thought about walking away. There were already so many sets of eyes on you, and I was sure you were embarrassed to be wrestling your distraught son into a cart while all of us watched in pity. I am sure you were embarrassed that others pitied you. I know, because I hate to be pitied, too.
As quickly as the thought to 'look away' came, it went, and then I found myself walking over to you, placing my hand on your shoulder and asking you how I could help. I told you that my daughter has Autism too, and although I didn’t know if I could help you, I felt the overwhelming desire to stand there next to you, as all those eyes watched, so they would know we were in this together.
You took his arms and I took his legs and we tried with all our might to get your son to relax his body into that seat. While we worked you spoke calmly to him. You were tender and understanding. You called him “buddy” as he bucked up against your chest and screamed, his fists clenched tightly in frustration. I know I didn’t really get to meet your son that day. I know he was lost somewhere inside himself to a place where we couldn’t reach him. I know you probably wished I could have seen the way he laughs at that one scene in Toy Story each time he watches it, or his quiet precision as he builds a tower of blocks, and then screams in delight as the two of you knock it down together. I know you probably wish I could have seen his sparkle. I want you to know that I imagined it instead.
You don’t know this, but the moment you left the store, I burst into tears for you. I can imagine you walking out of those sliding doors, carrying your son across the parking lot with all the dignity and courage your heart could muster, and then, once you were safe inside the drivers seat, I can see you bursting into tears, too. It's just so damn hard sometimes, isn't it?
I wanted to thank you for your courage that day. I wanted you to know that I saw it underneath your quivering chin and fumbled words. I wanted you to know that I didn't see you as that frazzled mother you hate to be, but as a mother who would do anything for her child. I saw you as a mother who is doing her very best to build a beautiful life amidst tough circumstances. I saw you as a mother, just like me.
Thank you for buckling your son into the car, and wrestling him into the shopping cart, and giving this thing all you've got. Someday I might find myself where you were, and in that moment, I will think of stepping forward to stand beside you, and I will know that I am not alone.