Last night, when out to dinner with my Sis and Bro-in-law, I was reminded of a story I told them a while ago that I thought was pretty funny. Figured it would be a good one to share, so here it is.
Several weeks ago, just after Brody was born, I was feeling particularly adventurous one Friday night (and consequently, feeling not much like cooking) so we decided to take our maiden voyage out to dinner as a “party of five.” We chose a little diner-type place that we had been to once before with Nicholas and Avery (Brody still on board at that point) because it was spacious, and not really ever crowded. As with many families, we like to choose places that are easy to lug the kids into, and where we will disturb as few people as possible if anyone starts to scream and cry or fling food across the room. Additionally, this place happens to have mashed potatoes on the menu, which is one of about 3 foods that we can successfully get Nicholas to eat without having to pack a seperate bag of his favorites. So, it was all set! We piled the kids into the new “Swagger Wagon,” and ventured to the restaurant.
On this day, Nicholas had been particularly vocal for most of the day at home. Now, this may seem strange since he doesn’t “talk” per say, but he DOES talk in his own way. He uses his voice, and makes a series of “EEEEEEEE’s” and “AHHHHHHHS” that vary in degrees of pitch and volume depending on what he is “talking” about. If he is happy, these are accompanied by smiles and maybe a laugh or two. If he is unhappy, his face twists into a look of disgruntlement, and they become like more of a while until I can figure out what he needs. I must admit that after listening to this series of sounds for a better part of the day, my tolerance for it decreases by about 5pm. It becomes something like nails on a chalkboard for me, because often times, he is not necessarily upset by anything, but just chooses to talk for the entire day. It is a reminder to me that I have no idea what is going on in his head that excites him so, and therefore it becomes frustrating to me. My hopes were that by changing the environment, and trying this little dinner excursion, it would settle him down into a more quiet and calm state.
Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. We began our evening by barreling into this quiet restaurant, requesting a large table in the addition at the front of the restaurant (which was presently free of other diners-BONUS!), settling the two older kiddos into their high chairs, and plopping Brody onto the table in his car seat. All was well in the land of dining so far. And as usual, we ordered the kids’ food first, so that one of us can focus on feeding Nicholas (which I will suffice to say can be very challenging) and so that Avery won’t have a melt-down because she is starving to death. Still, so far so good. However, as we were waiting for our food, Nicholas was talking away, and becoming increasingly agitated in his vocal way. We brought a few things that he typically likes to play with at the table, and these were not seeming to do the trick for him. After about 10 minutes of his non-stop, slightly irritated talking, the food arrived. I’m thinking, “mashed potatoes….one of his favorites. Maybe he is just hungry and once he starts to eat he will settle down.” Wrong again! As Avery picked at her food, my husband and I took turns trying to feed Nicholas. He started to get really angry, and would “EEEEE EEEEEE” and “AHHHH AHHH” while simultaneously turning his head away from the food, squirming in his seat, and absolutely refusing to eat. Hmmmm, Ok, weird. What now? Well, after several attempts, we gave up at feeding him. Though they say “when a kid is hungry, he will eat,” this does not apply to my son. Often times it is about how you are PRESENTING the food which causes him to become agitated and refuse to eat it. But this time, he simply did not want to eat, and we figured we’d just enjoy OUR dinner and deal with it later. At last, our dinner arrives. At about this time, Nicholas begins what I would consider to be a total melt-down of epic proportions. While some kids on the spectrum tend to have melt-downs that are much louder and maybe more obvious than Nicholas’ (for which I am thankful I do not yet deal with), for him, this was one of his worst. He began thrashing around in his seat, swiping the items we had brought for him to play with all over the floor, and making this guttural noise that was as close to yelling as he is capable. (He’s just not a screamer kind of kid. ) Meanwhile, amidst the chaos happening at our table, a lovely older couple was seated at the table DIRECTLY next to us. Fantastic! Here they are, probably just out for a nice quiet Friday night dinner, and they are seated next to a table with three kids, one of whom is fussing for a bottle, another who is bored with her food and on to whining about wanting to get down, and the third of which is flailing around like a caged dog who wants to chase a cat! We had just become “THAT TABLE!” At this point, I decided, for both their sanity and mine, that we had reached a point at which it was appropriate to take Nicholas outside to see if he would calm down a bit. Now, let’s not mistake…..this is not because I was “embarrassed” by his behavior. If any of my kids were creating a scene such as this, Autism or not, I would feel it my civil duty to act in the same manner and remove my child from the situation for the benefit of the other diners. This is just my personal approach to family dining, and my opinion of proper unwritten restaurant etiquette.
At any rate, this night, it happened to be Nicholas. So he and I stepped outside for a few minutes, and his fit continued as my dinner sat cooling off on the table to an inedible temperature. My husband, on the other hand, eats like a tornado moving across Kansas, so by the time I came back in with my temperamental boy, he was almost finished eating. We agreed that it would be best if he just take Nicholas to the car, while I ate my dinner, paid the bill, and rounded the others up for the journey home. All the while, this couple eyeballed us a couple of times, but did not seem particularly irritated. Who knows, maybe they were just being polite. So, I finished up my dinner, quietly (and still sweating!), with the other two at the table with me. I began to pack up our things, and recover from the stress of this entire situation which had only been exacerbated by the fact that we now had witnesses. As I wondered to myself if these innocent bystanders would be cursing us after we left, I glanced over at them with an apologetic look. And here’s the funny part…..they did not notice my glance because they were in some sort of discussion with each other. And this discussion was in the form of SIGN LANGUAGE!!! OMG!!! It hit me like a brick that these two people had not been disturbed in the SLIGHTEST by our crazy table! They hadn’t heard a THING! It was probably the most unlikely thing that could have happened at that moment, and the irony of it was hysterical to me!
After the humor of it all passed, it did make me think. We all have our challenges, but in those challenges, sometimes there come benefits. Nicholas may have Autism to struggle with, but with that will come his special abilities (like being able to spell at age 3!) that won’t come so easily to other kids. For this couple, their challenge was adapting to living with their hearing loss, but thankfully for them, it also spared them a potentially very irritating dinner on the town! See! Every cloud DOES have a silver lining!