There was a time when I completely dreaded going to the store with the Roc. That was when we used picture schedules to run our days and I always felt a little apprehensive when I stuck that “shopping” picture to the velcro strip. There were certain stores the Roc absolutely hated, and of course we went to those stores pretty frequently. We could never just pick up and run out to the store, if it wasn’t on the schedule, it wasn’t going to happen that day. When the three of us were out together and we needed to make an unscheduled stop at a store I usually waited in the car with the Roc, who screamed about how he didn’t want to stop at the store. I’ve had my share of pretty horrid shopping experiences with the Roc in tow, and I know they were infinitely more awful for him than me. I’ve had people stare in judgement, point at us, roll their eyes, I’ve heard people mutter under their breath about “parents these days,” and one time a lady basically told me that I needed to spank him and everything would be different, that she would whip him into shape if he were her child.
I know that going shopping with typical children isn’t always a picnic. But being able to say, “We have to go to the store now,” and then pick up and go to the store is one of those little things that most people do not give much thought to. It’s an ease that parents like me wish for and then we work for. It’s why we do picture schedules, write social stories about what to expect at a store and what is expected of the child at the store. We prep and prep, and then we practice, and practice, and practice. We keep going even if it ended in disaster last time, holding onto the grain of hope that the next time will be a bit better. We measure success in small increments. The ability to enter the store, to stay for 15 minutes, to use words instead of screams, and on until we get to the stage where we can actually make a short list and then go to the store – with our child.
For over a year every outing to Walmart in our little town in Delaware felt like a therapy session. Have you ever stopped by the checkout on a busy day in Walmart, closed your eyes and just listened? Adults talking, babies crying, children whining, music and the occasional in-store announcement, rustling packages, squeaking carts, beeping scanners, the thump of items on the belt, the mechanical noise of the belt, register drawers slamming open, the whir of the air conditioner, cell phones ringing, the loud cell phone talkers, etc. And that is just the auditory piece! Visual overstimulation, the crowds, the lights, the fans, the changes, the unexpected, the anxiety about being touched by a stranger, an onslaught to an over sensitive system,
Even though it was hard, I kept going to the store with the Roc. Little by little, bit by bit, schedule by schedule, all the prepping and practicing began to pay off. I would make a list, he would ride in the big part of the cart, we would get our couple things, and then get the heck out of there. Eventually he got to the point where he would walk in the store with me if we only got a few things. We still couldn’t drop by a store unexpectedly, but I could tell him that I was adding it to the afternoon schedule and he would go willingly. We developed routines at certain stores, looking at the cakes in the bakery section of the grocery store, or visiting the gift shop and outdoor area of our local natural food store/nursery, and we had to do these things every time, which I did willingly. He was always “working for” something at every store, and there were times that I literally carried him out of a store abandoning what I had come to purchase when he melted down. But we were there, he was there, it was slowly getting easier, and after awhile I stopped focusing so much on how hard it was to go to the store with the Roc. We kept going, time went by and I didn’t notice it’s passing.
A few weeks ago the three of us were out running errands. We told the Roc we would be doing some shopping and we didn’t know exactly how many stores we would be going too. We decided to stop at a Thai restaurant for lunch. Then we shopped. We went into a couple craft stores, we looked around, I sent GC off with the Roc and looked by myself, and then they came and found me. The Roc stayed with me for awhile, “helping” me and reminding me “not to get lost.” Even though his voice rang through the store and the lady next to me was doing her best to ignore him, I smiled at him and told him he was doing a good job. He waited in line with us, again his voice too loud, and this time the lady behind us couldn’t hide her annoyance, and again I smiled and told him he was waiting patiently. We left the store and decided at the last minute to stop at Target before going home.
The weather was gorgeous, an unseasonably warm breeze lifted my hair as I took the Roc’s hand in the parking lot. I looked up and saw the white tail of a jet expanding across the blue sky and I stopped and pointed it out to the Roc.
“What is that?” he asked, his head tilted back.
I felt jolted at once by his question, the fact that we were out shopping as a family, that we unexpectedly stopped at a restaurant to eat lunch, that we spent 20 minutes in a craft store, and then moved onto another store, that he was managing himself. Overwhelmed by all of that and more. I looked over at GC as he explained the jet and then I closed my eyes and felt the sun on my face and the Roc’s hand in mine. We were out on a busy Saturday just like any other family. There was an ease to the day that I had never felt before.
The Roc was going with the flow.
(Did you do a double take on that line? The Roc was going with the flow.)
Parenting isn’t easy. We all know that. But there is an everyday ease that most people take for granted. I’ve wanted that so much, for me, for the Roc. Not because I want it to be easy for us. I want that ease for him. For him to be able to do everyday tasks out in the world successfully and be at ease himself.
That Saturday proved that we’re getting there. He’s getting there. The prepping, the social stories, and all the times I wanted to give up, to stay in the car, to shop alone at night…but didn’t…it’s paid off.
That day happened.
It can happen again.