It was meant innocently enough. It was intended as a Christmas shopping trip to the famous toy store that kids everywhere just love. It ended in disaster. We always Christmas shop in October. November and December fill the stores to capacity with shoppers, a few of whom are just rude, most of whom are exhasted, and a good percentage of whom are pretty crabby. We know already that taking our autistic son shopping is going to be challenging, so we avoid situations like occur in the Christmas shopping months like it was the plague and go early and hide the gifts until Christmas. With autism an ounce of preventative is the only cure there is.
It was a happy enough beginning. My baby was very excited and very talkative. He wanted to see everything and he wanted to touch everything. He has no concept of earning a living. He knows you have to give money for the things you get, but doesn’t understand in the least that money can be a rare commodity. Therefore, he doesn’t shop in moderation or understand why he can’t have everything he wants. This of course resulted in the usual comments from me right from the beginning. “No.” “Put it back.” “Not right now.” and “Christmas is just around the corner, Santa will bring you a lot of toys.”
This constant dialogue with him often draws the attention of nearby shoppers, who can’t believe how spoiled my son sounds to them. My boy, like a lot of children with autism, looks just like any other kid and spectators don’t understand that there is a difference. His language skills are poor and this might betray his secret except that the things he wants to say in a toy store are well worn and practiced. He is very good with, “This is cool” “Can I have” “We need to buy” and “Please Mom!” That is his favorite one. “Please Mom, please, Oh, please Mom, please, please, please.” He sings it like a chorus and often has repeated it many times before I get a chance to tell him NO.
I always take him to the Thomas display, in this store. It is set up where he can touch and drive them. They are his favorite, and he gravitates right to them like a magnet. So I might as well get it over with and take him there. I already know what the fuss will be like if I fail to comply. I walk around and look at the little trains while he plays, and eventually he gets up from the table and starts to look to. I never get out of that store without buying at least one train. Fortuanaly he has an excellent memory, and knows exactly what he has at home already so I never worry about buying doubles, I just let him tell me which ones he needs still. They are not that expensive, and I can usually get out of that section with one for under $5.00.
I always look at the educational toys while I am there. If I am going to spend money for gifts that I have to buy to make Christmas special, and trip on those gifts all over my house for years to come, then I like to get my moneys worth in education out of them. These toys however are pretty expensive, and I sometimes just look to see if I like them or not, then look for them at thrift stores and garage sales. I have a lot of luck buying these things second hand. Kids grow out of them, or don’t use them because they are too educational for them to have fun with, and they end up in the thrift stores for nearly nothing and still brand new. I do have to look at them first at the toy store though, because the ones in the thrift stores don’t have batteries or labels, and I can’t tell what they do. When I buy them second hand I wipe them down with bleach to dissinfect them and they look brand new. I can’t tell you how many toys my kids have gotten for christmas that were second hand. I don’t care what you think about that either. It only matters what they think about it, and most of the time they don’t know the difference. Their play is not any different with it either, if I had paid fifty dollars for it or 1.99. It still does the same stuff. Autistic children are not known for their patience though, and he will want what he sees there in that isle right away. He will touch and start every display. The noise will be enough to draw a sales person to come by with, “Can I help you find something”. I always say no, and probably seem very suspicious that I just walk away without buying anything.
Then we will try to hurry past the girl stuff. Social identity is difficult for autistic children. They don’t understand things like trucks are for boys and dolls are for girls. If it is flashy, pretty, nice, they like it and they just don’t see why they should not. He always sees something that pulls him to the girl section. Microphones are great, but I can’t buy him one with Hannah Montanna on it (even though I think she is cute!) It’s pink with rhinestones, and her pretty face. You see he likes Hannah a lot. He like her pretty face. He is quite girl crazy in fact, so the fact that there is a pretty girl on the microphone is a draw to him. The pink barbie sports car, little toy animals in pink pet stores. Horses with rainbow maines (he loves rainbows). What a nightmare. I would love to tell him he can have them, but I don’t want him to go to school and choose the toys that are for girls, so he will be tormented by the other boys. We have this same converstaion over and over. “Some toys are for girls and some toys are for boys.” I say. He replies “But boys like girls toys and girls like boys toys.” “Yes, I know.” I say “and there are some toys for girls you can play with, but the ones that look very girly will get you teased by boys.” “Well I like girls, boys are just mean to me.” “Not all of them are mean to you. Just the nasty ones, but we don’t want to cause ourselves to get made fun of.” I say. “I don’t care Mom, I like this. Please Mom please…..” Of course by now someone is starring at us. I never know if she is going to be one of those who hates me for encouraging gender stereo types, or thinks my kid is gay because he wants girl toys. All I know is she better not tell me which she is.
Then we hurry past those wonderful battery operated cars that are big enough to drive. My son has a battery operated motorcycle, but he would have as many of those little cars as Jay Leno has big cars if I would let him. I just can’t afford to go in that area. Besides once he climbs in one of those, there will be a thousand “Please, Mom. Please.” before I can get him out.
Finally we stopped in the musical instrument section. He loves music, and even though I can’t play anything I really hope he will get to one day. As far as I am concerned these are educational toys. If I have to spend money because it is Christmas this is money well spent. Now don’t get me wrong, I get my instruments at the thrift store to. If I luck out I can get him a real electronic keyboard, for less than what some of the toy ones cost, and when he breaks it, because he goes through them like water, I won’t feel so bad about the money. I still stop and look for instructional books, games, and toys. Something that can teach him what I don’t know how to do. While we were in this isle, he heard his father who was few isles over with his older brother. He ran off to find his Dad. I yelled to see if he was safe and when his Father replied “Yeah, I got him.” I went back to looking. I was standing in this isle with my hands on my hips looking intently at something, when here he came flying down the isle at me. His Father was coming to but was several steps behind. Now autistic children are not known for their coordination and balance skills. He he didn’t veer right quite enough. He slammed his head right into my protruding elbow. I grabbed him and rubbed his head and told him I was sorry, but really it was his fault. You just say I’m sorry because you know something like that hurts. When he seemed okay I let him go. He walked to the end of the isle where a mother was standing with her son. They were looking at the end cap so they weren’t really in the isle and they didn’t see what happened so he told them. “She just hurt me in my head.” he said. “Who did?” the little boy asked. “Gasp,” said I. “Now don’t bother them honey come here.” But he didn’t move, he had the attention of another child. “My Mom.” he answered. “She hurt me right here.” and he pointed to beside his right eye. I was already on my way down the isle to get him, but it was too late. That mom who was standing there locked eyes with me as I grabbed his hand a led him away. I was so humiliated, but I tried to brush it off and get back to shopping. She trotted off with her son in hand, and few moments later a red aproned worker appeared at the other end of the isle. She was almost as young as my oldest son, standing there with her hands on her hips, making no bones about who it was she was starring at. “May I help you find something?” she sneered. “No thank you” I murmmered almost breaking into tears. She stood there so long that I became uncomfortable and moved to the next isle. A moment later she was at the end of that one too. I took my son by the hand stormed past my husband, barely getting out the words “let’s go.” And we left. I cried all the way home. When we got home, I got out of the car and walked to the street. “I’m going for a walk” is all I said to make my husband understand that he was going to put the kids to bed. I walked and I talked to God. He is the only one who will listen without judgeing me. He doesn’t have to judge me because he already knows what really happened. How nuts I must have looked to the neighbors crying and babbleing in the dark as I walked around the block. Finally I started to cool down and I went home and went to bed.
I love my son. I am a good Mom. I would step in front of a bulllet for my kids without hesitation. That is the truth. I want to say that I don’t care what people think. That would not be true. It hurts. It hurts what they think about him, what they think about my husband, and what they think about me. That is the truth too. Most of them don’t have the guts to just ask you to your face what the truth is. And every single one of them, I can read their faces like a book, even though they say things like, “May I help you.” their faces say you are awful. They make these assumptions, and then they actually make accusations without really knowing anything. That mom didn’t see anything, but I know she told that store clerk I was hitting my kid. That store clerk didn’t see anything, but she had no problem with shameing me to tears. Gossipers and tellers of tales are warned about in the Bible, but people really have no concept of what they are doing and the real effect it is going to have when they start running their mouth.
If this is the result of a simple trip to the toy store, you can imagine the difficulties that come with the everyday life events of a child with autism. Want to know why we parents of autistic children often sound hurt and deffensive? That would be because we are frequently hurt and having to defend ourselves over things that just didn’t happen. Sometime I wish I could carry around a video recorder all the time so when people start with thier mouths I can show them the truth. I know if there was a camera in that toy store Isle, it will show the exact incident I said. So much for America where you are innocent until proven guilty. Today you only need to be accused to be condemned, sure I didn’t go to jail or anything, but me and my family were judged and punished before we even got to say a word.