“First World Problems: Navigating the Soothing Aisles of Plenty”
It always cracks me up how much more social A can be than any of us. If we decide against an outing, it’s because he is having a tough behavior day, but if we do go, it’s because he is so over the moon about being around people that we cannot deny him that pleasure. R and I have an inside joke which I am not at liberty to share with you guys, but basically, “A needs a bigger audience” is what we say when he is grinning like a jack o’lantern as we head out into the wilderness of social entanglements.
School has been taking A’s class out and about too. They’ve been to Target, where A shopped with a pictorial list and paid with a prepaid card. They’ve eaten at Dunkin Donuts, where he ordered his own food and scarfed it down with gusto. And they will be going swimming a few times in March, which he loves. The suburban America aspect to these outings is very amusing and endearing to me. After all, if we want mainstream Americans to be accepting of the presence of special needs individuals, then what better way than to show up where a wide swath of society eats, shops, and works out.
Chain restaurants and big box stores have a way of universalizing things in a way that can be very soothing for autistic people too. The menu is predictable, the aisles are neat and navigable for people who need strong visual cues, and you don’t really have to bump up against humanity too much if you go on a weekday. Win.
Maybe the outings have triggered some pleasant sense of recognition in A. He probably thought these were places only our family went to, and now he finds that hah, everyone does! Naturally, he turned to YouTube to replicate these moments of blissful sameness.
One of his favorite videos is called “Emily Doing Shopping.”* Basically this kid, I’m assuming named Emily, zips around a big box store and puts various items in a toddler shopping cart, the kind that has a little car in front, and the kid feels like the driver. We have been bopping to this song for quite some time now, and we all chime in at the chorus:
“At the supermarket, you can buy everything
When you do your grocery shopping.”
As the parents of older kids, we are rather too jaded for toddler videos. Emily is a cutie pie, and I’m sure A loves her zippety verve, but when I actually watched the video rather than merely bop to the song, I got all scratchy-bothered when the lyrics said “milk and bread” but she was choosing shoes, or when they said “fish, meat and chicken” and she trotted off to the candy aisle. By this, I concluded that I am simply not in that place of mothering anymore where I see my child in the faces of other pea sized people. So be it. At least A thinks of Emily as his shopping soulmate.
Similar to the toddler years, except indefinitely challenging, there is great power in getting to have an outside life with an autistic kid, and in that sense, watching Emily do her busy thing is goofily heartwarming. Spending time with A, watching him interact with his surroundings, can be so all-consuming, and it is humbling to look back and remember a time when we really struggled with even basic jaunts, and let’s be honest, none of them were chill or fun. They were sweaty and made us turn to online shopping.
The song goes on to list all the genres of food you can buy. I cannot help it, but it all sounds like such middle class privilege, and, while that’s fair, why shouldn’t people make a nice video about whatever they want, it really serves to make me think about someday in the future, and wonder what kinds of culinary adventures A will be able to afford. If my Amma prayers have any power to them, he will eat like the Maharaja he looks like in my head. He’ll chow down with the grateful spirit of the civic minded boy we are trying to raise him to be. And he’ll share it gladly with people in his life because he is a social fellow, which is innately his own personality, and he never saw a party he didn’t want to join.
Rock that outside life, sweet kids. Whether the world has patience for you or not, everywhere is where you deserve to be.