Today, the girls and I made plans to enjoy a nice lunch outside at the Old Mill with Jack while Cam and Daddy went for haircuts. In addition to The Old Mill being my Olivia’s favorite place on earth, we thought Jack would enjoy watching and feeding the ducks while we ate.
I prepared as I normally do – with toys I know Jack loves, water, snacks, my phone at easy access in case I needed to put on a show, etc – the works.
We are used to meals out cut short, abandoned full grocery carts, leaving get togethers early, etc. We do what we need to do when autism is just too much to handle. We deal with it the best we can and leave situations when it gets to be too much.
Today was a first, though.
That nice lunch we planned on enjoying turned out to be these hot cakes you see right here. That view of the pond and cute ducks? Turned out to be the inside of a Honda minivan.
You see, the conditions on the patio there were just too much for Jack to handle. Something I probably should have thought of… The view of the pond, the ducks swimming by and quacking loudly, the wind, the sun shining brightly, the other diners chatting, the laughter and noise from the event room along side our table. As I walked Jack to his chair, I could see his eyes darting all around him, not sure what to focus on. I could feel his anxiety building. When he pulled my hand, pointed towards the parking lot and yelled “GO!”, I felt my heart sink. I knew once it started, there was no turning back.
I quickly grabbed my bag of tricks and tried working my magic, but the tantrum was already in full force. Now, in a full sweat and putting on quite the show for the other diners, I grabbed his letters; which if you know Jack, you know letters are his fixation at the moment and if anything would calm him down, it’s those.
My little Jackie swatted at the letters and threw himself on the floor – kicking, screaming and crying his eyes out. At one point, he almost hit his head on the fence separating us from the pond. It was not pretty.
If you were witnessing this and didn’t understand our situation, you would probably just think my child was being bratty, misbehaving, living up to the “terrible two” name. But this is not the case at all. Jack can’t process what’s around him like a typical child his age can. My Jack can’t communicate his feelings. He can’t tell me he doesn’t like his surroundings or that it makes him uneasy or anxious. Jack has some words and is working hard to build his vocabulary, but he is unable to form a sentence. So, using the only way he knows how, he shows me he cannot handle being in the situation at the moment.
His sisters were helping as best they could, as they always do. As my oldest glanced up at me and said “We’re going to have to leave, aren’t we, mama?”, I looked over at my Olivia and saw the tears start to pour down her face.
After an attempt to move inside and the tantrum just escalating once again, I knew we had to leave.
As we walked out, I tried to lean over and wipe the tears from Olivia’s face and assure her that I would figure something out, but she couldn’t hear me over Jack’s cries. That short walk to the car seemed like miles. Jack is getting so big now and it’s hard for me to carry him when he’s not calm.
Once the kids were all piled into the car, Jack finally started to calm down (thank the good Lord for entertainment systems.) As I buckled him in, I glanced over at my girls.
“It’s ok, mama. We can eat at home.” my sweet Maddie said. Then I looked over at Olivia who had her head buried in her lap. I wanted to do just the same.
I got in my seat, sat back and took a deep breath in. The exhale was accompanied by hot streaming tears. Normally, I keep it together fairly well, especially in front of my kiddos. Today, well, that just wasn’t happening.
In that moment, it all just hit me like a ton of bricks. And instead of trying to play it cool for my girls, I let my guard down. I let them see how upset I was too. After explaining that this environment was just too much for Jack today and for the fact that we were all very hungry, we decided on hot cakes for lunch from the drive through.
As we sat in the car enjoying our breakfast for lunch, my girls and I chatted.
We talked about autism, about our sweet Jack, about how hard he has been working, about the strides he has made, about how hard it is sometimes BUT how it continues to get better. We cried, we laughed and I reminded the girls how very great they have been through everything. They are so empathetic with Jack. They help out whenever they can. And most importantly, they love their sweet Jack with all of their hearts.
This journey with Jack has been quite eye-opening for me – in motherhood and in life in general. It surely gets overwhelming sometimes, like today. And sometimes I feel like I get so wrapped up with Jack that I lose site of how the other kiddos are doing with it all. For the most part, Cam is still too young to understand, but the girls are right there in the trenches.
Looking back on today, I’m thankful for this drive-thru hot cakes lunch and the time with my girls.
And guess where the girls and I ran off to for dessert once Matt got home to stay with the boys?
The Old Mill. ❤️