While I’ve been busy launching Autism A to Z and the Whistlestop Writers Open Mic, some of my friends have been tackling their own exciting projects. Sharon, for example, has long had a dream to build a labyrinth and lead guided meditations. In pursuit of this dream, she has walked labyrinths throughout Northern California and is in the process of being certified in leading labyrinth walks. Livermore, surprisingly, has a Chartres-style labyrinth (similar to the one pictured here) located in a courtyard behind the Presbyterian Church. For several years when my daughter Katie was young, a woman lead candlelight walks on Friday nights. But before I could check it out, the walks stopped.
As part of her certification, Sharon lead a labyrinth walk one balmy night in April. My friend Barb and I decided to go with Katie to a nearby Vietnamese restaurant for dinner and then swing by the labyrinth. Barb thought Katie would enjoy the labyrinth, and if not, we could say hi to Sharon and leave. It seemed like a workable plan.
My first error was that when Katie asked to go to the park to swing, I asked if she could wait until after the labyrinth. There really wasn’t enough time following her therapy session to hit the park AND have dinner. She said okay, and we headed off to the restaurant.
Katie and I had never been to the Vietnamese restaurant, but Barb goes all the time. It’s a casual place and it was crowded. We found a table and proceeded to wait. And wait. A television hung on the wall and a game was playing. A baby cried. People talked. Katie kept asking to go see the dryer. ‘No,” I said. “That’s the freezer and we can’t go see it.”
It seemed like an odd request but I chalked it up to autism. In retrospect I think she was saying my sensory system is getting overloaded and I need to move. The food finally came and Katie picked at her fried rice. I’d allowed her to order a Pepsi to ease the wait, but it remained half full—another odd sign. She also had continued to wear her monkey blanket and had it wrapped around her despite the heat.
All at once my child with the beautiful table manners began throwing her meal—only a few handfuls, but more than enough to get my undivided attention. What’s worse, while most of the rice hit me dead on, some landed on Barb and the overspray showered on the table behind us. The man jumped up and got into my face, yelling about how I needed to take my ill-behaved child and leave! To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what he said. All I remember thinking was, he is not going to shame me for poor parenting. He will not shame me or Katie for autism.
I forced myself to look him in the eye and said, “I’m sorry. She has autism.”
“I don’t care what your excuse is. She’s throwing food.”
He had a point, and in that moment I would have given anything to have a Star Trek-style transporter to beam us out of there. But our food wasn’t paid for and I didn’t want to dine and dash.
It seemed like an eternity before we got the waitress’s attention. She brought extra napkins and Barb and I cleaned up the worst of the mess while we waited for the check. I physically escorted Katie out the door while Barb apologized to the man, his wife, and teenage daughter. Perhaps someone had clued him in about autism because now he was gracious and said no problem. It didn’t matter. I was humiliated. We dropped Barb at the church and headed straight for the park.
Until next time,
[Part 2 will follow next week.]